Alfa Romeo is one of the oldest manufacturers in the sports and luxury car industries. They have been manufacturing cars since 1910, when the first factory opened up in Milan, Italy. They have been involved in sports racing for just as long, beginning in 1911, which means that they have been active for over a century.
With a history that long, you can imagine that the experience of restoring an Alfa Romeo can vary immensely, depending on the model and year of your car.
Even though the Italian car manufacturer hasn’t won a major race in decades, there is still a lot of history and pride attached to owning a vintage Alfa Romeo model.
Also, in comparison to other classic cars, you can purchase and restore an Alfa Romeo at a much lower cost. When you consider how expensive it can be to restore vintage cars like that of Ferrari, it is incredibly affordable. Depending on model and condition, you could buy and repair an Alfa for a few grand, not including the running and maintenance costs.
Things to Look Out For
One of the most popular Alfa Romeo models, especially in the vintage car space is the Spider. You may recognize the 1966 1600 Duetto boat-tail Spider as Dustin Hoffman’s ride in “The Graduate”. If there is one Alfa model that you should restore and the expense isn’t a concern, then you may want to go with the Spider. It is the most collectable car to have been produced by Alfa.
The earlier models tend to be more desirable, but also more expensive to purchase and restore. Not to mention that finding parts can be difficult but not impossible. The Spider was produced for over 30 years, and there were mainly minor changes--both mechanically and cosmetically--so it is one of the easier restoration projects to take on.
However, some of the most common issues that Alfa owners come across are electrical. Alfas are known for displaying strange electrical glitches. The majority of these electrical problems are related to a loose connection with the battery or fuses. Others may be caused by a blown fuse, in which the car is trying to bypass resulting in strange glitches like the windshield wipers not working at all, running when the switch is off or the radio going out-of-whack. The problem may be common, but it is usually an easy fix. Simply check for the loose connection and correct it. It may also need to be cleaned to prevent from being disconnected again.
Another common problem to look out for is worn suspension links and U-joints. You can tell if the car has an issue with U-joints if it has a vibration that seems to come from underneath. If the level of vibration increases as the speed increases, it is even more likely that the U-joints need replaced. Replacing them isn’t expensive, but it can be painstaking to remove. If done improperly, it can cause more damage, so it is recommended to take it to a garage that specializes in Alfa repair and restoration.
It is important to be aware of the driveshaft donut common in Spider models, because the symptoms of a failing donut can mimic those of a U-joint. Inspect the transmission routinely, usually two to three times per year, more if you drive the car frequently. You can tell if the donut needs replaced by looking at its condition under the car and feeling the texture for cracks or rips.
When driving an Alfa. try to stay on paved and even roads. They are definitely not designed for rough roads. Potholes, uneven pavement and other imperfections can cause issues underneath the car. It is easy to make impact with the road surface when it is uneven, causing damage. For example, an issue that Alfa owners often experience is loose steering. This is usually a problem with the tie rod ends or lower ball joints. If you find that the car steering moves around too freely, get it checked out. It likely needs either the ball joints or tie rod ends replaced, which are relatively affordable.
The cars can be a bit temperamental when you run them, but so can many other vintage models. Part of the allure of Alfa Romeo classics is that there are so many odd and unique looking designs. When you’re driving around in one of them, they’ll often draw attention because there aren’t many other cars like them on the road. This is especially true if you are driving in America.
It also means that if you are trying to restore one of the more obscure models it can be tricky to find the necessary parts.
Rusting is a common problem for many Alfa Romeo models. Some models are susceptible to floor rust especially. Restoring an Alfa Romeo may require heavy body work to repair metal and rust. You may need to use color sanding or machine buffing in the process, as well as fill the body, prime and paint.
When in the market for an Alfa, make sure to pay close attention to the badge. The badge is made up of two traditional symbols of Milan, the birthplace of the Italian car manufacturer. One is the cross of the municipality and the other is the Visconti serpent. In most version, they are encircled in a disc with Alfa Romeo lettering around the edge of the circle. Through the decades, the symbol has been modified slightly with different coloring and lettering, but it still contains the serpent and the cross.
Sometimes when restoring a vintage car you never truly know what is going to happen. You may fix one problem only to become aware of two more that need to be fixed. It is a project usually taken on because you are a deep fan of the car and enjoy the challenge of working on cars with so much history. This is usually the mindset it takes if you plan to restore a vintage Alfa Romeo as close as you can to its former glory. It's best to consult not just car experts, but Alfa Romeo experts, like Giovanni D'Avola at Autosprint for expert restoration advice. (firstname.lastname@example.org).