Thursday, May 24, 2012

Civilized Cheapskate: Sports Cars, part 1

If you are a semi-sentient reader, you will know that at the very top of the automotive desirability pyramid reside giga-dollar collectible, classic cars. With a few notable exceptions -- another post for another day, perhaps -- at that rareified air reside vintage Ferraris.
You could drop, without much effort, not just millions on one, but tens of millions. Even today, that's real money. No getting out the door with one of these for under $200K.

But what if you're not "there" yet? What if your sense of style is coincident with the ├Žsthetic properties of a Ferrari d'epoca like a latter day Steve McQueen, but your budget is, um, not?

Don't stress. I got this.

Kindly note one of those covet-worthy classic Ferraris. In this case the 330GTS, a quintessential open-air race-bred sports machine. Italian engineering and design and craftspersonship and (it must be said) quirks and idiosyncrasies. It is beautiful, it is glorious to drive, it is rare, it is elegant and it will appreciate in value.
It also weighs in at between $275K-$375K.

If you have that kind of disposable coin, God bless you. For the rest of humanity, read on.

Then there is the Alfa Romeo Duetto* Spider.

In this case the Duetto, you have a quintessential open-air race-bred sports machine. Italian design and craftspersonship and (it must be said) quirks and idiosyncrasies. It is beautiful, it is glorious to drive, it is rare, it is elegant and it will appreciate in value.

It also weighs in at MA-A-AYBE $30K for a stunning example.

That's a lot easier coin to swing.

They look kinda...similar, don't they?

That is because Italian sports cars' designs are usually farmed off to coachbuilders such as ItalDesign-Giugiaro, Pininfarina, Zagato and Bertone. In this case, the common thread is the hand of Battista Pininfarina who designed both of these (the Duetto would be the last car he designed prior to his demise) at approximately the same time.

The two main factors accounting for the price differential are rarity and mechanical complexity.

1- The Ferrari made fewer than 1,000 of these 330s, whereas Alfa made 10,000 of these Spiders.
2- The Ferrari had a 12 cylinder engine, and the Alfa only a 4 cylinder engine.

Other influences included all the deluxe-ness the Ferrari had as standard (leather seats, etc.) which the Alfa had as option. (In 1967, when both of these were new, the 330 GTS cost $16K, and the Alfa $4K.) Performance-wise, the Ferrari did 0-60 in +/-7 seconds, and the Alfa in +/- 9 seconds.

What the Alfa brings is something that Alfa has ALWAYS brought, and that is an ability to punch above its weight. Being lighter and having a more, um, precisely tuned suspension it could definitely keep up with the Ferrari on a winding road or twisty track. These days, you are likely to make essentially the same visual impact upon the casual observer with the Alfa as you would with the Ferrari.

And about the performance?

You can do all kinds of fun stuff to the Alfa. The basic design remained in production until 1994, which means you can retrofit (and remove) pretty easily more modern engines. The "twin-spark" engines (2.0L or 1.8L Turbo) will simply drop in with only a slight modification to the hood. If you go crazy and get one of the Turbo motors, you are looking at +/-240 horsepower in a car that barely weighs a ton.

Summer's almost here. Go get one.


* They dropped the "Duetto" part of the name after 1967, but enthusiasts use it to refer to all the "long-tail" models made until 1969.


Blogger Doug Winship said...

The first new car I ever bought was a red '86 Alfa Romeo Spider. I have never had such a joyous car since. You are right by the way, Alfas in general, and their roadsters in particular, punch above their weight. That car held the road like glue, had incredible acceleration at mid-range speeds, and was wonderfully stable. Engine noise was sexy as Sophia Loren.

I didn't know how truly great a ride it was though, until the Miata came out. Went for a ride in one and was afraid for my life every second in that car.

9:12 AM  
Blogger JMG said...

The 4th generation ('91-'94) is even better, and I got a tweaked TS engine -- they drop RIGHT IN -- and it was magic. Startled more than one Jag/BMW driver in moments of less responsible behavior on my part.

6:14 PM  
Blogger JMG said...

(That said for "classic" purposes, the Duetto version is the only way to go.)

6:15 PM  

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