Journal: Ten Dirty Secrets of Ludovica

Ten Dirty Secrets of Ludovica

Afshin Behnia By
January 10, 2013

Milan in January of 2012 experienced some unusually beautiful weather, and as Kika and I were here planning our upcoming wedding ceremony in June, I started to pine for a vintage Alfa Romeo to take on Italian road trips.  I thought: why not travel in style?  Why rent yet another generic front-wheel-drive turbo diesel econobox for all these beautiful road trips through the countryside?  And most importantly, wouldn’t it be much more adventurous, fun, and stylish to go on our honeymoon in a vintage Alfa?

If you read my Alfa Summer Affair Series series, then you’re very familiar with the ochre yellow 1968 Alfa Romeo GT 1750 that I bought to fulfill my fantasies.  I found the Alfa in online classifieds and purchased it from a private seller in Asti, Italy.

Traveling in the Alfa was a blast!  The car itself did not feel anywhere near perfect, but it did the job.  The hood popping up every once in a while was quite annoying. We later found out that the hood was the least of our problems.

At the end of our trip, I visit my friend and fellow Alfista Mario if he could do us a favor and have his personal mechanic check out the GT.  As his mechanic starts to poke around, bad news follows more bad news.  The Alfa was in such a horrible state that we were lucky we had no incidents on the road.

We decided to leave Ludie with Mario and his mechanic and his trusted restoration shop to undergo a complete and thorough no-expenses-spared restoration.  I recently visited Mario and Ludie to see how the restoration is going, and here I share with you the top 10 terrible problems that Ludie had, plus one very positive note on which to end. 

10. Distributor

The first dirty secret reared its head when I drove Ludie for the first time after putting her in storage.  After just 10 minutes of driving the engine note took on a horrible tone, and it felt like I was running on three cylinders.  A few minutes later I lost even more power and felt like now only two cylinders were firing.  Turned out the distributor was badly worn out and needed replacement, along with the incorrect ignition wires.

9. Brake Master Cylinder

If you’re an optimist, you might say that Ludie was trying to save my life by firing on only two cylinders, because the next problem that started to show was the soft break pedal feel.  Sure enough, the brake master cylinder was leaking badly and had to be repaired.

8. Incorrect rear window

Had I been more observant, I would’ve noticed this right away during the first inspection.  The rear window is green glass and features anti-fogging heating elements. As I find out later, in 1968 Alfa Romeo didn’t offer either of these two features.  This is a rear window from a later 2-liter model.

7. Airbox from 1300

One of the many reasons why Ludie didn’t exhibit as much power as she should, is that her airbox is from a 1300.  Fortunately Mario has a spare new airbox for a 1750. 

6. Gas tank

The first time I filled the gas tank, gas fumes entered the cabin – way more than normal for a car of this vintage.  Even worse is that after having parked it, it left a nice puddle of fresh gas right underneath the tank.  As the body shop showed me, the gas tank was damaged and the filler hose was not attached properly, thereby dripping gas and letting out fumes.

5. Crankshaft play

Two of the lobes on the crankshaft were exhibiting a some play, and according to Mario’s mechanic it wouldn’t be long before it would snap.  Ludie gets a brand new crankshaft.

4. Camshafts worn

All the lobes on both Ludie’s twin camshafts were severely worn. Who knows what how much power she was losing due to impaired timing and lift as a result. She’ll be getting two new camshafts.

3. Transmission totally worn

All five gears in the transmission were worn.  Add a new transmission to the list.

2. Rust in every corner

As any Alfista will tell you, the cheap Russian steel used by Alfa Romeo in the ‘60s and ‘70s wasn’t exactly the most rust-proof material.  What’s surprising in this case, however, is not the extent of rust, but the poor job done by the previous body shop in trying to deal with it.  Clearly, instead of trying to remove and repair the rusted areas, they simply hid them and covered them up.  Fortunately for Ludie , she will now receive the best care, and all rust will be removed and replaced with fresh steel.

1. Ludie’s rear end is from another body

And the Number 1 dirty secret of Ludie is a shocker.

It turns out that she had been hit hard in the rear.  Everything from the C-pillar back was apparently destroyed.  A previous owner thought it would be a genius idea to replace the rear with that of a 1974 GTV 2000.  That in itself is bad enough.  What’s scary and dangerous is the poor welding job they did.  Just like the poor job done on the rust, clearly someone wanted to simply slap this rear end back on and flip the car to the next person.  The car could have easily split in two!

The Alfista Spirit

I will not know for sure if the previous owner was the charlatan who created this monstrosity or if it was an owner before him.  Regardless, this type fraud is very un-Alfa-like.  In my experience both in the US and in Italy, Alfisti truly look out for each other and help each other out.  Such was the case with Franco Nani, owner and chief mechanic at Nani Autovecoli in Milan.  I brought the Alfa to him only days before leaving on our wedding trip to diagnose the sudden loss in power.  In true Italian style, he understood the importance of getting us on our way as soon as possible and gave Ludie top priority.

The same goes for Mr. Pepé Domenico who runs the Alfa Romeo Giulia Registry in Italy.  He helped me obtain vintage car insurance for Ludie, and he took personal interest in making sure Ludie is road-worthy for our wedding road trip.  He visited Ludie while she was at Nani’s shop, and even helped procure some hard-to-find parts such as seatbelts and correct ignition wires for her.

We’ll be back in Italy in April or May.  By then Ludie will be a brand new car ready for new adventures and maybe even a rally or two.

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8 Comments on "Ten Dirty Secrets of Ludovica"

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3 years 5 months ago

Is the car ready yet? Update please (and photographs of the car too).

Frazer Spowart
Frazer Spowart
3 years 9 months ago
Wow! Sorry to hear of all the problems with the Alfa, but glad you decided to keep her and give her the love she needed! Too good of a story attached to you both now to have let the car go. You should definitely do a vintage car rally in Europe when you go to pick her up if you have the chance! Will you be shipping the car back to the states? I’m toying with the idea of importing an Triumph Dolomite Sprint from the UK, let me know how easy/difficult it ends up being!
Afshin Behnia
Afshin Behnia
3 years 9 months ago

Thanks, Frazer! A vintage rally is definitely in the plans. There are tons of great rallies in Italy during the summer. I’m planning on keeping her in Italy as we go back often, but I do have experience shipping cars to the US from Europe. I’ll be happy to share my experience.

Michael Williams
Michael Williams
3 years 9 months ago

WOW! Such a beautiful GTV to be hiding such horrors. Always the risk buying a car long distance. Even more so internationally I am afraid. But a great idea. We shipped our Duetto to europe for the same idea… touring in true style. Well worth it! Hope you get another nice euro trip out of the end result.

Chris B
Chris B
3 years 9 months ago

So cool picture !! 😉

Afshin Behnia
Afshin Behnia
3 years 9 months ago

Lovely! There’s nothing like touring European countryside in a vintage car. Are you driving that in e Targa California this year?

Simon Jones
Simon Jones
3 years 9 months ago

I really enjoyed reading your story about that trip through Italy and got fully sucked into it by the teaser video where the bonnet kept opening up with opera playing over the video.
Sorry to read that Ludie was hiding so much horror!! Its hard to believe that someone can actually stick a car back together like that and sell it to someone else, then sleep at night!
Good luck with the resto, she is certainly in good hands now back the look of it. Looking forward to the results

Afshin Behnia
Afshin Behnia
3 years 9 months ago

Thanks Simon! Glad you enjoyed the series.
Yeah, it’s very unfortunate what some people do to make a buck. I was faced with deciding between throwing the car away or doing a complete restoration that would cost more than the purchase price. I certainly could NOT throw it away after it was such an integral part of our wedding journey. I’m very much looking forward to being reunited with her in a few months. Will keep everyone updated.