Memory Lane Is An Italian B-Road: Behind The Scenes On Our 1971 Alfa Romeo Spider 1300 Junior Film Shoot
Perched on a rear-facing, foldaway jump seat in the back of the family station wagon. Wedged between your parents on the front bench of an old pickup truck. Or climbing around in the “+2” section of a sprightly red Italian 2+2 with the top down and everyone’s hair flapping wildly. The sentimental value of the vehicles we grew up in—and of the spots inside them that we got to call our own—cannot be quantified. In today’s film, Petrolicious’ own Tiziano Niero sits down with his father, Carlo, to discuss a special Alfa Romeo that’s been in the family garage for over thirty years: a 1971 Spider 1300 Junior.
“It wasn’t my dream. I would have never thought about buying it back then—I was at the beginning of my career, I had no money. But it happened all of a sudden, and finding this car became one of the rare occasions when I could afford the object of my desire.” Since then it’s been treated to two paint jobs and all the maintenance you’d expect a daily-driven Italian sports car to require, but even when a mountain excursion ends with a ride home on a tow truck, Carlo finds it impossible to be mad at the Alfa that’s provided his family with so much joy.
The Spider has been doling out memories to the Niero clan since 1984, and it started one morning when Carlo woke up with a good feeling about the day to come. At the time, Fiat was in in the final stages of phasing out the final iterations of the Fiat 131, and had decided to host a competition: Who could cover the greatest distance in one with a single liter of fuel? Carlo, as mentioned, had woken up that morning on the lucky side of the bed.
The feeling didn’t translate into a direct result however, and Carlo didn’t win Fiat’s competition. Still, he stuck around after the fact, and peeked into the local Fiat dealer, not looking for or at anything in particular until something snuggled away in the back of the building captured his emotions like the puppy at the pound that just wants to be your shadow. In the end, he did end up winning something that day. He is quick to say how he won it, too: “Of course, by paying for it,” he smiles.
An engineer by trade, a scientifically-minded, logical man, Carlo is not one to expound on life’s moments of poetry, but when he recalls seeing the Spider for the first time—how it fell into his lap when he wasn’t expecting—he flashes his romantic side. With that said, this is also a car that he isn’t shy about criticizing—“The engine is a little small, and though Alfa was not yet part of FIAT, this had the flaws of a FIAT.”—but then again, he had no airs about driving a supercar. And the little 1300cc inline-four was still a twin-cammer, so Carlo had his share of fun during the daily commutes to work and back.
A fun car to drive to the office on his own, Carlo’s Alfa was also more than happy to ferry the rest of the family along for vacations when he could take off from work. Eventually the kid count outnumbered the seat count, but when it was just Carlo, his wife Franca, and their son Tiziano (who was later joined by a sister, Ludovica, and brother, Stefano), the trio would enlist the Spider for foreign exploration. On one such trip to Yugoslavia, Tiziano laid claim to the rear seats, still small enough as he was to fit behind them.
On another trip, while his parents slept in the tent nearby, a young and proactive Tiziano thought he’d do them a kindness and polish the Alfa. Because he decided to use a brick and friction instead of rubbing compound and a towel (Red car, red brick. That’s some solid childhood logic, you must admit.), the end result was a bit more “rustic” than imagined. But that’s not important. Kid or not, every one of us learns and grows by interacting with the world, and if that world happens to include a red convertible in need of paint work, so be it. The Alfa got another coat of paint, the brick scuffs are sanded away and buried, but the story still gets a laugh when the family gets together, and that’s worth a lot more than a few buckets of Rosso Italia 914.