Want a Zippy Vintage Convertible? This Alfa Romeo Is a Stealth Bargain
When he bought his 1969 Alfa Romeo Giulia, Dorian Valenzuela often got stopped on the street by people asking how he liked his Datsun.
That was seven years ago. These days, onlookers are more likely to ask where they can find an Alfa of their own.
“Popularity-wise, they are higher than ever,” Valenzuela said this week near his restoration shop in Los Angeles. “They’re really nimble to drive. They’re peppy. People are starting to realize that they’re a blast.”
That increased awareness of Alfa cars has been helped by the company’s reentry into the U.S. this year after a decades-long hiatus. Whereas it used to sell nothing stateside, and then only the small 4C, now it sells the Giulia sedan and Stelvio SUV as well. (Just don’t ask brand leadership about sales goals or development budgets.)
It has also boosted the market for the classics. Valenzuela said business at his Montebello, Calif.-based hotrod and restoration shop has increased 400 percent since it opened two years ago; attendance at the rallies and races he likes to participate in on the weekends now includes millennial and hipster types mixed in with the semi-retirees who have long populated that front.
“Alfas have always been kind of a hip kid car anyway—kind of like the Lotus,” Valenzuela said. “You outgrow your Vespa, and you get into your Alfa. The cars have a youthfulness to them that is attractive to the kids out there.”
Alfa Romeo’s Series 2 Spiders are the four-cylinder, 132-horsepower, five-speed convertibles made in the 1970s and 1980s. Drivers loved them for their refreshingly neutral handling and stylish Veglia instruments and gauges along the dashboard and central console. The cars arrived, notably, as the follow-up to the 1966 Alfa Romeo Series 1 Spider that Dustin Hoffman made famous in the 1967 film The Graduate.
In fact, the Series 2 is an ideal vintage car to buy for something fun to drive, relatively simple mechanically, affordable, and different from the norm. (It was updated most noticeably over Series 1 with a more powerful engine and shorter rear end.) While the massive collecting gaze is focused on Porsche 911s from the 1970s and 1980s, those who want to stand out might consider an Alfa.
“They have real character,” said Jonathan Klinger, a spokesman for the classic car insurer Hagerty. “From a value standpoint, they’re not an overly valuable car, but they will more than hold their value, and they’re fun to drive, so it’s a great car for someone to get into. It’s an excellent example of a first-time collectible.”
In the past five years, the value of a Series 2 in excellent condition has risen 20 percent, according to Hagerty data. For a Series 2 in generally good driving condition, values are up 12 percent over the same period.
Where to Find Them
The world record sale price for an Alfa Romeo Series 2 Spider stands at a paltry (relatively, when collector cars are concerned) $31,900, which a Series 2 took at a Bonhams sale in 2015. Other, much older Alfa Romeos are worth quite a bit more.
That Spider earned its sum for its enviable racing heritage and low mileage, plus the rarity of its livery and trim. A well-driving, good-conditioned Series 2 Spider can be had for less than $20,000.
Such websites as Hemmings and Auto Trader list prime examples, such as this one from 1981 ($11,500). But if you really want to find something solid, start following web discussion boards run by the Alfisti, or true aficionados of Alfa culture. Brand devotees will inevitably understand and care better for their cars than dilettantes—which benefits the buyer when the enthusiast decides to sell.
“The best place to look for Alfa Romeos is the enthusiast forums,” Valenzuela said, who recommended Alfabb.com as the best site to case. “Instagram and hashtags have made it really easy to learn about the cars in a short amount of time, so you can see a lot and get educated on social media.”
How to Buy Smart
As with many classic Italian roadsters, which are lovably quirky to drive, Alfa Romeos can be temperamental about their sophisticated mechanics, and the brand lacks a meaningful dealer network stateside. To make matters worse, cars with modest values like these often don’t receive the same tender care to begin with that six-figure collectible cars enjoy.
The key for the beginning buyer is to take the time to find an example with a strong track record of maintenance, Klinger said.
“This is a car that you want to seek out the best example you can possibly afford,” he said. “If the car needs some work, you can very quickly overspend what the car is worth.”
In short, before you buy anything, get a detailed, thorough inspection of the car, especially focusing on rust and chassis damage. Put it on risers in the garage. Look for damage to the frame, to the electrical components, to the interior seating and trim. Be patient until you find an example that exudes confidence from a service perspective.
It will be worth the wait.