THE 1976 ALFA Spider has been giving me a hard time. It is two years since I bought it and like any two year old it is throwing tantrums. And teething is only part of the problem
Picture me tootling (at a legal speed) along a freeway minding my own business when I sense the car spontaneously decelerating. I smell burning and quickly cross to the inside lane and prepare to stop when the problem goes away as quickly as it came.
Off the freeway and pulled over I can feel the heat coming from the right hand rear wheel and I can smell fried brake fluid; putting the forensics together I diagnose a grabbing rear brake. No sheet, Sherlock, I hear you saying, but why would the brakes grab on only one wheel and why at all given that just about every part of the system has been reconditioned or replaced in the last two years?
I beat a strategic retreat to Ettore and Gabriel, the Alfa gurus. Up on the hoist, we can see a weeping caliper, several tiny cracks in both rear hoses and a now scored and no longer shiny rear set of discs. For the full picture add a small brake fluid leak from the balance valve that sits just in front of the rear axle.
Ettore shakes his head pessimistically. “Is not good, Jon,” he intones between chain-smoked roll-your-owns.
I am disgusted that a brake system that has been as indulged as any spoilt brat could repay my kindness with such ingratitude. The boosters were reconditioned at vast expense, the front and back wheel cylinders and rotors were all reco-ed, the discs were machined and the master cylinder was sleeved in best quality stainless, all about a year ago. And now this… The only bits that were not done are doing a giant dummy spit.
Ettore recommends I ditch all the reconditioned parts and replace everything with new. The twin boosters, the master cylinder, the discs, the hoses, the entire wheel kits, the balancer… All up about $2k for parts. He shrugs nonchalantly when I suggest that solution is somewhat OTT (ask your teenager) and gleefully lectures me about the futility of getting old parts reconditioned when it costs only a little bit extra to get new ones.
I consult widely. A consensus emerges. The cracked rear hoses are likely to be the source of my problem, probably internally degraded and ballooning under heat. And the now slightly scored rear discs might not recover if subjected to yet another visit to the brake lathe. I plunge in with the credit card, order new rear discs, a balancer and braided hoses front and rear from Classic Alfa in the UK. They arrive by courier about ten minutes after I place the order. And for less than half of the equivalent price from a local supplier.
With parts aboard, I try to take the misbehaving Alfa off to be fettled. It turns over strongly, but won’t start. I check the spark – healthy. I pull off the fuel hose from the Dell Ortos – nil. I inspect the new fuel filter – nothing going into it. I bypass the now suspect pump and pull off the input hose from the tank, blow air back and listen for the bubbles then refit the fuel line. I jack up the car, crawl under, remove the pump and bench test it. I can hear the diaphragm making sucking noises. I replace all the hoses in case one has a small split or crack, and try again. Nope.
If I could swear in Italian, I would. My school mates taught me foul words in Greek, but that has zero impact. I call Tony. Being Calabrian he is not quite Alfa Padrone – but close enough. He recommends sealing the fuel filler with a scrunched up towel, pushing an air hose through and blowing air into the tank to force fuel up the lines to prime the fuel pump. It works.
Yesterday, the Alfa would not go nor stop. Now, it goes and stops. But for how long before the next drama?