Featured: You Owe Yourself a Roadster This Summer

You Owe Yourself a Roadster This Summer

Afshin Behnia By Afshin Behnia
June 13, 2013
15 comments

Roadsters deliver a thrill that everyone should experience at least once. Or rather, there was a time when that used to be true.  In that time not long ago, men were men, flying on a commercial airline was a graceful experience, and we, the motoring aficionados, would look for any excuse to take out the little roadster, put the top down, and just drive.

We wanted the Elements to immerse us in fire, water, and wind, connecting us with the road, the car, and ourselves.  As we drove faster in the topless roadster, the engine and the wind noise would drown any possibility of conversation with our significant other or close friend riding along in the passenger seat.  And that was just fine.

Motoring along the coast, on a twisty country road, or in the canyons in that roadster was an experience that connected us with our special passenger in a way that rendered conversation unnecessary.  The rest of the world would suddenly become irrelevant, and we felt like we could reach down from the edge of the car and touch the asphalt as we sped by, just like you might do with the sea when riding on a speedboat.  Between us and the road, there was nothing but the bare minimum of metal and rubber that made our velocity possible.  The rush that we felt from the roadster, the open air, and our surroundings made us feel immortal, and yet, thinking of what little insulation there is between our bodies of flesh and bones traveling at speed and the stationary objects around us quickly reminded us of our mortality.  It was a thrilling paradox.

This experience is difficult to come by in a modern convertible.  Don’t get me wrong: modern convertibles are fantastic cars.  They are faster, safer, more fuel efficient, and more reliable than their ancestors of a few decades back.  But they are just good cars, not true roadsters.  Due to the exaggerated safety restrictions placed on auto manufacturers by nanny government states run by people who think they know what’s best for us, and the general purchasing preferences of the lazy masses who prefer that the car do everything for them so they can text their “omg bff”, the modern roadster is now a bloated, five-ton hunk of steel that employs all kinds of engineering and design “innovations” to isolate the occupants from the elements as much as possible.

The numb, overly power-assisted steering and automatic transmission (oh, excuse me, “Tiptronic”) ensure that you are comfortably isolated from any road feel or pleasure of driving.  And with the high belt line, the highly raked windshield that practically covers your head, and the high seat back with integrated roll-bar, you are sunk so deeply inside the cabin you might as well be in the womb of a giant whale.  Appealing to this new breed of “driver” (“passenger” is more accurate in my book), auto manufacturers even boast about how well their convertible eliminates wind inside the cabin.  Sorry, but isn’t wind the whole point? Driving a modern convertible is not unlike going on a glass-bottom boat and pretending you are scuba diving.

Fortunately, we don’t have to put up with such nonsense.  There are many great 20-plus year-old roadsters out there that  deliver that classic open air motoring experience before convertibles were castrated.  Of course, the Alfa Romeo Spiders are my personal favorites.

In the early ’50s, Alfa Romeo was on the brink of bankruptcy.  Again.  In typical Italian fashion, Alfa, in a bet-the-company-move, decided to risk it all and invest in developing a radically new sports car priced for the masses.  In 1955 they launched the new Giulietta Sprint –  a coupé with stunning looks, a technologically advanced motor for the time, and a tight chassis.  This jewel was an instant hit, and the surge in sales saved Alfa Romeo.

Not resting on their laurels, Alfa quickly followed the Sprint with a sedan version, the Giulietta Berlina, and in late 1955 introduced the stunning Spider model.  This was the beginning of Alfa Romeo’s line of Pininfarina-designed two-seater, sporty rear-wheel-drive roadsters that have become cultural icons.  The last of this line-up is the Series 4 Spider, produced until 1993.  All in all, six generations of rear-wheel-drive Spiders were made from 1955 through 1993.  Alfa Romeo continued to build newer generations of beautiful Spiders after 1993, but alas here in the US, we were denied access to them as Alfa Romeo pulled out of this market in 1995.

On this beautiful summer afternoon, Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu provides us the perfect setting to enjoy the roadster experience in the Spider.  Each of the six generations of the Alfa Romeo Spider were represented on this drive by the following examples:

•   My personal 1956 Giulietta Spider in Gardenia White with red interior and the

     original Pininfarina hardtop which now only serves as an art piece in my living room.

•   A 1964 Giulia Spider in unrestored red paint whose patina makes you imagine

    the adventures it has provided its previous owners.

•   A 1969 Series 1 Spider (aka Duetto) in red.

•   A 1974 Series 2 Spider in silver purchased for a song.

•   1988 Series 3 Spider in red, meticulously maintained by our good friend and

     extreme Alfista Manuel Minassian.

•   A 1992 Series 4 Spider in red with only 60,000 original miles.

Summer is almost here.  If you don’t already have a roadster, I plead you to seriously consider rectifying the situation.  Regardless of which marque you are partial to, there are lots of excellent roadsters to fit just about any budget, from Alfas, to Datsuns, MG’s, Austin Healeys, Jaguars, and many others.  Treat yourself.  I’m sure you deserve it.

Further Information on Alfa Romeo Spiders

Thinking about buying a Spider?

Just curious and want to learn more?

      How to get started:

      •  Wikipedia has great info on the Giulietta, Giulia, and S1 through S4 Spiders.

      •  Technical discussion on the Giulietta and Giulia, and S1 through S4 Spiders.

      •  Find a Spider for sale on AlfaBB or eBay

      •  Connect with other Alfa Romeo owners here or here.

      Books:

      •  Essential Alfa Romeo Giulia & Giulietta Coupes & Spiders: The Cars and Their Story 1954-95

        Click here to shop on Amazon

      •  Alfa Romeo Spider: The Complete Story

        Click here to shop on Amazon

Photography by Afshin Behnia

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15 Comments on "You Owe Yourself a Roadster This Summer"

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Luc Bonachera
Luc Bonachera

I beg to differ: for me roadsters are good spring and fall cars, but I hate feeling like in a baking oven so I rarely use mine in the summer, or only early in the morning and late at night. Of course, it all depends on where you live, but the continental climate where I reside is a huge turn off in the summer…

Thomas Falkiner
Thomas Falkiner
Again, it’s not an Alfa. But I picked up a clean Toyota MR2 Spyder last year. And it has been an absolute gas. Cheap to run. Cheap on fuel. Unusual (not many around here in South Africa) compared to the more common (and more cramped) Mk1 Miata. And of course its biggest party trick is that it comes endowed with fine mid-engined handling characteristics. In fact I think this machine is as fun (and as fast because it weighs less than 1000kg) as the new 86. Sure, the styling may be a little quirky. But if you can live with… Read more »
Nostalgic
Nostalgic
Great piece, excellent writing. As a comfort to all those who could not join the author driving an Alfa Romeo Spider on Pacific Coast Hwy: check out [b]www.nostalgic.de.[/b] Picture yourself in the driver’s seat of a 1959 Giulietta Spider, a 1964 Giulia Spider Veloce, a 1965 Touring-bodied 2600 Spider or the very rare Giulia GTC, cruising along Northern Italian Lakes or across Tuscan hills, climbing Alpine passes in the Dolomites or following the Historic Targa Florio route in Sicily. The four-day packages starting from 2,000 USD include all the nuts and bolts, cars, insurance, accomodation, meals, tour guides and technical… Read more »
David Carroll
David Carroll

My ’72 Triumph TR6 is weeks away from completion after an 18 month restoration – can’t wait to fire the beast up again.

Thud
Thud

Hmmm, lets try attaching again.

On the wharf in Santa Cruz, CA

Thud
Thud

With 4 kids I had to compromise. 4 seats instead of 2. At least that’s what I thought 5 years ago. I love my 1992 BMW e30 325i convertible. Virtually stock with almost 300k miles. Epic drives: up and down the coast, to Lake Tahoe, and taking kids to school. Everyday is a fun day to drive! Not the fastest car by any means, but it sure feels fast and exciting.

Christopher
Christopher

Making those Summer road trips now with my 69 Spider.
You owe it to yourself to take a look! 🙂 http://www.nps.gov/findapark/index.htm

Paul Steel
Paul Steel

Beautiful Christopher, one day I plan on taking a classic on an American road trip to all these great roads and the places I see on this, my favourite automobile website.

Leucea Alexandru
Leucea Alexandru

Love the Alfa Spider. So far, the most rewarding roadster i rode in was the Honda S2000. Brilliant engine, excellent handling and road feel. Definitely a future classic.

Brompty
Brompty

The list of woes regarding the modern convertible missed my favourite: the air scarf. When you would need such as an accessory – or even the point – I do not know.

Otherwise a stunning collection of Alfas once again.

Ryan Hoyle
Ryan Hoyle

🙁 My 79 Fiat Spider is still in pieces for it’s engine rebuild… I have everything ready to take to the specialist to build the engine, but no time to get it there just yet.

Niklaus Gingro
Niklaus Gingro

Last summer I picked up a mint condition (70k miles) 1990 NA Miata in Mariner Blue – maybe not quite as cool or exclusive as an Alfa, but it was only $4k, the only issue I had was a leaky slave cylinder and I had an awesome summer with it. Sold it this spring and got basically all my money back (less a set of new tires I purchased when I got it). An amazingly fun summer car and it really did make me a better driver.

chronoso
chronoso

Nice to see another Miata in that shade. Congrats on the mint condition. What’d you replace it with?

Gianni Burrows
Gianni Burrows

I’d love to have another S2 to go with my current 115.01 GT Veloce.

JB21
JB21

I used to have a 84 Spider when I lived in California. It eventually succumbed to major rust when she and I moved to Oregon. I still miss her after all those years. Not the greatest car by any means, but surely the most romantic car ever made.

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