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Alfa Romeo Spider's 50th anniversary

By raccars Published

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2016 is the 50th birthday of the classic Alfa Romeo Spider. So what's the legend all about?

The Alfa Romeo Spider never quite gained the fame and acclaim of higher profile roadsters, but is arguably, at least in early model form, one of the most gorgeous sports convertibles ever designed. The Spider was released in 1966 to take the place of the earlier Giulia Spider, designed by legendary Italian coachbuilder Pininfarina.

It was originally to be called the Duetto after Alfa Romeo ran a competition asking the public to vote for a name, but trademark complications prohibited this choice and the car was released simply as the Alfa Romeo Spider 1600. It was Spartan but ridiculously appealing, and quite expensive. It was also wonderfully engineered and offered a higher power output and more advanced mechanicals than its major rival at the time, the MGB.

'The Graduate': Hollywood calls

Easily the Spider's most famous moment was its appearance in 'The Graduate', the stylish 1967 film with Dustin Hoffman, Anne Bancroft and Katharine Ross, about a student who has an affair with his girlfriend's mother. This role contributed in no small part to the Spider's popularity and helped it to remain on sale, barely changed, for nearly three decades and more than 124,000 unit sales.

In 1970 the tail end was modernised somewhat, and some extra power was added in the following year. The third generation model was introduced in 1982, with new, black rubber bumpers which received a mixed reaction. A fourth generation model ran from 1990 until the car was discontinued in 1993.

GTV and Brera Spiders

However the Spider name was revived only a year later for the convertible version of the GTV, a distinctive, wedge shaped design featuring some very Italian details such as the double round headlamps. This Spider never achieved iconic status but did win a number of awards both for its design and engineering. Alfa Romeo made a number of special editions of this unusual but glorious looking roadster, until it was replaced in 2006.

The next Spider was a convertible version of the Brera coupe and ran until 2010. This was effectively the sixth and last generation of the Alfa Romeo Spider.

Could it be the best Alfa Romeo?

Alfa Romeo's reputation, build quality and sales figures have flip-flopped dramatically over the years, but the Spider has remained an excellent example of Italian sports car engineering. Even now, the earliest cars are still amazingly smooth and responsive to drive. Each generation has been exquisitely beautiful to look at and extremely entertaining on the road. Admittedly the soft tops can be a bit leaky, but rust is a more major concern. If you are looking at an old Spider make sure you're buying a good chunk of steel rather than a well disguised lump of filler.

In terms of desirability, the earliest models are the investment buys. 'The Graduate', Duetto era models are the most likely to gain in value, even if later Spiders had some useful extra power to play with and more boot space. Series one and two Spiders make a great buy because they are still affordable and they offer a good drive as well as stunning looks.

The third and fourth generations were considered something of a let-down compared to the purity of earlier cars, while the fifth and sixth generations haven't yet reached classic status. Nonetheless they are still a rewarding ownership prospect thanks to truly Italian driving dynamics that compare well to modern roadsters for entertainment value.

A proposed new version of the Alfa Spider, a joint project with Mazda, could have been great but was scuppered by corporate machinations by parent company Fiat Chrysler. Early work on the Alfa was passed to Fiat, which is releasing the car badged as the 124 Spider.

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