Nobody's Favorite: Revisiting the 1983-89 Alfa Romeo Spider
Presented in 1966 and produced until 1993, the classic Spider enjoyed the longest production run in Alfa Romeo's history, during which the model changed remarkably little. But if you ask people about their favourite Alfa Spider, hardly anyone will mention the 1980s models...
...Yet, due to these Spiders being those that were current when I was little, or probably due to the widespread 1980s influences that pervade pop culture lately, I'm finding myself increasingly drawn to these less-regarded Spiders.
Money's too tight to mention
As the 1980s dawned, the Alfa Romeo Spider had already been on sale for nearly fourteen years, while the last significant change to the model's exterior appearance dated back to 1969.
Alfa Romeo's perilous financial situation and the Spider's low production volume made developing a replacement model unviable. However, since it remained the only Alfa model Americans showed any interest in buying, Pininfarina was tasked with refreshing the Spider once more, as cheaply as possible.
Dressed for success
The result was presented in March 1983 at the Geneva Motor Show, but the idea behind the new Spider's more aggressive appearance originated from a prototype presented by Pininfarina nine years prior, at the 1974 Barcelona Motor Show.
Developed using the firm's recently-inaugurated wind tunnel, the modified Spider 2000 sported a deep front air dam and a rear spoiler that, according to Pininfarina, delivered a significant aerodynamic benefit.
Since the Spider's 1983 restyling was developed along those lines, Alfa enthusiasts in Italy commonly refer to this generation of the Spider as the "Aerodinamica."
With their upper surface sporting a satin aluminium finish, the Spider's new plastic bumpers added 150mm to the car's length. The tail panel was painted black on all models and complemented by a chunky plastic spoiler and larger taillight clusters.
However, due to the aforementioned budgetary constraints, hardly anything changed under the Spider's skin: Alfa's twin-cam inline-four engines were carried over unaltered, together with the rest of the car's running gear.
While the European models, available with either a 1.6 litre or a 2.0 litres displacement, still came equipped with Alfa's classic pair of double-choke sidedraft carburettors, the US buyers only got the larger engine with Bosch L-Jetronic fuel injection and catalytic converter.
The 1986 Geneva Motor Show brought a new top-of-the-line version of the Spider, the 2.0 litres Quadrifoglio Verde.
Although the cloverleaf badge at Alfa Romeo is usually associated with more performance, the Spider Quadrifoglio merely looked faster, thanks to an aero body kit and larger diameter alloy wheels shod with low-profile Pirelli P6 rubber.
The Quadrifoglio Verde also brought a redesigned dashboard that was extended to all the Spider models and looked less attractive while addressing none of the model's ergonomic shortcomings.
Being a 1980s Alfa Romeo built by Pininfarina, the level of fit and finish rivals the best that Lada's Tolyatti factory could muster in period, meaning it's best observed from far, far away.
Speaking of Pininfarina, 1988 saw the company taking over the complete production process of the Spider on Alfa Romeo's behalf. Previously, Pininfarina would send the Spider bodyshells to Alfa's Arese factory near Milan for completion, but now Alfa sent the necessary engines and running gear components to Pininfarina's factory near Turin instead.
Don't stop believin'
Already outdated at the end of the previous decade, by the late 1980s the Alfa Romeo Spider truly was a relic from a bygone era.
Yet one last restyling, unveiled in January 1990 at the Detroit Auto Show, bought Alfa Romeo some more time to cook up a replacement while giving the long-serving Spider the dignified sendoff it deserved, restoring all the elegance and panache lost over time.
Having said that, park a 1980s Alfa Spider anywhere today, and it'll easily be the prettiest car on the lot, and by a wide margin.
Even though these were 1980s cars, their 1960s design roots become apparent the moment you drive one, but now that's much less of a problem than it would have been when these cars were new.
What would be considered a defect on a new car often becomes part of that elusive set of qualities that collectors call "character."
Having driven one of these Spiders on a lovely spring day lately made me feel like the glamorous hotshot I'm not, despite the car having trouble starting when hot and whose brakes, gearbox and steering were long overdue for an overhaul.
I don't know if it was the lure of the Alfa Romeo badge, the rose-tinted lenses of nostalgia or the sheer pleasure of wind rushing through my hair on a sunny spring day, but I've found myself falling once again for the Spider's charm, regardless of all that plastic!