The term "classic" is widely used for cars at least a quarter-century old. Yet some models were classics right off the production line, like the Alfa Romeo Spider "Series 4", built between 1990 and 1993.
Introduced at the 1966 Geneva motor show and restyled in '69, the Spider stayed in production throughout the 70s with relatively few updates.
During that decade, Alfa Romeo's financial situation worsened to the point that it could no longer afford to develop an entirely new car independently, let alone a niche model like a Spider replacement.
While I love all the Spiders for different reasons, I can see why everyone likes the 1990 redesign.
The Fiat takeover of 1986 brought much-needed resources to Alfa Romeo but, as the planned new models were still years away, the already 20 years old Spider had to soldier on for a few more, with Pininfarina being asked to restyle it one final time.
Revealed in January 1990 at the Detroit motor show, the new look of the Spider was almost universally acclaimed by public and critics alike. Opinions haven't changed thirty years on, given that values of good "series 4" Spiders routinely exceed those of their immediate predecessors.
While I love all the Spiders for different reasons, I can see why everyone likes the 1990 redesign. The new bumpers, mirrors, side skirts, and rear end blend with the original 1960s body so nicely one could be forgiven for thinking the Spider always looked this way. Sadly, the same thing can't be said about the interior.
The driving experience is a peculiar mix of the 1960s and 1980s, just like the car itself.
It had been restyled in 1986 and was carried over with minor changes. It looks great from a distance thanks to the beige upholstery (black became an option in 1992), but it lets the side down quickly once you step inside. Apart from the main dashboard molding, all the plastics look and feel fragile. The switches and the stalks were surely sourced from the cheapest possible supplier, and their placement on the car was seemingly chosen at random.
These grievances cease to matter once you go for a drive, though.
The driving experience is a peculiar mix of the 1960s and 1980s, just like the car itself. The effort needed to operate the clutch, the long throw of the Giulia five-speed gearbox, is a trip down memory lane. At the same time, the overboosted brakes and the power-assisted steering make the Spider easier to live with than its predecessors.
The fourth series of the Spider, like too many things beautiful in this world, lived a short life.
The two liters' twin-cam engine pulls generously. Still, much of the delightful soundtrack it once provided was lost together with the two side-draft carburetors. Replaced by a Bosch Motronic fuel injection and variable valve timing on the intake camshaft.
The classic set of 40mm carbs still equipped the entry-level 1.6 Spider, available until 1992, but mostly sold on the Italian market.
The fourth series of the Spider, like too many things beautiful in this world, lived a short life. Its production at the Pininfarina factory in Grugliasco ended in 1993. However, the last cars were sold as model-year 1994 in the United States, the last for Alfa Romeo as a whole there until its recent return with the current models.
Since everyone knew this Spider was to be the last of its kind, these cars were mostly bought by enthusiasts. And their second-hand market value remained strong even before the rise in demand for collector Alfas we've seen over the last few years.