Autos

Reinvent the wheels: designing new versions of old cars


Its fame was hugely amplified by a star appearance in the 1967 Hollywood film The Graduate, with Dustin Hoffman, but it didn’t need such publicity for success. Its basic excellence and loss-making Alfa Romeo’s inability to replace it caused it to live on for 27 years, in increasingly adulterated form, before being replaced in 1995 by the front-drive Spider loosely based on the Fiat Tipo. While not a landmark machine, that 916-series Spider sold decently, survived until 2004 and was eventually replaced in 2006 by the 159- and Brera-derived Spider. More cabrio than sports car, this overweight two-seater sold very slowly until being deleted, yet to be replaced, in 2010. 

Despite this disappointing end, Alfa has a two-seat sports car heritage that deserves reviving. Before you mouth ‘4C’, I mean in a manner a lot more convincing than this Lotus Elise-alike underachiever manages. Happily, Alfa Romeo now has the hardware to make it happen, namely the rear-wheel-drive platform from the Giulia saloon. It’s too long for a two-seat Spider, but with a section of floor removed, an agility-enhancing action in itself, there is the platform, suspension and 197bhp, 276bhp and 503bhp engine range to form the fine basis of a sports car that would be a lot sportier than the Mercedes SLC and possibly the new BMW Z4. Oh, and a manual gearbox would be good. 

A generous bonnet, a tail longer than both the SLC’s and Z4’s, as per the original ’66 Spider’s proportions, should produce a timeless design that would feature a handful of sculptural and decorative references to the earlier car. But this Spider would be boldly contemporary, subtly muscular, elegant, Italian and decidedly not retro. Alfa Romeo designs have always pushed ahead, and this should be no different. Achieving elegance will require a fabric hood, incidentally. 

The interior would be Italian furniture post-modern lush, and the speedo and tacho would individually sprout front and centre from behind the wheel, ’66 style. But all else would be modern, driver-centric and thoughtfully equipped for the passenger, too. Sports cars often go through periods of waning appeal, before being reignited by fresh product. A brilliant new Alfa Spider should do it.

Expert view: not edgy enough

“This new version of the sports car that started as Duetto and became Spider looks very feasible. Alfa’s parent, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, has platforms and powertrain hardware that could be adapted relatively quickly to make it. 



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