1981 Alfa Romeo Spider Reviews

1981 Alfa Romeo Spider veloce 2.L from North America

Model year1981
Year of manufacture1980
First year of ownership1981
Most recent year of ownership1992
Engine and transmission 2.L Manual
Performance marks 7 / 10
Reliability marks 2 / 10
Comfort marks 5 / 10
Dealer Service marks 3 / 10
Running Costs (higher is cheaper) 4 / 10
Overall marks (average of all marks)
4.2 / 10
Distance when acquired120 miles
Most recent distance80000 miles
Previous carAlfa Romeo Spider

Summary:

Lorelei... reef siren... harpy... vampiress

Faults:

Where do I start?

To begin with, my new Spider Veloce was a grey market car in everything, but name. The ’81 model was a one-off interim model, in between a long-standing Spica injected model and prior to the following year release of an electronic fuel injected model. The ’81 included modifications to the aging mechanical Spica Injection system (for purely smog purposes). These modifications made my Alfa significantly different from previous Spica injected Alfas and totally different from the next and subsequent years of electronic injected Alfas. There were simple, one-off body trim differences too, with totally out of proportion consequences. OK…here we go:

1) From day one, off the dealer lot, the car was stubborn to start, tended to stall, demonstrated poor performance and had a disheartening pre-ignition when accelerating on level roads. Dealer and other sources confirmed that this was to be expected of this particular year model.

2) The parking lamp fuse blew, as I drove off of the dealer lot. It blew every time it rained, and I discovered months later that the one-off-year mounted front parking light housing collected water and rusted. I fixed this myself while still in warranty.

3) The interim year head gasket blew at 5k miles, warranty replaced.

4) The replacement head gasket blew at 15k miles. I systematically cleaned the head and replaced.

5) An interim year fuel line snaked back and forth under the car (an “S” shaped, un-reinforced hose). This hose would fatigue and collapse, cutting off fuel pressure and stopping the car. Happened repeatedly until; well more on that later.

6) The interim year accelerator cable that replaced a solid mechanical linkage would shear unexpectedly. This occurred in Houston freeway rush hour traffic, once when my wife was driving, just outside of warranty. I replaced it and it occurred yet again. I learned to frequently inspect and have replacements on hand.

7) Head gasket blew again at 30k miles. I systematically cleaned the head, checked for surface abnormalities and replaced yet again. This car was never over-heated.

8) Interim year smog adjustments had the engine running at 212 degrees. This was quite hot for the aluminum engine and the dealer described this as per '81 year design. Changing thermostat to cooler version had no effect, as flow restrictor in the intake manifold defeated greater cooling volume. High operating temperatures helped explain head gasket and premature valve wear.

9) Nylon belt driven fan self destructed while driving home, in freeway traffic at 40k miles.

10) Exhaust valve wore out at 60k miles.

I packaged the engine head and spica injection pump and sent to a known good Alfa expert for evaluation and repair, and then...

My expert advised me that the Spica pump was leaking gas into the oil system and that it was DOA.

I knew my Alfa was a beautiful, but unhappy thoroughbred, encumbered by an ambivalent exporter and an unsympathetic EPA. "HELP ME", she pleaded. "HELP ME". Who could resist.

I then yanked out the A/C unit, evaporator and condenser. I removed the EGR system, air pump, remaining Spica injection components, stock intake manifold, exhaust manifold and exhaust system. I removed the interim, prone-to-break throttle cable mechanism and air cleaner. I added pre-smog twin dellorto side draft carbs + intake, pre-smog factory header + Ansa exhaust. Gone went the zig-zagging fuel lines. I installed the earlier model mechanical linkage throttle system and advanced the valve and ignition timing.

Oh, boy. What a difference. My Alfa sang….gloriously. She purred as beautifully as she looked. I was hooked and the open road beckoned for another four years.

But you can't do this. Getting the car inspected was a major pain for me, as it would be for you. Much better to buy a L-jetronic fuel injected car, one model year later. BTW: I didn't mention the water pump (s), clutch (es), oil seals and other incidentals that were replaced before 70k miles.

General Comments:

Metallic silver with burgundy red interior... a siren's song. Sitting still or on the road... it looked fast and sexy. Whoever originally designed the car truly loved the concept. Got lots of comments and attention at fueling stations and parking lots. Lots of stares on the road. And after the de-EPA mods; oh sweet heaven.

Dang, but it was hard for the first 6 years. I had more patience than I would today. Now, I would make the dealer eat the car, long before warranty was out.

Would you buy another car from this manufacturer? Yes

Review Date: 24th May, 2006

24th May 2006, 18:19

Fantastic review. Alfas have always been the temptress: Great to look at, but trouble down the road.

5th Jun 2006, 14:16

Sorry, but if this badly manufactured wreck yelled "Help me!" I'd say "OK" and chop it up with an angle grinder purely to put it out of its misery.

5th Jun 2006, 20:12

This comment from the original review submitter and in response to comment #2:

Believe me, I lay awake a few nights thinking that in the quiet of the early morning hours, in the seclusion of the garage, nobody could hear an Alfa scream. But every time you approach a Spider, regardless of the angle; you can't resist running your fingers along the ample curves, and resting yourself down into her business end. The entire time we're spurned by these steel vixens, we're convinced they're just holding out for someone better. And if we just give her a little more attention, then maybe... But in the end we're enslaved by lust and jealousy. Wicked man-killers.

1981 Alfa Romeo Spider veloce 2 liter from North America

Year of manufacture1981
First year of ownership2003
Most recent year of ownership2004
Engine and transmission 2 liter Manual
Performance marks 8 / 10
Reliability marks 8 / 10
Comfort marks 6 / 10
Running Costs (higher is cheaper) 6 / 10
Overall marks (average of all marks)
7.0 / 10
Distance when acquired110000 miles
Most recent distance111000 miles
Previous carMazda Protege

Faults:

Since I bought the car, nothing major has happened. The engine does seem to leak a lot around the cam cover, and a little bit around the head gasket. I have the intention to replace all of the gaskets. Recently I have been hearing some backfiring during deceleration, which probably means that my fuel-cutoff solenoid is faulty, or not getting juice. Minor electrical short somewhere in speedometer. Fortunately rust was not a problem with my car.

General Comments:

The car had been previously restored. New headers were installed and K&N filters put on. Seats are Ridgard and though they are really low, deep bucket seats, are far more comfortable then any other car I have driven. having said that, loud exhaust is a bit tiring on longer trips. (when I got the car inspected, the mechanic thought I had a hole in the muffler). When accelerating, the soundtrack is awesome. Handles really well, except for that time that the rear decided not to stick the other day. Would buy another Alfa, maybe a zegato bodied car, if I had the money.

Would you buy another car from this manufacturer? Yes

Review Date: 21st August, 2004

Average review marks: 5.6 / 10, based on 2 reviews