Fun Stuff

Find of the Week: 1997 Alfa Romeo Spider

Much is being made of Italian automaker Alfa Romeo's recent return to North America after more than two decades, with cars like the Alfa Romeo 4C coupe and convertible and Giulia sport sedan.

You can thank Chrysler's merger with the Fiat Group -- which resulted in the creation of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) -- for bringing attainable Italian metal back to this continent. But our latest Find of the Week hearkens back to an era (though, admittedly, a recent one) when Alfa Romeo was all-Italian, following the brand's acquisition by Fiat, but prior to Chrysler's involvement.

This pretty 1997 Alfa Romeo Spider is a drop-top spinoff of a coupe called the GTV, short for Gran Turismo Veloce, which roughly translates into "fast grand touring." Introduced as 1995 models, these cars came along a couple of years too late to make it to North America, as the company had decided in 1993 to pull out of North America and did so in 1995; Alfa's last model sold here was the 164 sedan.

As is the European way, GTV and Spider models were offered with a variety of engines that included naturally-aspirated and turbocharged four-cylinders and V6s; our FOTW has under its hood a 2.0L "twin-spark" four-cylinder that puts its 148 hp and 137 lb-ft of torque to the front wheels through a five-speed manual transmission.

This car is considered the successor to the Giulia Spider, a car that traced its lineage back to the mid-1960s, and whose 1993 model was the last Alfa convertible to come to North America until the brand made its return with the 4C Spider (and coupe) in 2014.

Notable facts about this car include composite front bodywork for the bumper, fenders and hood, and its twin-spark engine, which used dual spark plugs in each cylinder, a design said to help improve fuel economy by allowing a leaner air-fuel mixture.

We know this car was likely imported to Canada privately -- it certainly wasn't sold new here as a 1997 -- but the ad is sparse on information beyond providing basics like the fact it wears new tires and convertible roof and comes with an anti-theft starter interlock. We later got an update from the seller, who told us this car is a recent European import with all-original paint.

To our eyes, the Spider is prettier than its coupe sibling thanks to a rounded tail more graceful than the GTV coupe's more abrupt trunk. As much as we like the GTV's quirky look, the convertible treatment also lessens the jarring nature of that character line that runs from the front fender to the C-pillar.

Photos of the car, presumably taken in the showroom of Metro Auto, in the Laval suburb of Montreal, show clean bodywork that backs up the dealer's accident-free claim. Likewise, the all-black interior, complete with well-bolstered leather seating, looks spotless and in line with the 58,000 km odometer reading. The small trunk houses a spare tire, wrapped in what appears to be an OEM fabric cover to protect items stowed in the space around it. Alfa resisted the urge to cram tiny back seats into the Spider, instead putting a more useful cargo shelf behind the driver and passenger chairs.

While the Spider's power output is modest for a 2.0L engine, at the time, it was praised for its free-revving nature and great soundtrack. And an all-Alfa chassis -- in place of the Fiat parts-bin components that had underpinned other Alfas in the years following the acquisition -- endowed the Spider with impressive handling that won over car reviewers.

A $15,900 asking price may sound steep for a 2.0L-powered roadster, considering similar money will net you a Mazda Miata 10 years newer. But when you consider the Spider is something of an exotic here -- thanks both to its rarity and the Alfa brand's storied heritage -- we think sixteen grand is a fair amount for a fun convertible with such low mileage. And we suspect sourcing parts would be relatively straightforward through existing distribution networks.

It may only be February, but our latest Find of the Week has us daydreaming of summer already.