Try before you buy Alfa Romeo Spider

Great Escape Classic Car Hire road tester Matt Nichols tries out the Alfa Romeo Spider


Do you sometimes wonder what makes a car a classic car? It’s not as though there is a straight forward definition, or line drawn somewhere out there in the sand. Some cars just seem to naturally gravitate to being classics, whilst others pick up provenance along the way, possibly from appearing in a film, or perhaps owned by somebody famous. Look around some more and you find another group that have had to go out and win big time to gain entry, often facing severe adversity in races and rallies across the globe before finally being recognised and appreciated for what they are.

The Alfa Romeo Spider, although gaining recognition in the film ‘The Graduate’, seems to fall into a fourth category, one that is arguably the most difficult to gain entry. A category where cars are simply born and live out their entire lives as classic cars, spread in this case over an incredible three decades. Because for over 27 years, Alfa’s pretty two seat sports car was held in the highest esteem throughout the world and across all four mildly tweaked generations that culminated in this roll out series 4 derivative. On the surface surprising, but then to some degree easier to understand when you look up the original recipe and recognise some of the key ingredients; pure Alfa DNA, gorgeous Pininfarina styling and classic front engine and rear wheel drive layout. All topped off, like the icing on an already impressive cake, by something that is no means guaranteed from any car, classic or otherwise, one that is grin inducing fun to drive.Quite how good this car is to whiz along with the roof down is perhaps the biggest surprise of all, particularly when your overwhelming pre-conceived idea is that of a car demonstrating form over function. Or one some might refer to as having a strong feminine appeal. Not a bad thing, just not necessarily an image that conjures up the right impression of a true driver’s machine. Which just proves how wrong you can be?
Having spent a day driving the Great Escape car I have to admit that although there is forgiveness in the chassis and suspension, which certainly helps prevent a sudden diversion to the nearest dentist immediately after every speed bump, there is also something else that you discover when pushing on a bit. Thankfully not the disappointing wooliness that I was expecting, instead a lovely deftness around how weight is transferred from both left to right and front to rear delivering real driving pleasure that can be enjoyed at any speed.As a consequence I am now convinced that this car’s hidden brilliance is as a direct result of it being rear wheel drive, because it constantly reminds you that there are two ends to consider.
From the slight shimmy over minor undulations to the way it hooks itself up into corners. On a car of this size the sheer mass of the live rear axle means that unless provoked, it is basically stuck to the road. What you feel sat in the cockpit is therefore as a result of the solid steel bars that connect the axle to the rest of the car. If the Spider were front wheel drive it would loose that feeling, and arguably its proper sports car credibility. Personally I reckon maintaining this layout represented a great call from Alfa, a landmark decision that also meant the Series 4 Spider was the last mainstream Alfa to use a front engine rear wheel drive layout before the Fiat chassis era finally took over.
Navigating both slow and fast sections of the highway I cannot hide my unexpected appreciation and respect for this diminutive Alfa sports car, from its great looks, both inside and outside the cockpit, to the pace you can maintain whilst rolling along with barely a tickle on the throttle pedal. Look at the dash and think it too modern, then eyeball the front wings, or right hand rear flank through the drivers mirror and you’re immediately transported back in time. As you are every time the rear of the car reminds you of its presence over bumps and undulations, truly sensational.In terms of classic car traits there are very few, namely a squeaky rear end and very slow drivers side electric window, but these minor points aside, the roof is the best I’ve experienced, controls light and easy to use, brakes brilliant, gearbox a delight, indicators that cancel themselves, and as I now appreciate most unusual of all, a clock that still works. No adjustments are required from driving cars from a more modern era either, the fuel consumption is very good and better still it requires only normal unleaded.
This really is a car that can be enjoyed by everyone, whatever you drive or have driven before, delivering a truly fun day out, so go on you know you want to.
Verdict
1991 Alfa Romeo Spider Series 4
Driving
In one word 'fun'
Engine
Alfa's 1962cc twin cam engine works particularly well in the middle band (3,000-4,000rpm) whilst in fifth gear travelling at 60-70mph
Performance
Max Power: 120 BHPMax Torque: 122 lbs/ft0–60 mph: 9.4 secondsTop speed: 118 mph
Brakes
The all round servo assisted disc brakes on this car are brilliant
Handling
Perhaps the biggest surprise of all, agile and engaging
Desirability
Series 1 and 2 values are the highest and on the rise, which bodes well for later models. Series 4 car values are holding strong with the less well liked rubber bumper Series 3 models the cheapest buy
Pro’s
Fun car for any occasion that comes with classic Alfa DNA
Con’s
Buying: Mechanicals, as long as well maintained, are robust and reliable, but sadly the steel used by Alfa during this time was not the best, so be careful Renting: None
Overall
4.5/ 5

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