Chic and sleek, Italy’s best-loved boat-tail roadster, the Alfa Romeo Spider Duetto, catches our eye...
The Spider Duetto doesn’t only look fantastic, but it is well known for offering a brilliantly composed and involving driving experience. The 1570cc twin cam engine is rated as one of the best of the era, providing plenty of power in a high-revving package, all of which is only enhanced by the wonderfully sporty engine note, even on stock examples. From 1967, the engine was uprated to 1779cc, which provided an additional 11bhp.
The fantastic engine is mated to a truly inspired chassis, which is one of the main reasons the car handles as well as it does. With minimal sympathetic suspension upgrades, the car drives as if it’s on rails, and is much more planted through the bends than period rivals such as the MGB roadster.
Alfa Romeo Spider Duetto
Power (bhp@rpm) 107bhp@6000rpm
Torque (lb ft@rpm) 103lb ft@2800rpm
Top speed 113mph
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
BODYWORK & CHASSIS
Duettos are prone to rot because the bodywork was assembled before the primer was applied. Inner sills are particularly susceptible and, being structural, this is a serious problem. Get a potential purchase on a ramp and have a look from below. If there’s any sign of crustiness or sogginess, walk away. Don’t be put off by fresh underseal, as it may be covering up paper-thin metal. If new sills are required, the cost is huge: both wings have to be chopped when replacing the sills, adding to the cost.
Wheelarches are prone to corrosion, so feel all around the inner arches for signs of rust and don’t be afraid to poke and prod. Once again, be wary of fresh underseal. Make sure you inspect the boot floor for signs of corrosion; any rust bubbling through is likely to be worse underneath. When the car is on the ramp, check the front crossmember behind the radiator both for rust and signs of welding. It is a muck and water trap and will more than likely need repair if it hasn’t already been done.
All Duettos were fitted with Alfa’s four-pot twin cam with an all-alloy engine block, which is sweet-revving and smooth-running, but they’re fragile if not cared for. Oil should be changed every 3000 miles, so look for a frequent service history, and ensure good oil has been used. Overheating leads to head gasket failure, so check the coolant for oil and inspect the oil filler cap for mayonnaise while the engine is cool. Let the engine warm up, keeping an eye on the temperature gauge. After a decent test drive, check the oil filler cap for mayonnaise again.
Check the side of the engine block for any oil leaks or streaks down its flanks. If three lines of oil can be seen then the O-rings below the camshaft bearings are shot. Be wary if the block looks too clean andbe sure to check it again after you’ve been for a test drive. Inspect the air filter for signs of oil from the breather pipe – this is a good indication that the block will require a costly rebuild. If so, walk away.
Running gear is typical Italian build quality of the era: not great. Steering and suspension bushes are susceptible to wear, so will have been replaced in anything nicer than a project car. Check that high quality replacements were used, as inferior parts are common. If the rear wheels have too much play, it is likely to be the trunnion bushes – count on needing nylon replacements if this hasn’t already been done. Metalastik bushes in the suspension wishbones are a weakness, seizing up after water damage. This is a common fault and a big job to put right, so look for evidence of repair in the history file.
Inspect the front floorpan on both driver and passenger sides. Lift any carpet and rubber mats, and if there are any rust patches or holes, walk away. Inspect the seat runners, particularly where they bolt to the floor. Also check for signs of damp – a leaking hood is a death sentence for a Duetto, eating away at the sills and floorpan. Check below the bottom of the doors, pulling back any rubber trim as water can become trapped beneath the rubber.
Original interiors are rare and expensive to re-upholster, so check their condition; if the interior is non-original this will affect resale value. Electrics are typically Italian so check that everything is in working order. Gremlins can be a pain to fix, especially if you’re paying an electrician their hourly rate.
Perhaps one of the most instantly recognisable of the Alfa Romeos, the Spider Duetto is also one of the prettiest. It enjoys a fashionable reputation unlike any other model, and has been synonymous with sexy chic ever since it first rolled off the production line in 1966.
As much a style icon as a sports car, you can’t really go wrong with a Duetto and they also make a brilliant investment, providing you get a good one. If you’re not an expert, then it’s best to take one with you when viewing. Cheap cars can be dressed up to look like superb examples, but will most likely hide serious bodywork and mechanical issues that will cost a fortune to put right. As long as you buy wisely you’re unlikely to lose money, and you’ll have an involving and exciting roadster to enjoy throughout the summer.
There’s very little that exemplifies continental chic more stylishly than a Series 1 Alfa Romeo Spider Duetto. Architect-turned-TV-presenter Francesco da Mostro and celebrity chef Antonio Carluccio have both driven the sleek Alfa drop-tops on telly recently while showcasing the delights of Italy. Nothing seems to encapsulate the beauty of Italy – its food, fashion and people – as this old Alfa ragtop.
Early boat-tail Duettos are easily the most desirable of the four incarnations of the car, the model that represents Pininfarina’s design at its purest. Unlike later cars, the Spider Duetto is almost timeless – it tugs on the heartstrings and can turn even the most partisan classic enthusiast misty-eyed. It’s not without its problems, but all that is forgiven as you blast along the road on a summer’s evening, the engine singing and the wind in your hair. There are cheaper and more reliable alternatives, but for sheer pleasure of ownership, nothing else will even come close.