Driving the New Alfa Spider in Italy

In the Spring of 1995, I was planning a business trip to Europe, with a visit to my agent in Milano (my company sells test equipment for fiber optic communications systems.) I had been at Alfa Corse the year before to see the DTM cars being prepared for an article on Alfa Corse for "Alfa Owner". At the time, I had been promised a visit to the design studios, where the restoration of the museum cars is done by volunteers from the factory is done. I contacted my PR contact, only to find out that he had retired and Alfa PR had been moved to Turin, in Fiat HQ! I had nothing to worry about, as I got a call from Richard Gadeselli, former editor of "Performance Car", a British magazine, who is the new VP of international PR for FIAT. No visit to the design studio was possible, as Arese was closed for "inventory adjustment" but would I be interested in driving a new Spider or GTV for the US club magazines?
Now, how long do you think it took to make that decision?

Let's get to the bottom line, it's all about sex and style, or what I like about Italy in 25,000 Words or less
Definitely my idea of fun. Finish off a business trip to Europe with a few days in Italy testing the new Alfa Spider for Alfa Owner. Decide to do a "car nut" trip, the kind I can never do when the wife and kids are along.
Show up in Torino on a Friday Night at 10 PM, check in the hotel and take a walk. People walking everywhere in the downtown shopping district, dressed incredibly stylishly, wonderful to watch. Shop windows full of gorgeous clothes, jewelry and every kind of goods you can imagine. Two new Fiat Coupes parked within a couple of blocks. Tiramisu gelati ! A hotel room furnished impeccably in modern style. Turn on the TV, skip CNN and check out the live striptease on one of the cable channels that's an infomercial for a sex-talk phone service.

At 9:30 AM on Saturday I show up at Fiat to pick up the car. Great metallic black one. They know I'm a black car person. Sitting next to it was a new Fiat Barchetta. The guards give me a big smile, handshake, envious looks and a big red key. I'm off to the first stop. The Carlo Biscaretti Auto Museum, #2 behind the Rosso Bianco in my book.
A few blocks later, the tone for the trip is set. I pull over to check a map and look out the window at a pair of long, gorgeous, miniskirted legs. She's just as pretty as I look on up to her face. In broken English she explains she just passed in her Fiat and wanted to see the car, so she pulled over to come see it. That's the way it was all the time I had the car. Whenever I parked it, a crowd would gather, ask questions and just stare lustily.

Actually, it was the women who surprised me. They were more open about staring and asking questions than the men. I believe that the car represented a fashion statement, just like designer clothing, and they were showing their approval. Besides the man driving such a rare and exotic car MUST be rich, no? OK by me. What middle-aged American male would dislike all that female attention !
The museum was empty on a Saturday AM, so most of the time was spent taking photos of the car and talking to people about it. One was a finance minister from Peru who was another car nut. They're everywhere.
Next stop Maranello. I've always wanted to visit Ferrari's home, so it was a good out of the way stop and a chance to try out the Spider on a combination of back roads, city streets and autostrada. It was early afternoon and raining cats and dogs, so there wasn't much to see. A few pictures and some souvenirs from the Formula One shop next to the famous Cavallino restaurant were all I got for my pilgrimage.

Then I headed for Ferrara. Its a little known town between Bologna and Venice that has a wonderful old section of the city, a taste for art and cars. The last time I was there in 1990, the Alfa factory had loaned the best race cars from the musuem in Arese to the local club for an exhibition. One of those cars was the 8C 2900 Le Mans Berlinetta on the cover of Alfa Owner last year. Today, there was a historic car swap meet going on that I wanted to see.
What a place. Dozens of vendors of old Italian car parts and repro items like carpets and window rubber. Here's a list for you to contact when you need parts. Any brokers interested, must speak Italian?
And I found a wonderfully restored Giulietta Spider and convinced the owner and the show manager to let me get a photo of the two cars together. Wasn't too hard, since nobody there had seen a new Spider and would do anything to get me to bring it into the show area. That's the Spider on my home page.
That evening, I drove the car into the old town area, right into pedestrian only areas and parked it to see the reaction. One word kept being used to describe it: "bella". One young guy looked it all over, then said to me " looks like Japanese quality - not like this", pointing to his clapped-out new stype Giulietta sedan.

Sunday AM, I got up and headed to Mantova, home of Tazio Nuvolari, to see the new museum in his honor. To get to the museum, I had to drive down five or six pedestrian only streets crowded with visitors. Nobody cared, including the police who directed me to the museum. I managed to park directly in front of the door and enjoyed both my visit and the stir the car created. They have an amazing collection of his personal effects, trophies and photographs. And one 8C 2300 monoposto. I still can't figure out how they got the whole car in that tiny museum.
Back to the Milano area for a Monday meeting with my representative in Italy, I stopped by the Monza autodromo. Motorcycle racing was the day's event, but I wandered around the track to see some of the places I'd read about for 35 years. The Parabolica curve looks like a blast, very high speed and beautifully banked.
Headed out to the back of the course, I passed the remains of the old "Curva Grande." It's a 45 degree banked curve that was flat out and very dangerous. It pushed the cars down until it botttomed the suspension, then beat them to pieces. I remember seeing a 1957 photo of Sam Hanks and some other's Indy cars flashing past the very point I stopped to take a photo.
And Monza has a very casual museum, consisting of a few dozen cars loaned to the track and a Alfa 2000 powered speedboat. Worth a visit if you're in the neighborhood.
In Milano, the problem is finding a space for your car. I managed to squeeze the Spider onto the sidewalk in front of my hotel. After my meetings Monday AM, I made a stop by the Alfa Museum in Arese. What a nice surprise - the cars look better than ever. Some newly redone cars, including the Proteo which was the prototype for the Spider I was driving. And a Zagato bodied car I had never seen before.
For my last night with the car, I headed north to the Alps to find some real mountain roads. Plus the beauty of Lago Maggiore. Here you can really use a car like the Spider if you can take your eyes off the scenery. You can see some incredible beauty like rainbows over the lake at dusk. And play tag with a Ferrari 348ts on mountain roads.

Alas, it all has to end, so back to Torino to return the car to Fiat. The VP of international PR, Richard Gadeselli, has a English accent since he grew up in the UK and a wry sense of humor. When I called to arrange a time to return the car, his first comment was " Is it still in one piece?"
Over several hours of conversation and a fabulous lunch, we discussed the topics you expected. Yes, Fiat has decided to no longer try to sell the current Alfas in the US, because of financial reasons, but they have not said "never". Fiat currently has over 7000 employees in the US, for example building "Ford" tractors and aluminum heads for all the Chrysler products. Fiat is NOT pulling out of NA, only stopping the distribution of Alfas for the lack of proper cars to sell in the NA market and thereby financial reasons.
One piece of great news: the Alfa Museum will be moved (probably in 1997) to downtown Milano. No more trekking out to the boonies and having to make advance notice to the factory. The city of Milano is cooperating with the factory to find a proper location near the center of the city where more people can enjoy it.
Keep the faith everybody. We might see Alfa here again. I sure hope so; the new Spider and GTV are worth the wait.
Here's my impressions of the driving the car itself.


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© 2001, Jim Hayes