Saying Goodbye on Stroget

Dear goodness. This is a poignant reminder of the days when Alfa Romeo was a full-service car company: the convertible Alfa Romeo GTV or Spider.

1998 Alfa Romeo Spider: source

In 1998 Alfa Romeo had the 146, the 147, the 156 (as saloon and estate), the GTV and Spider duo and the 166 saloon. All of them were pretty decent cars and all of them offered something other brands didn’t have.

If we consider too that Lancia had a full range of cars in Europe and so too did Fiat, the current situation for Fiat in Europe is appalling. Fiat had the Seicento, Punto (a bestseller), the Barchetta, Bravo/a, the Marea (as saloon and estate), the Fiat Coupe and Fiat Ulyssse. Crikey. It takes a fair amount of continuous negligence to kill off so many product lines.

1996 Fiat Marea: http://www.autoevolution.com

Back to Alfa Romeo and its heyday. The Spider had been on sale for a few years already and made quite a big splash in the showroom, with the car becoming fairly common on the streets around that time. For 1998 Alfa Romeo gave the Spider a bit of a spruce up. Inside there was a nicely embellished centre console, a glittery metal-effect thing replacing the drab black effort that had sufficed before then. The grille – a cleverly arranged hole in the bonnet – had some extra chrome. And the 2.0 engine got a bit more power and a more even torque spread. So, your 1970 cc twin-cam 16V four turned out 155 bhp and twisted 138 lb ft when in the mood. Not only that you could get to 131 mph and touched 60 seconds in a shade over 8 seconds.

No wonder they sold a lot of them. A base-model, entry-level Porsche cost a full ten grand more. Yeah, yeah, yeah: Porsche quality and all that. But ten grand is a massive amount of money and there is no way an Alfa Romeo Spider was one third less good than a base-model, poverty-spec Porsche. And it looked and still looks gorgeous.

This is what the RAC has to say: “For a long time, the Alfa Spider was one of the most evocative names on British roads. The 1996 model featured offered a healthy dose of Latin charisma and some of the best engines you’ll come across anywhere, the Spider is never anything less than a blast.

Naturally, you’ll have to make some sacrifices if you want to enjoy open top motoring and the Spider will require you to travel light. It’s a car that adheres to the grand old traditions of a small weekend bag, your nearest and dearest and the open road. It’s a romantic ideal in a country where the open road is usually on the other side of a diesel-belching juggernaut, but its one we’ve been keen to buy into. From launch, the Spider was a steady seller for Alfa Romeo and there is no shortage of good quality used cars on the market.”

Car’s Paul Horrell liked the car’s dry grip and considered the 1998 revision to be improved across the board compared to the earlier years’ iterations. So, what went wrong, what went wrong?

Author: richard herriott

I like anchovies. I dislike post-war town planning.

7 thoughts on “Saying Goodbye on Stroget”

  1. Was the Spider still available with the V6 engine? This would be a more appropriate comparison with the Porsche Boxster, in terms of specification and charisma.

    This does highlight an important issue though (see also the Lotus Evora recently featured here): Porsche has a revered brand (aka consumer trust) which means it can command high prices for its sports cars. It then reinvests a portion of this money to make its cars even better, and others simply cannot compete.

    It’s a shame so few Alfa GTVs and Spiders survive. I always like them.

  2. Hi Eduardo, that IS fascinating: A Kia Opirus, which is a Lancia Thesis / Jaguar S-Type / Lincoln Town Car mash-up, dressed up to look like a Russian GAZ-21 / Chinese Hongqi L5 mash-up! Definitely one of the most unusual cars I’ve seen I’m a long while.

    Here’s the Opirus:

  3. I wouldn’t say these cars sold in particularly large numbers. Over eleven years Alfa sold 80,000 of them, 64,000 were made at Alfa’s premises and the rest at Pininfarina. Alfa had widely exaggerated sales projections of 20,000 cars per year for which Pininfarina didn’t have the production capacity and therefore initial production was located at Arese.
    Compare this to the conceptually very similar Audi TT Mk1 which sold more than 270,000 over eight years.
    The Alfas were excessively overweight (and in four cylinder form seriously underpowered), badely made, utterly impractical for everyday use and sold at eye watering prices. How anybody came to the conclusion that 20,000 customers would buy them in a year is beyond my recognition.

    When I first saw the GTV I immdiately knew that I’d have to have one. I got one of the first GTV TBs with two litre V6 204 hp turbo engine – there was no powerful naturally aspirated engine available for the GTV at that time, the Spider got the 3,0 V6 with 180 hp which was the much better drive (I never liked the hump backed look of the Spider or its scarf-around-the-neck feel the high waistline gave when driven roof down). Inside you got incredibly badly fitting trim panels (just look at the panel gap and misalignment of door trim to dashboard) and far too many Punto carry over parts (complete HVAC controls, ventilation outlets, interior lights, secondary switches, seat adjusters, ashtray and many more parts), assorted rattles and creaks. In the GTV you couldn’t see out because the windscreen top rail was so low you couldn’t see traffic lights, the B post was fat and behind you there was nowhere too look out of. In the external mirrors all you saw were the fat bulbous doors which were a pain in tight parking conditions. The frameless door windows made lots of wind noise and never were water tight, the door lock push buttons faced skywards and therefor invariably froze up in wintery conditions and the boot was absolutely hopeless because it was nearly completely occupied by a tin box covering the rear suspension. My GTV still had a (space saver) spare wheel and there wasn’t room for a crate of mineral water in it, so all your luggage had to go on the rear seats (I still have the original sales brochure and price list stating the rear seats as a delete option in favour of a carpeted luggage compartment which never made it into production). The exhaust also heated it up to sauna temperatures if you ever drove it hard which the under powered air con never stood chance to fight against.
    In addition, the car was terrifyingly expensive to maintain (seven litres of finest fully synthetic every 10,000 kms, six platinum spark plugs every 20,000 which means dismantling half the engine to get at the rear cylinder bank).

    But once on the road the GTV was hard to beat in the bgpm (big grins per mile) department. It had incedible road holding, the turbo hiss was seducing and the hard work needed to drive it fast made you feel you’d achieved someting at the end of your drive.

    1. I think you have just summed up the whole of Alfa Romeo ownership over the last 40 years (at least) there Dave. It certainly rings true with all of the half dozen that I succumbed to. My bank balance is very grateful that nothing since the 156 has made it onto my driveway!

  4. GTV/Spider sales from 1998 declined rapidly. Two most important reasons: Audi TT and… Alfa Romeo 156. When You take a look at any AR press material fromm 1997 onwards, and after COTY award for 156, 916 were just steadily forgotten. Even though the 3.2 GTV was the fastest road-going AR ever, faster than GTA. AR decided to put all promotion into COTY 156. GTV didn’t receive side airbags, nor Selespeed gearbox. Just rudimentary facelift.

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