Driven by Dustin Hoffman to the strains of Simon and Garfunkel in the film The Graduate, the Alfa Spider has become one of the most accessible cult Italian cars. This is hardly surprising when you consider the little Alfa’s considerable virtues: a wonderfully responsive all-alloy, twin-cam engine, accurate steering, sensitive brakes, a finely balanced chassis, plus movie idol looks.
It hasn’t been called the poor man’s Ferrari for nothing. First launched at the Geneva Motor Show in 1966, Alfa held a worldwide competition to find a name for its new baby. After considering 140,000 entries, with suggestions like Lollobrigida, Bardot, Nuvolari, and even Stalin, they settled on Duetto, which neatly summed up the car’s two’s-company-three’s-a-crowd image. Despite the same price tag as the much faster and more glamorous Jaguar E-Type, the Spider sold over 100,000 units during its remarkable 26-year production run.
One of Pininfarina’s last designs, the Spider’s rounded front and rear and deep-channeled scallop running along the sides attracted plenty of criticism. One British car magazine dubbed it “compact and rather ugly.”
Spiders had huge trunks by sports car standards, with the spare wheel tucked neatly away under the trunk floor.
The Spider’s top was beautifully effective. It could be raised with only one arm without leaving the driver’s seat.
Pininfarina’s credit indicated by his logo.
The later Alfa Romeo Montreal had a race-bred 2.5 V8 that gave a top speed of 140 mph (225 km/h).
Plexiglas headlight covers were banned in the US and were never used on the 1300 Juniors.
The lack of rustproofing meant that the arches were prone to decay.
The dashboard was painted metal up to 1970. Minor controls were on fingertip levers, while the windshield wipers had an ingenious foot button positioned on the floor.
The “boat-tail” rear was shared by all Spiders up to 1970 and is the styling favored by Alfa purists. It was replaced by a squared-off Kamm tail.
All Spider cockpits had the Italian apelike driving position—long arms and short legs.
The Spider’s bodywork corroded alarmingly quickly due to the poor-quality steel.
Disappearing nose was very vulnerable to parking dents.
STYLISH AND COOL
The Spider has to be one of Alfa’s great postwar cars, not least because of its contemporary design. It was penned by Battista Pininfarina, the founder of the renowned Turin-based design house.
The 1300 Junior was the baby of the Spider family, introduced in 1968 to take advantage of Italian tax laws. As well as the “Duetto,” which refers to 1600 Spiders, there was also a 1750cc model in the line. Large production numbers and high maintenance costs mean that prices of Spiders are invitingly low.
This hides a twin-cam, energy-efficient engine with hemispherical combustion chambers. Some of the mid-’70s Spiders imported to the US, however, were overly restricted; the catalyzed 1750, for example, could only manage a miserly top speed of just 99 mph (159 km/h).
S P E C I F I C A T I O N S
MODEL Alfa Romeo 1300 Junior Spider (1968–78)
BODY STYLE Two-door, two-seater.
CONSTRUCTION All-steel monocoque body.
ENGINE All-alloy twin-cam 1290cc.
POWER OUTPUT 89 bhp at 6000 rpm.
SUSPENSION Front: independent; Rear: live axle with coil springs.
BRAKES Four-wheel disc.
MAXIMUM SPEED 106 mph (170 km/h)
0–60 MPH (0–96 KM/H) 11.2 sec
0–100 MPH (0–161 KM/H) 21.3 sec
A.F.C. 29 mpg (10.3 km/l)