The First Spider

The first incarnation of the Alfa Romeo Spider (I say first incarnation because others were launched in 1995 and 1996) was made between 1966 and 1993 - an incredible 27 years - during which time more than 124,000 were sold. To be fair though there were four separate series during those 27 years, with some updates being major and some minor. Nevertheless an Alfa Romeo fan from 1995 would have had no problem recognising the last one as a Spider as it rolled off the production line; the appearance hadn't really changed that much, although what was under the bonnet was a different matter.

It had a long gestation. First shown at the Turin Motor Show in 1961 this sports car was not ready for production until 1965 and the first delivery to eager buyers was the following year in 1966. What they got was a two-door roadster in the traditional front engine rear wheel drive format – the last time that this would be used until 2007 – with a 1.6 litre engine churning out 108 brake horsepower with nought to 60 in 9.9 seconds and a top speed of 114 mph. It was of monocoque construction; in other words the body itself was structural, rather than being an afterthought bolted on top of a chassis; and it featured crumple zones at the front and rear for safety reasons; something that was quite new at the time.

Pinninfarina not only designed the car, and built the body, but actually assembled it as well. However, their creative juices run short when it came to picking a name for it; so a competition was held to pick one, with a new car as prize! The winner was a gentleman who picked the name "Duetto" in recognition of the fact that it had two seats; however the whole exercise was pretty pointless since the name straightaway became the subject of a copyright issue. So, Spider 1600 it became, although it was popularly known in Italy as di Seppia, which is Italian for cuttlefish, since it bore a little bit more than a passing resemblance to the common cuttlefish bones that get washed up on beaches. Still, hopefully the man who picked the Duetto name still got his free car and was happy with it.

The Spider boasted independent suspension, disc brakes all round and a five-speed manual gearbox; the interior was a bit sparse but roomy, with bucket seats. Pricewise it was about the same in the UK as an E-type Jaguar so it wasn't cheap. However in 1968 a lower-priced model called the Junior, with a 1300 cc engine was introduced. This was balanced by an even more expensive range with an 1800 cc engine; the top speed increased to 118 mph.

Over the following decades different engine choices were offered and innumerable upgrades were made but at the end of the day the Spider still had that same unmistakable silhouette that made it immediately stand out from all other sports cars of the 20th century.

Next - the Stradale