All posts by Bruce Thomson

1976 Alfa Romeo Spider – Test Drive, 12/04/2015


First, apologies for the recent lack of consistent postings. I have been very busy at school with the wrapping up of the semester and the organization and running of our School’s Thesis Show.

You may notice that this drawing is different to previous ones in that it is fully coloured, but more on that later. Let’s start at the beginning. I had, of course, already seen this car, but Evelyn had not, and so I was anxious to see her reaction to it. We arrived in the late afternoon and the car was sitting in the driveway, ready to be taken for a spin. The owner hopped in the driver’s seat and took me for a spin down the country road on which he lives, and talked to me a little about the car. The vehicle was not licensed, so our excursion was only a kilometre or so down the road, to its dead end, and then back. This was enough, however to run the car through the gears and get it up to 4th at least.

Back in the driveway, I got into the driver’s seat and Evelyn into the passenger seat and off we went. I was a little surprised at how low you sit in this car – it doesn’t look like that will be the case from the outside. The clutch bite point was a little surprising  to me and I nearly embarrassed myself by a stall, but managed to parley that into only a “stutter” as I backed out of the drive. The steering felt tight and direct, and shifting (I’ve heard this can be a problem on these cars, especially 2nd gear) was easy and very smooth. We got to the end of the road and executed a 3 point turn and were off, and this time I gave it a bit of welly, nothing outrageous, but enough to get an idea of the engine note at 5 grand; and the result was lovely – loud but not deafening, with a hint of a “howl” that bodes well for when the engine winds up even more. At this point Evelyn asked me why I was going “so fast” and I was able to report to her that I was only doing 40 mph. Obviously, like many smaller cars this one has the tendency to increase the impression of speed…

The car ran well, and seemed to enjoy stretching its legs. As far as I could tell (given the limited range I drove) the handling was good and the car put its power down well. The drive was a little noisy, but not annoyingly so – just enough to remind you that you’re in a convertible (the top was up) and that this is a sports car . Everything about the car felt “tight” and predictable. I think the only complaint that I could make is that the turn signal felt a bit “floppy”. So this was a very good experience.

So good, that I put money down on the car. Sadly, however, over two weeks later and I have yet to pick it up. The seller is a very busy guy and I’ve had a hard time arranging a date to get the ownership and sales package settled so I can get a temporary permit to pick it up. I’m hoping to get this sorted this week and will update the site when it happens.


Classics on the horizon

It’s been a little slow of late. The weather refuses to conform to the calendar and remains grudgingly bleak and chilly, thus the explosion of classics onto the market has been rather a “trickle”. Add to that the fact that I have been rather busy with work and you get thin pickings at this site. Be assured, however, that I continue to while away my time on this in other ways, and I have found the following cars locally, and plan to look at them when I have the time…


Not a car on my list, you’ll notice, and a little beyond my price range too, but not greatly so. I always thought that these were great cars when I was a kid, but never particularly aspired to one. In the 70s these were so common on the street that you almost failed to see them. I did see one recently and was reminded of what a good design they were. I don’t know if I could see myself actually IN one of these though. But this is why I’d like to test drive one; just to see.


Again – not on my list, though I do like these – but not a convertible either. This car is a strange one – it looks complete and solid and is a good colour (dark green) and is the sought after “tii” model. All good, correct? Well, the issue is that the ad for this is rather terse, saying little about the car except that it is in “grate” shape (is it wrong of me to be bothered by such mis-spellings?) and that I shouldn’t waste the seller’s time unless I know what these are worth. Well; the photos aren’t great, the car is covered in dust, and it may lack front seats (certainly from one view this appears to be the case, but it is possible they have been fully reclined). I’d like to test drive this one, but my concern, of course, is not what I think it’s worth (and Hagerty values have given me a good idea) but what the seller thinks it is worth – which may be a horse of an entirely different colour. It’s certainly worth a look though, and I may simply be guilty of cynicism and misinterpretation.

1974 Fiat

Finally – one that IS on my list. This one looks to be in very good condition and is priced reasonably competitively. I do want to test drive one of these because I think they are smart looking cars, and given the fact that there are still a good number of them around, I suspect that they would benefit from the same enthusiast base that the TR6s do. This one has apparently never been winter driven and the seller claims that it is all original except for a new canvas top (which is nice, because a lot of these were “customized” in small ways). Definitely on my list to try and test drive.

Not sure if I will get any test drives in this coming weekend as it is Easter… but I will try.

1976 Alfa Romeo Spider, Viewed 21/03/2015

1976 Alfa white

I didn’t actually expect to like this car. I’d seen photographs of “bits” of it, and those looked good, but in general, this was not the car I was looking for – why? Well, first it was a 1976 with all that that entails – heavy bumpers, emissions equipment – and – well – it was “white”. I know you’re not supposed to buy a car based upon it’s colour, but I didn’t think the white served the shape of a Spider all that well…

So I walked into this blokes garage looking to see what I could get out of the 1972 Spider but was continuously distracted by this understated beauty sitting just behind (and below  – it wasn’t on a hoist) the ’72. It would be an exaggeration to describe it as “perfect” but it wasn’t far off. This car was pristine, in all the ways that the bloke trying to sell the first TR6 (see 1971 TR6, Viewed 28/09/2104) I looked at would have wished his car was. The seller had described this car to me as a “cream puff” and I was finding it hard to disagree, as my glance darted from my “preferred 1972 to the “less desirable” 1976.

There is too much GOOD about this car to describe it in detail – the best thing I can do is to start with its imperfections; the paint wasn’t perfect. There – I’ve said it. The paint had some chips, evidence of the removal of an unattractive trim piece on the detail line above the rocker panel, and the odd spot where there was the suggestion of a little bodywork beneath the paint – bit very little. The interior was astonishing –  – really – there’s no other word for it – and according to the seller, original. There’s an original Blaupunkt AM/AM/FM/FM/FM radio, and – hold your breath – even the original cigarette lighter.

I’m gonna buy a cigar. 😉

The engine bay was – well – pristine. SPICA injection there, all the emission crap (ooops – stuff) removed, and looked,on the whole, to be about 2 years old – the only thing that wasn’t “stand out” “shiny” perfection was the head that was VERY slightly mottled. Otherwise, this was beautiful. I’m a little ashamed to say that I brushed my fingers across the head to feel for heat – none (more on that later).

The interior? Wow. The interior was “oxblood” (the seller informs me this is actually called, I think, “Amaranth”) and this included the seats and the door cards – but the top strip of the door cards and the dash (of course) were black. The dash was original but had a tiny (about 1cm) tear in it  – and this is from the front of one of the vents  -so if it continues it will tap out at the windshield – far preferable to the other way around. I don’t know how else to describe the interior than “pristine”.

The boot was beautiful too. paint was near perfect. I did not remove the spare tire, but I will, to check for rot (there will be none). The original and complete tool kit is still mounted to the rear wall, as is the original (and rarely used by the look of it) jack. The car sported period correct Compagnolo wheels (a tad worse for wear) and of course the dreaded  “American Appeasement” bumpers. By this time, I was finding it hard to see anything but beauty in this car, though. Remember the Alfa of the same vintage from 25/10/2014? It had the same bumpers but I couldn’t stand them – why? because they were delaminating, and looked like “JAWS” had had a go at the right rear driver’s side. These were – like the rest of the car, pristine. I don’t look at them and think “hey – these are WAY better than the 1974 versions” – but, viewing them in situ, these looked damned good.

The underside – well – simply, it was as good, or better than the rest- solid metal and no deterioration. The seller (or a previous owner) had added an oil pan protector, but again, this was perfect – no rust, no deterioration-  the same could be said of the parts behind it. A squat beneath the rear end revealed equally clean components.

A test drive was impossible due to poor roads, salt, and slightly inhospitable weather, but the seller was happy to start the car for me nonetheless. He sat in the car, pulled the choke out a little and turned the key – and the engined purred into life. There was no worrisome smoke from the dual ANZA tailpipe, the engine hummed away happily and when he stepped out of the car and grabbed the throttle mechanism in the engine bay, it happily growled to about 6000 rpm.

I started this visit “wanting” to dislike this car – but instead found myself somewhat besotted by it. It’s not just that it’s in brilliant shape (one could argue that this is almost a disincentive in a 1976) it’s that the car is “quirky”. White is not a colour I thought would look “good” on an Alfa – it does (especially with the oxblood [amaranth?] interior). The rubber bumpers? Can’t stand them. Well. I could put up with them. Well – they’re really not that bad. The seller tells me I can de-gas the shocks to move the rear bumper in a bit – but – why bother?

This car is largely stock, and it is a beauty. The seller is asking – wait for it – $11,900.

Value for money: 10/10 – This is NOT a desirable 71 – 74 Spider, but this one has no emissions rubbish and the bumpers could (should I wish) be replaced. The price is right and appropriate, as far as I can discern.
Driving Impression: TBD – I’m setting up a date to test drive this. More to follow. 
Body: 9/10 – looks great – a couple of paint issues.
Engine (Speculative): 9/10 -started cold with no smoke, revved well, and ran like a top – but I do want to feel how it pulls on the road – TBD
Handling: TBD

I’m seriously interested in this car. Evelyn and I are going to head up to take a test drive as soon as the weather permits. I expect a couple of other test drives before this, as the seller is a busy man – but I can’t wait… 🙂

Update, 22/03/2015

Alfa update 2

I had begun to think that I was going to get to have another crack at the Duetto I’d viewed back in January; I should have known better. At the time, you may recall, I was a little concerned by the fact that the Duetto was on offer for the same price as the 1976 Spider. It LOOKED clean. it SEEMED good. But in the end, I felt I would need a test drive as well as a PPI to give me the confidence to make an offer. I had been keeping an eye on the dealer’s website and up until recently, it was still there.

Then, a week or two ago, I saw it on ebay. In fairness, ebay was the manner in which I discovered 76 Spider at the same dealership, so I thought that maybe it would sit. It didn’t though. Last time I checked it was sold.

I’m not too disappointed. Were I an Alfa expert I could buy with more confidence having knowledge of the cars, how they drive, what I should expect, etc. Given that I’ve driven very few Alfas, and none for any length of time or “in anger” (as the saying goes) I felt that I really needed a test drive before putting cash on the barrelhead. Someone beat me to it though. C’est la vie.

1972 Alfa Romeo Spider, Viewed 21/03/2015

72 Alfa SpiderKVT

This is one of 2 cars I viewed today (both owned by the same seller). This is the one that initially attracted me – it’s exactly what I’m looking for in a Spider – the right year, SPICA injection, Carello headlamp covers, lovely shade of red.., The seller had warned me , however that the car was “rough”. Still the price it was on offer for was very good and I had thoughts of getting it restored “just so”.

When I arrived, I knew a test drive was out of the question, as the car was on a hoist. This did allow me a great view of the undercarriage, though. It was rough, but I’ve seen worse. The floors looked reasonably solid as did the attachment points, but the rockers were rough, with the driver’s side sporting a 12cm rent, and bubbling paint. The chrome wasn’t quite as clean as I would’ve hoped, and the paint had a slightly flat, faded appearance. None of this should have been a surprise to me as the seller had told me pretty much all of this before I arrived. He describes it as a mechanically sound car that would pass inspection and is fun to drive, but needs a lot of work in terms of the cosmetics and body. I was tempted before arriving, but actually seeing the car was an eye-opener…

Beyond the body and cosmetic issues, the car had originally been silver and this can be seen in the engine bay. The “matching interior” (for the silver) was a dark red that seemed a little like overkill with the red paint of the car. In my head, the dollar figures were beginning to increase at an alarming rate – Rotisserie paint job with consequent engine and interior removal, re-doing the seats and doorcards in a colour to match the red (black, I presume) bodywork… it was all beginning to look like a bit much for me.

I think for the right person – someone who has the workspace and the tools – this would be a brilliant car. It’s certainly an excellent starting point, and 1972 is one of THE years to have for this model. But given my circumstances, and according to my “rules” for this purchase, I should be looking for the best car I can afford – and though this one is tempting, I think it would be time consuming to get to the state I want it in, and probably more important, expensive to achieve, given that I don’t have a place to work on it myself and would have to contract the entire job out.

The asking price for this car is $4900, which I think is a fair ask – especially if you’re able to tinker with it as you go. I can’t. So;

Value for Money: 8/10 – A good deal, I think – but not for me.
Driving Impression: NA
Body: 5/10 – The body was rough but looked generally solid – it would need some metal replacement – but not all that much. Engine: 7/10 – NA – The seller claims it’s a “driver” and I tend to believe him, based upon our conversation and his other car (more on this to follow)
Handling: NA

So – this car, as much as I like it, and see promise in it, is not for me. The seller did have another car to show me though, and he’d already suggested that, given my circumstances (which I had told him about) this car might be more up my alley… I’ll post on this next one soonest.

1964 Austin Healey Sprite, Viewed 15/03/2015

1964 Sprite

It’s been some time since I last posted. Partly this had to do with the fact that I’ve been very busy, but also, as inferred in earlier posts, the snow and salt that dusted our streets here were not conducive to testing a classic car, or even pulling one out into the driveway. To my (and probably all of Toronto’s) great relief, the snow is melting, the air is warming and the streets are clearing. And the search is back on.

Yesterday we looked at a 1964 Healey Sprite. This car was on offer from a dealership, but the dealer was keeping it at his home as he didn’t want to leave it on the lot. The car looked good in the pictures, but I’ve learned the hard way that they are not always accurate. Evelyn and I arrived in the early afternoon and didn’t have to search for the house number as the car was sitting out in the driveway. At first glance it did look very clean, but I found the powder blue paint job not exactly to my taste, and was disappointed to see that the colour of the interior matched. On closer inspection, the paint was not great – it was sagging in places and looked hurriedly done. Other than that, the car was very clean. These are not easy cars to look under as they are so low, but I dirtied my jacket and took a look underneath and was surprised to see that it was absolutely clean – no suggestion of rust at all and no soft spots.

So far, so good. The interior was generally good, but the carpet wasn’t spec and had an “I applied it myself!” look.  The engine looked clean as did the engine bay, but the hood didn’t close flush on the drivers side front. Chrome was generally good although the bumper showed a good amount of light pitting. The owner didn’t want it on the streets yet (can’t blame him), but he was happy to allow me to start it up, and the engine sounded very good indeed. I presume the engine had been started earlier as it started unchoked, but still, it revved well, and idled beautifully. All in all then, this is a very solid car. The car had a tonneau cover that was well used but in good nick, but only had the framework for the convertible top.

So – to price. the owner was asking $18,000. He said it had been lowered from $20,000. I’d say that, by Hagerty values, this is probably a Category “3” car, which suggests that the value is somewhere in the US$10,000 range – or about CDN$12,750. I don’t think I would want to pay even this much based on the paint issues and lack of the convertible hood. I was actually very tempted by it, but was a little concerned about the amount of grunt that 60 horsepower will provide, in spite of the diminutive stature of the car. I will want to test drive one of these sooner rather than later…

Value for Money: 3/10 – This is overpriced for what it is.
Driving Impression: NA – Engine ran very well, though.
Body: 8/10 – I’d have given this a little higher than this as the body LOOKED very solid – but the dodgy paintjob makes me wonder if there are any dodgy surprises underneath.
Engine: 9/10 – Not really fair to judge and engine sitting in a driveway, but it looked and felt very good, from the driveway perspective, anyway…
Handling: NA

Evelyn’s rankings:

Cool factor: 6
I liked the look of this Healey Sprite. But the colour was a little less than winning for me too. This would be a car that would look great in red, but that means more $$, which hurts its cool factor.  The car was in great shape though.
Comfort: 4
I was surprised by how spacious this car felt (in comparison to the TR6. It was rather too low to the ground for comfort though, which made it a little more difficult to get in and out of (again, relative to the TR6). But, I suppose that’s something I will have to get used to if a classic sports car is to be in our future.Also, the drivers side seat didn’t adjust, so I’d find it hard to drive.
Price: 3
Likelihood that I’d join Bruce on a Sunday drive in this: Definitely.

Update 21/02/2015

Alfa update

It’s been a while since I posted and this is due to 2 factors; 1) It’s still bloody cold up here and the idea of a test drive is just pleasant fantasy at this juncture and, 2)  I was busy trying to purchase a car.

After long consideration and consultation with Evelyn, we decided to take a serious look at the Alfa Spider we had seen recently. We discussed the car with the salesman and suggested an offer of $22,000.00. He seemed agreeable to this so we asked for a Pre-Purchase Inspection. I found a local Alfa guy who said he’d contact the seller and take a look at it for me. And so I waited.

And waited.

And waited. After 2 weeks I phoned the salesman and he told me that 2 days after we had last viewed the car (and asked for the PPI) he’d sold it at full price to an interested party. I can’t complain about the sale – that’s business – but I’m a little miffed that he had me waiting for a PPI that would never happen and simply left me to get back in touch with him at my convenience.

He told me that the Duetto was still available, but in speaking with him previously (when the later model car was still on offer) he suggested that it needed some work and wasn’t as much a “driver” as the other. So – I’m going to beg off this one for the time being. If it is still there when the salt is off the roads I’ll see about taking it for a test drive. But, in the meantime, I’m back to the drawing board on my search. I do hope to view a Fiat 1200 Spyder next weekend – though again, a test drive is out of the question…

1974 TR6, Viewed 10/13/2014

1974 TR6

If you see the date above, you’ll appreciate that this is out of sequence – I viewed this car last October… Still, I took notes on it and was reminded of it when I saw it on an online search this past week. I’d seen this car online and based upon the asking price, assumed that it must be in good nick. This was at a dealership and was the first car that I viewed that wasn’t a private sale. I arrived at the dealership but couldn’t see it in the showroom or the lot, and eventually was approached by an older gentleman who informed me that it was in their warehouse. We hopped in his car and drove a minute or two before pulling up outside an old, rough looking metal-clad building. Inside, there were about 40 cars in various states of repair and disrepair distributed along the left wall. Midway down was the car that I had come to see.

I know that this is a matter of personal taste, but I couldn’t say that I thought much of the colour – the shade is, I think, called “Mimosa yellow”, and its hue is that of darkish dijon mustard. The car didn’t present well, its overall appearance being dusty and grimy. The car had been painted in the past, as the back end of the car (see sketch) was yellow – and from the factory they came semi-flat black. It was also missing the TR6 sticker just in front of the tail-lights. All in all, the car was in generally good, if tired, condition, but there were some odd elements to it.

The stance of the car was strange and it took me a little while to figure out what it was – I suspect that the tyres were not the correct size, as they didn’t fill up the wheel wells as they should. The ad had not mentioned that this car was an overdrive, but there was a badge on the tail that said it was – curiously, though, there was no overdrive switch in the car. The salesman confirmed that, in spite of the badge claiming otherwise, this was a non-overdrive car. The paint looked like an older, good quality paint job, but it was chipped and small blooms of rust were appearing through the paint in the joints. This was more noticeable in the trunk and the engine bay (and the engine bay was in the proper colour – not black).

The interior was much the same as the exterior, decent, but tired. There was nothing really wrong, but the rear windows and the instrument glass were a little “cloudy”, the carpets were rucked and curling at the edges, the seats were worn, but achieved a nice “patina”. For much of the time that I had been poking around the car, the salesman had been trying without much success to find a key that would start the car. Ultimately he was unsuccessful. It didn’t much matter to me by this point – the asking price for this car was just shy of $16,000, and , given the overall “tatty” appearance of the car, I couldn’t see myself spending that much. This car will need the surface rust dealt with and who knows how much rust exists underneath? The paint and bodywork for this car would run easily to $5 or $6K if it is to be done “right” and by that time you’re into $21+K with an interior that still needs some work and, no doubt, at least a little mechanical fettling.

So, we drove back to the dealership in silence. I think the salesman was a little miffed that he’d not been able to find the correct keys, and I was paying attention to one of my Mother’s maxims; “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all…”   🙂

1971 Porsche 914, Viewed 01/26/2015


January in Canada. Unsurprisingly, the temperature is hovering around the -10ºc mark, dusty snow swirls in spindrifts in the streets and sellers of used classic cars huddle for warmth in front of their fireplaces waiting for the more congenial spring weather to flog their wares… “Sigh”.

So here I was again at a dealership. My visit to the place with the Alfas had been a positive one so I was a little more amenable to the idea of a middleman, and besides, showrooms tend to be warm and reasonably roomy, whereas if I do find a car for sale by a private party, I’ll likely be poking around with a flashlight in a freezing, tightly packed garage trying to view a car under a tarp.

This is the first Porsche 914 I’ve looked at, so I’ve nothing to compare it to, but I do know the cars well enough to see that this one had been comprehensively modified. I know that there are various schools of thought on this, but I’ve always felt that the design is what it is and the “dressing up” of cars should be avoided or at least kept to a minimum, and I suspect that from a “value” perspective that originality is preferable. Immediately then, I saw this car as a bit of a “toy”. The stock wheels and tyres had been replaced with wider versions, fender flares are added on all four fenders and the front and rear had a (to my eye) poorly integrated front and rear bumper that were very “busy” in appearance. The rocker panels had been removed and replaced with what looked like vacuum formed polyethylene panels that had a gap to the body and had begun to warp behind the door line on both sides. I suppose with all of these modifications, the rear wing was inevitable.

The white paint looked fairly new, but the paint job wasn’t exceptional. Surprisingly the underside of the car was painted which struck me as unusual, and the white paint made it easy to see that the floor was exceptionally solid. Even more surprisingly, what little I could see of the top of the engine through the narrow access space behind the cab was painted white too. Fit generally looked good, except, as noted, for the add on rockers and bumpers which had some areas which, because of the design of the after market bits, didn’t actually conform perfectly to the car body. The rear lens between the tail lights was cracked from top to bottom. The interior was reasonably good, though there were small tears in the seats and the headliner was sagging at the rear of the targa top.

Sitting in the car was interesting – it’s very low and has something of a “go-kart” feel – in a good way. There’s something a little spartan about this which is pure Porsche… for instance, the passenger seat can’t be adjusted; it’s built into the rear of the cabin. Needless to say there’s nowhere for my dog in this car. Oddly, I found that the pedals were a little more to the centre than I would have expected. I think I could get used to this, but my first reach for the pedals had me finding the brake pedal where I would have expected the accelerator. There is a centre console in this car with gauges between the gear tunnel and the dash, which I prefer to the versions without same.

All told, this was a nice car, but not my cup of tea. The price being asked for this was close to $20,000, and I could almost see myself spending that were the car closer to original spec and in slightly better nick. Still, this thing looks like it would be a blast to drive, and I expect it will find a buyer sooner rather than later – but it won’t be me.

Spica vs. carbs

Spica web

I’ve mentioned Spica injection (or Inezione, as the Italians would, much more poetically, say it) vs. carbs. Here’s what I’m talking about.

In the late 60s, the US was already looking at ways to curb emissions (as well as beginning to consider mandating larger, uglier bumpers that achieved little except making foreign cars less attractive – but that’s another story 🙂 ). You’ll note that I have (of late) been leaning toward the Alfas – part of this is because I have been impressed by what I’ve read of them. I always thought that “being ahead of the curve” was a purely German trait, but these cars were very advanced for their time – already, in the early 60s they were sporting aluminium dual overhead cams and hemi heads, and these were for their sedans. The spiders had four wheel discs when many sports cars were using drums or a mix of drums and discs. In short, these cars were engineered to a higher standard than one might expect.

So, what’s Spica? Well, when the Americans began to look at emissions, Alfa went down the hall to their competition arm and consulted them. The result was the inclusion of the Spica injection system in their Spiders. Spica stands for Società Pompe Iniezione Cassani & Affini, and it is a mechanical injection system that ensured just the right amount of petrol was being delivered to each cylinder. In short, Spica allowed the Alfas to achieve the same performance figures in America with their more stringent requirements as they did in Europe, using carbs.  I have read that the Spica is as close as you will get to a “mechanical computer” or a “mechanical logic unit”, and that fascinates me. If the system is set up well, it rarely needs to be touched.

Spica systems are on the rare side now, though, as many North American mechanics couldn’t, or wouldn’t make heads or tails of them, and when they had failed to fettle them properly, or worse, seriously botched the job, made the suggestion that a move to standard carbs would be an excellent idea (usually dual Webers, from what I’ve seen). There are of course varying camps. There is a Porsche camp that suggests that the Bosch electronic injection system is far superior to Spica, and that the Italians should concentrate their attention on discovering ever nicer “reds” for their cars. There is the Carb camp that says (with experience) that the Spica system is impossible to service and the carbs work just as well.

I lean toward the Spicas because they were original equipment (in the US and Canada, anyway), because of their racing heritage and because, apparently, most people who service these cars know what they’re about now, and can service the Spicas without rendering them useless.

I can’t really comment as to the efficacy of one over the other, as my driving experience with these is limited… but at this point, I find the Spicas attractive, and an important consideration in my checklist for purchase.