You Owe Yourself a Roadster This Summer
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:
• Essential Alfa Romeo Giulia & Giulietta Coupes & Spiders: The Cars and Their Story 1954-95
• Alfa Romeo Spider: The Complete Story
Photography by Afshin Behnia