Front-drive Spider is fun to drive when you’re in the mood
This one won’t bite: it’s a friendly, head-turning Alfa Romeo in agile Twin Spark or mellifluous V6 guises. Reliability is decent, and prices start at £1000
The nation’s classifieds may be gripped by classic car fever, a condition that drives prices of even the worst old tat through the roof, but there are one or two models about which the claim ‘future classic’ doesn’t seem too far-fetched. The Alfa Romeo Spider of 1995-2006 is one.
There are only around 1000 examples of the 916-series Spider remaining, most of them 2.0 Twin Sparks of 1999 to 2005 vintage. (The 3.0 and 3.2 24-valve V6 cars are rare birds.) Prices range from £1000 to £5000 but around £3500 is enough for a decent car. There’s a coupé version, too, called the GTV. It’s less numerous but you’ve a better chance of finding a V6 example.
Both versions were styled by Pininfarina and both have aged exceptionally well. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder but most observers reckon the Spider has the edge over the GTV. Crucially, both have galvanised bodies with extensive use of plastic, especially at the front. Corrosion is rare and any that you do see is likely to be the result of poor accident repairs.
They were launched in 1995 and based on a modified Fiat Tipo chassis with MacPherson-strut front suspension. Fear not: a multi-link suspension set-up at the rear, super- quick steering and a stiffened body mean they’re huge fun to drive.
The Spider, the focus of this guide, is powered by a 150bhp 2.0-litre four-cylinder Twin Spark engine, so called because it has two spark plugs per pot. Remember that when you’re budgeting for the 60,000-mile service. Power goes to the front wheels through a five-speed manual gearbox. There is no auto option.
In 2001, it was joined by a 220bhp 24-valve 3.0-litre V6, this time with a six-speed gearbox. This was subsequently replaced in 2004 by a 240bhp 3.2. The latter is one of the best engines Alfa has made: smooth, torquey and blessed with a spine-tingling exhaust note at full tilt.
It’s also free of the tensioner issues that bothered the Twin Spark and forced Alfa to slash that engine’s belt change interval from 72,000 to 36,000 miles. That said, the TS is a strong, responsive and smooth engine. Do your checks and you should have nothing to fear.
The Spider was facelifted in 1998 (new centre console, small tweaks to the TS engine), but these cars are now very rare, most scrapped due to low values and high maintenance costs. Another facelift in 2003 was bolder (a new nose and that 3.2 V6). Production ended the following year.
Trim levels were standard, Turismo, Lusso and Lusso Final Edition. Most surviving cars appear to have the all-important leather trim. A silver Spider with contrasting red leather looks sensational. You may see some right-hand-drive Japanese imports on your travels. They’re pricey but generally in better condition than UK cars. Find a good Spider Twin Spark, beat the seller down by muttering something about the tensioner and bag a future classic.
How to get one in your garage:
An expert’s view: JAMIE PORTER, ALFA WORKSHOP – “The Spider is a great sports car: pointy and agile in Twin Spark form, beautiful-sounding and effortless in V6. The V6 is heavier and not as responsive as the TS, but is my favourite. A shame they’re so rare. A late-plate 3.2 is a real collector’s item. Saying that, I see all 916-series values going through the roof. Early cars are getting rusty around the rear arches and jacking points, and some parts are hard to source. Spare hood release motors, for example, are non-existent, so make sure the hood works.”
ENGINE – Check the oil level because it likes a drink. Oil pumps are prone to failure. Timingbeltshouldbechangedevery 36,000 miles on the 2.0 TS, every 60,000 on the V6. A rattle could be the cam variator. Low power may be the mass airflow sensor. Check condition of V6’s oil cooler pipes. Hunting at tickover is a failed idle control motor.
TRANSMISSION – Clutch and gearbox are reliable but a high biting point means the clutch is givingup. Check smooth changes; a notchy fifth could be a loose nut.
SUSPENSION – Check for excessive wear on the inner edges of the front tyres, possibly caused by worn front lower wishbones. Rear suspension can be troublesome, one problem being on the 2.0 TS where steel inserts in the bushes rub against the aluminium subframe. In rare cases, the subframe may need replacing.
HOOD – Check it works, and is free of tears and leaks. The power hood is computer- controlled and any issues should be indicated by a light next to the control switch. Check hydraulic rams for leaks.
BODY – Rust shouldn’t be an issue on later cars but any you find could be a poor repair.
INTERIOR – On start-up, check ABS, airbag and engine management lights go out. An inactive air-con system may need a new radiator (expensive). Annoying squeaks may be the locating pins for the hood. A dab of grease should cure it.
Also worth knowing:
Alfa provides original and refurbished parts for older cars, which can help keep running costs down. The Classic Line scheme is for Alfas over five years old and provides filters, belts, brake pads and so on. Meanwhile, the Refurbished Parts scheme supplies cheaper remanufactured parts.
How much to spend:
£1200-£1995 – Later (2002 and on) 2.0 TS cars in need of attention rising to £1995 for a 116k-mile 02-reg with recent new parts.
£2000-£2995 – Sub-100k-mile early cars in fair condition, rising to a nice 02-reg TS with 60k miles for £2995.
£3000-£3995 – Plenty of choice including an 02 TS with 60k miles for £3500, an 05 2.0 JTS with 80k for £3695 and a mint 02 TS with 80k and full history for £3995.
£4000-PLUS – A Japanese right-hand-drive 01-reg 2.0 TS import with 42k miles for £4750, and a nice 04 TS with 75k miles and full service history for £4995.
One we found:
ALFA SPIDER 2.0 TS, 2002/ 51-REG, 60K MILES, £2995 This has its two keys, partial service history and ‘warranted’ low mileage, but not so low that you’d worry about cold, short-journey issues. Leather interior has polished up well and the bolsters appear to be free of cracking. Still has ‘Spider’-embossed mats too.
Source: Autocar Online