If you've got gasoline in your blood, and live in an area with four seasons of weather, it's easy to tell when Spring has arrived. Suddenly all the vehicle maintenance projects you've been putting off since last October rear up and demand attention. Terminals are cleaned and batteries charged, oil changed, brake fluid flushed and tire pressures checked. They're all part of the myriad of details that go into bringing a collector car back to life after a winter of somnambulance.
Of course, once you start reviving one car, all the others in the garage demand attention as well. Car repairs go in waves, like an epidemic or, perhaps more appropriately, a financial plague. Last week, although owning five or six or seven cars (we're afraid to start counting), we were reduced to riding one of the Honda XL-250 dual sport motorcycles to get around town.
Here's the box score. Ms. Banzer's '78 Alfa Spider, British Racing Green over tan, is undergoing a cosmetic restoration. A car we've owned for over a decade, the Alfa had just 16,000 miles on it when we rescued it from motorcycle editor Tom Young's shop, where it sat forlornly surrounded by two-wheeled collections of chrome and garish decals. The original mileage is now just under 50,000, and somewhere along the line we installed 11-mm cams, Shankle springs and rear bar, Koni shocks and a Marelli-plex ignition to give the car a little extra scoot and more competent road manners.
But the past decade has been a hard one for the Alfa. It's been used as a daily driver and seen a child seat installed in the space behind the cockpit for Alexandra when she was very little. Both our sons (now twenty and twenty-three) lusted after the car when they turned sixteen, and in a memorable series of stalls, tire screeches and grinding gears used the Alfa as a Rosetta Stone to decipher the mysteries of a manual shift car. I don't think we've replaced the clutch more than twice, and we have eight years of rest until it is Alexandra's turn.
While never hit or rusted, and with a perfect, uncracked dash, nearly every panel on the car had some scrape or ding that was testimony to the hazards of everyday automotive life. Brian Ross of Auto-Krafty masterfully matched and blended the paint, and Guy's Upholstery is rebuilding the seats, installing a new carpet kit, a CD player, new door panels (from Re-Originals), new sunvisors (from Centerline) and a fresh canvas top. Before we started on this project, I asked Cindy if she really wanted to go through all this. After all, a '78 Spider is hardly a first-tier collector car, and was worth about $5,500 before we went to all this work. I figure we'll spend around $3,000 and have a car that will then be worth $6,500-the kind of math that makes perfect sense to vintage car enthusiasts. She was firm. She didn't want a later Spider, or another sports car-she's attached to her green Spider, likes the way the big rubber bumpers protect the ends of the car in parking lots and sees no reason to buy anything else. It will be good to see the Spider, freshly waxed and handsome again, regain the luster of its youth.
Our 36,000-mile Datsun 240Z, still wearing its original root-beer brown paint over tan vinyl, and as close to a new Z car as you're likely to see, was off having its fuel system flushed and all the fluids renewed after its long-time storage next to a Ferrari 275 GTB in Haig Haleblian's Midwest garage. Sitting behind the wheel and looking out over the Z-car's Jaguar E-type hood bulge, scanning the masterfully laid-out instruments, or feeling the pull of the smooth 6-cylinder engine, it's easy to recall how breathtakingly competent the Z-car was in 1970. Its competition, the MGB-GT and Triumph TR-6, became instantly obsolete. Further, for both our sons it is now their absolute favorite car. The passions it ignited in me when I was twenty are now, thirty years later, stirred the same way in our young men (we really can't call them boys any longer). There's probably a message in there somewhere.
As mentioned in this month's Our Cars (page 26) the '62 Ferrari 330 America, aka Old Smokey, is off having a total brake-system overhaul. Once again, I've decided not to add up the invoices, but Ms. Banzer did suggest we offer Ron Tonkin, whose Ferrari service facility the car has taken residence in, the 240Z in trade for the brake job, but added we'd probably have to throw in some cash or perhaps a lifetime subscription to SCM as well.
The '69 Alfa Spider race car is also having its brake system rebuilt by Dan Sommers at Euro Auto (I'd prefer to leave the nickname "Tire-wall Martin" behind me), and then is off to the paint and body shop to be prepared for both the upcoming racing season and the Alfa Romeo National Convention, held in Portland this year.
That's about it, that is, aside from adjusting the emergency brake on our oldest son's European four-speed Mercedes 300D, tuning his brother's European four-speed, carbureted Mercedes 280 saloon, replacing the fan belt on Cindy's '83 Mercedes 300 Turbo-Diesel, adjusting the valves on the Honda XL-250s and the XR-80s, getting fresh batteries for the motor scooters, making sure Alexandra's various bicycles have lubed chains and plenty of air in the tires and trying to figure out how to get the "high and low" speed switch to work on the battery-powered F40 we bought for her last week at the Portland swap meet.
It's a ritual repeated here and at other collector car fanatic households all over the world every year. We've come to look forward to it, because it means that a summer of vintage car driving is just around the corner.


It was several years ago at a Kruse auction in Scottsdale that we came across a set of prints by Frank Wooten. During the '50s he was a leading automotive artist, and captured scenes ranging from the exotic Ferrari 250 Tour de France on this month's cover to lithe Giuliettas dueling with muscular Healey 100-6s in local SCCA-style races on back country roads.
According to Michael Sheehan, the car on our cover is S/N 1033 GT, later renumbered as S/N 1523 GT. It's depicted on the way to overall victory in the 1958 Tour de France, driven by Olivier Gendebien and Lucien Bianchi. After a crash in 1959, the nose of the car received an open-headlight treatment by Scaglietti, and Campagnolo front disc brakes were added in 1960. The car is currently believed to be in France, and given its additional 1st overall in the '58 Coupes du Salon and 1st in GT at the Montlhéry Paris GP, would be valued somewhere in the $700,000-1,000,000 range should it come to market today. Not bad for an old race car.

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