Drop-Top Italian Tank, Or 1975 Alfa Romeo Spider?
After hearing about his preparation for the past few months, I was thrilled to finally meet Rudolph face to face a few days ago.
Rudolph is a 1975 Alfa Romeo Spider, or as some might call him, a “Duetto Coda Tronca.” The mechanic who turned the perky little Alfa into the machine pictured here had another way of describing it: “Well, he’s a sort of tank now!”
Almost everything has been modified in and on this car to make it safer and stronger. The long list of changes and additions it’s received is all in order to take on one of the most exciting and taxing endurance rallies on the planet: the Peking to Paris Motor Challenge—14,000km (roughly 8,700mi) across 13 countries covering two continents.
Rudolph is among the 108 cars produced before 1976 that will go nearly halfway around the world in the process of completing the route this summer. This extremely demanding rally and its few-and-far-between cadence will be marking just the 7th edition since the first running in 1907. This is no parade borrowing a name though, and to be eligible to win in 2019, the full route must be completed within just 36 days.
The Spider is one of just a few cars from Italy taking part in the competition, which includes both daily and special trials along the course of the event. For this team, a father and son pair, this is going to be their first Peking to Paris. There are no words to describe the sparkling atmosphere that surrounds them, full as they are with expectations both discrete and vague. I’ve been happy just to soak up their excitement thee past few days.
“Everybody used to tell us that we were crazy because the Spider hasn’t got a rallying pedigree,” Matteo, 25 years old, explains. But he and his father were convinced that the Alfa would suit their needs just fine, plus, “In our classic car collection there was still a conspicuous lack of Alfa Romeo!”
The car’s full name is Rudolph the Red-Nosed Alfa, chosen by Matteo after an American friend said the car reminded him of the shy little reindeer who guides Santa around the world. Besides the obvious nose coloration on the car, there’s also a rampant Rudolph painted onto the bodywork on the front wings, done by hand by the mechanic’s sister, a talented artist in her own right. A thin green stripe was added to the red and white of Rudolph’s world to give the Spider a subtle Italian flag motif.
“The two-liter engine has been modified with all the necessary up-to-date components, like modern alternators and coils, a twin fuel pump, a copper-faced clutch, and some other new pieces,” Matteo tells me. A massive amount of work was done on the fuel tank in particular though. It was completely remade in order to hold enough fuel for up to 500km of driving at a time (which is the distance covered daily during the Peking to Paris, more of less).
It’s positioned in the trunk now, nestled into its surroundings up against the two spare wheels, its custom-tailored shape allowing everything necessary for the rally to fit in neatly, without wasting a centimeter.
As you can start to see in these photos, the chassis has been comprehensively reinforced as well, and a full roll cage protects the interior of the car. The bumpers? They are beefed up of course, with large but semi-discrete tubular sections of metal protecting the original sheets of ‘70s steel.
A new skid plate at the front of the vehicle protects the oil sump and gearbox, while the differential is enclosed in a special cage built to protect it from the rougher terrains along the way. The suspension has been updated to cope with the demands of the route, and now features a stacked double spring arrangement.
The exhaust system is from an Alfa GTA with a short, side-exit tailpipe to avoid the risk of ripping off a longer version while saving weight in the process. Since this arrangement is pretty noisy, they’ve also installed a headphone intercom system to talk to each other in their highly exposed-to-the-elements convertible. The list of details that have been added and improved in the interior is impressive and practical, including a manual quick-lift window mechanism, a custom-made ergonomic gear knob, a few oil and water temp warning lights, switchgear for fans and the added driving lights, and of course a bunch of USB sockets among other things. The dash and instrumentation is all original though.
A special film applied to the glass will make the front windshield thicker and more resilient too: “I’ve done so much research on that!” Matteo is quick to add. Overall, it took two years to fully prepare the car. Matteo’s father, Roberto, personally oversaw all the initial work done to the Spider. He is a 64-year-old highly experienced driver who regularly races at the Goodwood Motor Circuit, so he knows more than your average pop. He has also been thinking about doing the Peking to Paris for more than ten years at this point, and shares his son’s youthful exuberance when talking about the rally. After all, it’s one thing to realize a want of your own, but it’s another to share it with someone you love.