OKAY, CONFESSION. I bought another car. Sight unseen. It’s like a blind date, and the outcome can be just as exhilarating or just as soul destroying. I hinted at this new fling in Unique Cars # 386 back in March – now the relationship has moved to the next level.
I have had a hankering for an affordable convertible.
Roof down, sun in your eyes, trucks blasting exhaust fumes straight into your face, valuables left exposed to passers by, tropical downpours catching you unawares and soaking you through on the way out for dinner – what’s not to like?
So the choices had to be narrowed down and dealt with. The budget? Well, that depends on whether it is a toy or an investment. It has to be useable as a spare daily driver, reliable and capable of going beyond just the city.
So nothing too old – I sold an MG TC last year because it was just too uncomfortable for anything beyond a short trip.
And any drive on a freeway was plain terrifying.
MGB? No, my inner snob says they are way too common. Although it is comforting to know you can buy everything you will ever need for it. But snobbery conquers practicality.
MGA? Maybe, but lousy brakes, the shape does not scream out to me and performance was never that great even when new.
Mercedes Pagoda top? Yes, certainly, but the prices have gone ballistic and I suspect I have missed that boat. And they are mostly slush-box. The whole point of a sports car is to drive it, not just steer it.
Mazda MX-5? Early ones with flip up lights are now old enough to go on club plates, but there is a fatal flaw.
Despite the air conditioning, the easy to fold roof and the simple mechanicals, they lack the one strict requirement that my wife asked for. Any selfrespecting family picnic has to include taking the dog which requires some room behind the front bucket seats.
So I started looking at Alfa Spiders. Is this the time for my first Italian car? Would an Alfa be reliable? Is rust a problem?
Is the Pope a Catholic?
There are several distinct sub categories of my chosen poison. Early cars – Duetto they are called – with the svelte swoopy rear boot are very rare, more expensive and slower. I would love one – but none around for now. The next incarnation are the Kamm tail cars with the sharp cut-off boot – but many are left-handdrive conversions and thus sub optimal. Yes, you can buy these cheaper but my inner snob strikes again.
Eventually, weeks of waiting paid off – but the target was 800km from home. A quick phone call established the bona fides of the vehicle and perhaps the seller. A friend who checked it out told me it was as rusty as any 40-year old Italian car is likely to be, but acceptable at the price.
I leapt in sight unseen.
So a few days later I have a tow truck dropping off a car I have never seen at my back lane. I get in and turn the key – nothing happens. We push it into the shed, whack on a battery charger and the next morning – nothing happens.
A few minutes of tinkering, loose terminals tightened, plugs cleaned, points checked – nothing happens. Then a few loose wires behind the key are fiddled with and, presto, we have the whirring noise of a starter motor cranking over and eventually she fires.
So the bad news (apart from the rust): there’s no horn, no choke control, brake master cylinder seizing and not much else. So all in all, reasonably happy, a punt worth taking, a blind date that eventually could lead to romance.
The good news: I got a virtually new top-quality soft-top, newly trimmed seats, tyres good enough for now, some clear evidence of recent attention to the motor and she does not blow any smoke in your eyes. One whirl around the dance floor and I am smitten. Clutch, steering and suspension are all fine.
The chassis is straight and completely free of rust. The outer panel rot will mean some stern words to at least the outer sills. But better to buy one that is known to need the surgery rather than paying more and praying it has not been bogged up.
Ah, now for la dolce vita!