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Spider Trivia and Other Questions

What do those little "F" logos on my rear fenders mean?
Those are the symbol of the Pininfarina (pih-nin-fah-REE-nah) design firm, the design house that created the body style of your Spider. The "F" itself stands for Farina, because originally the design firm’s name was split in two (Pinin Farina). Later model cars have the name rather than the "F".

It is a tradition in Italy dating back to the days of carriages for one company to make a chassis that other companies take and design bodies for. FIAT, Maserati, and Ferrari (many of whose car bodies carry that ornate "F" as well) are other well-known marques who engaged in this practice in the post-war era.

In the case of the Alfa Spider, at least, this relationship goes deeper than just having someone else design a body. The majority of a 105/115 Spider was actually built by Pininfarina. Pininfarina was responsible for the construction of the body shell, interior, wiring, interior trim, and the painting of the car. These semi-complete shells were then shipped to Alfa plants in Arese or Portello, depending on model year. Alfa then added drivetrains, engines, and suspension bits on the corners of the car. The completed Spider was then rolled to the docks and shipped wherever it needed to go. (special thanks to BD for clarifying this aspect of Alfa Spider production)

How interchangeable are these cars?
More than you would think. Mechanically, with the exception of engine displacement, induction system, and rear axle gearing, they are essentially identical for the entire run. This is especially true with the Kamm tail Series 2-4 cars. This is both a boon and a curse. It means that probably well into the 21st century all sorts of parts will be easily obtainable to keep your car on the road. However, it is this homogeneity that is keeping the value of the earlier Series 2 cars so low. Also, just as a general rule, the part you really need is many times the part that can’t be found. Don’t feel left out or unlucky… this seems to be the Murphy’s Law of classic auto ownership.

Externally the story is a bit different. I believe that the hood of the car is interchangeable throughout the entire run. The Series 1 cars share very little else with their descendants, which is one of the reasons why they are so much more valuable.

As mentioned in the history section, ‘71 Spiders have a unique "pinch" on the top of the nose, smoothed over in ‘72. Other than that, the car bodies of both the 2 and 2a cars differ very little and, with the possible exception of the lower front fender (which I have heard changed configuration in ‘79), the body panels are essentially interchangeable. I say "essentially". In my experience there are very slight shape differences in the fenders of the later cars, but these are only noticeable if you look closely.

Series 3 cars share doors, hood, nosepiece, and (I believe) trunklid with the Series 2 cars. However, because of increasing safety regulations and the addition of power windows, the doors are noticeably heavier.

Series 4 cars share doors, hood, and nosepiece with the Series 2 and 3 cars. Again the doors are heavier than even the Series 3 cars.

With the exception of the dash, interiors are interchangeable from ’66 to ’79. After ’70 (when the padded dual pod dash was introduced) the entire interior is shared all the way to ’79. After this point it’s not so much that things don’t interchange, but that the variety of colors make matching more difficult. The dashes stayed the same from 1970 all the way to the model’s phase-out in 1994. On cars without air conditioning, the side panels of the center console are interchangeable until at least the introduction of the Series 4 cars.

How do you lock the bloody doors on this thing from the inside?
Well, it’s usually not a great idea to lock the doors on a Spider (do you really want them to cut your $400 top to get at your $200 radio?), but, on Series 1 and 2 cars at least, the doors are locked from the inside by pushing the interior door handles FORWARD, rather than pulling them back.

I want to upgrade my lap-belt-only Spider to shoulder belts from a later Spider. How difficult is this?
At first glance it would not seem difficult at all. As has been noted above, the cars’ interiors are pretty interchangeable. It is unclear exactly when Alfa converted the Spider to a shoulder belt system. Certainly, it was later than most of the rest of the automotive world. There is at least one report of a Series 2a with factory shoulder belts. If this is when the transition occurs, then an upgrade is as simple as unbolting the hardware out of a wrecked 2a and bolting it in to your Series 2 or 1. I’ve never actually heard of anyone even attempting this conversion. This is almost certainly because four-point aftermarket seatbelt systems are easily available and are meant to be fit into cars not designed for them. If you want more protection in a Series 1, 2 or 2a, it is probably a lot less trouble to fit one of these third-party four-point systems (although many, if not all, require a rollbar to be added as well).

Recently an aftermarket kit has appeared for a three-point system that is meant to fit on the earlier cars. I have only seen pictures of this, but it seems well designed.

What about roll bars?
Roll bars are required by most racetrack-level sporting events, and do add substantial protection to your Alfa Spider. However, "competition" roll bars do not allow you to put the top up (making you safe but a bit on the damp side during a rainstorm). There are other roll bar designs that allow you to put the top up. These provide somewhat less protection but are still better than nothing at all. Contact your favorite Alfa parts specialist for further details. It should also be noted that roll bars *do* alter the appearance of the car noticeably.

I’ve heard it’s a Bad Thing to run a SPICA equipped Spider completely out of gas. Is that true?
Yes. The pump section has four tiny pistons milled to fantastically small tolerances that move up and down inside cylinders to push fuel to the engine. The gasoline is used as a lubricant in this area, and running a pump completely dry can be disastrous. If you start running out of gas, SHUT IT OFF. This is also true for Bosch-equipped Spiders, where the gas is used as a coolant instead of a lubricant.

How do I flash the headlights quickly?
On Series 1, 2, or 2a cars, press the headlight stalk in to flash the lights.

My windshield wipers, radio, and defroster fan don’t quit when I turn the key off. Is that normal?
Apparently yes, on Series 1, 2, and 2a at least. On a rainy day shutting down a Spider can feel like getting out of the space shuttle ("windshield wipers: OFF, headlights: OFF, fan: OFF, radio: OFF).

I’ve got a flat… how does this damned jack WORK?
In spite of what common sense tells you by looking at it, you just lift the swing arm, shove it into the jack point, and turn the crank. It really will lift the car (took me years to figure out exactly how). Be VERY careful if you have rust on your floorpans. The jack can rip the jack point completely out of the car if it has been weakened by rust.

Sometimes my trunk and hood lights work, sometimes they don’t… what’s up with that?
On Series 1, 2 and 2a Spiders at least, the parking lights have to be on before the trunk and hood lights will work.

What’s the proper oil filter to use on these cars?
Even though the engine on the Spider never changed in any real way except displacement, many different sizes of oil filters were fitted to the cars over the years. This is probably the result of clearance problems with the later cars’ accessories forcing smaller and smaller filters to be fitted. The original filter listed for Series 2 cars (PH-2 in Fram numbering, I believe) is enormous, much too large for any standard filter wrench to fit it. It is also quite difficult to find. The filter recommended for the final Series 4 cars, in contrast, is very tiny.

However, the filter recommended for the Series 3 cars is big (but not huge), and not terribly hard to find in most auto parts stores. If you can’t find the filter listed in the book for your particular year, or don’t want to mess with a special filter wrench on an early car, fitting a filter recommended for a mid-‘80s spider is probably the way to go. I did it for years with no detectable adverse results.

One final word on filters. SPICA equipped cars come with two fuel filters and two oil filters. There’s a fuel filter in the back, just "downstream" of the gas tank. While this filter *resembles* much cheaper Ford fuel filters, they are actually constructed quite differently, mainly to accommodate the substantial fuel volume and pressure the SPICA system requires. If you want your Alfa to maintain proper fuel pressure, always use the original Alfa part (it will last longer anyway).

The second fuel filter is under the hood of the car, in a large housing on the passenger’s side (follow the fuel lines as they come up the firewall… they will go into this round housing). According to factory maintenance schedules, this filter actually needs to be changed more often, so when you do change it ALWAYS, ALWAYS DISCONNECT THE BATTERY FIRST. The housing is metal, and sits right above the wiring for the starter motor. One false move and at best you’ll have a cheery-beery fire in your engine compartment. At worst you’ll end up one barbecued Alfisti!

In addition to the obvious oil filter, there is a very small filter in the bottom of the SPICA pump, just under a round access plate held in place with three small studs and nuts. This should be replaced at least every other oil change. Be very careful when removing this… it’s quite easy to break off the little studs.

Is that area behind the two seats supposed to be an extra seat?
Not really. I’ve never even considered it as such, but I’ve had this asked of me so often I thought it worth including. The rear area is too small to hold people (but can be a pretty good place to put a rambunctious beagle… ask me how I know), and I don’t think it was ever designed to. In the later Series 3 and 4 cars this isn’t much of a problem, since the shelf is a lot smaller and squared for luggage. If you own a Series 1, 2 or 2a, don’t let people sit back there ever… they will tear up the vinyl trim, which is becoming downright irreplaceable. It does make a wonderful supplement to the smallish trunk, and holds about six old-fashioned paper grocery bags just low enough (on a Series 1, 2 or 2a at least) that you can travel down the interstate with the top down and not worry about blowing eggs all over that 18-wheeler behind you. A gentleman in Europe has informed me that the Spider actually was rated to carry three people there, with one of these sitting in the back. Judging from the room in the back area, I can only conclude that leprechauns, kobolds, gnomes, and halflings really do exist, and they have designers working for Pininfarina!

Are there any other secret "gotchas" I should know about?
Alfa Spiders have significantly more front overhang than most other cars. Be sure to leave some extra room between you and the car in front of you until you get used to the car’s dimensions.

90% of later cars’ mechanical problems seem to be caused by poor grounds. These should always be the first thing you check, even if what is wrong seems to be fuel-system related.

Spiders (all of the 105 series, in fact) also have relatively fragile finned aluminum sumps that extend below the rest of the car (this helps cool the oil). These are quite vulnerable to parking stops and road hazards. Since they form the bottom of the engine, impacts at any sort of speed can be disastrous.

Don’t wait for the tires to bump the parking stop before you stop the car… you’ll usually only bash the sump (at parking lot speeds the sump is tougher than it looks, but, since it’s hooked intimately with the car’s frame, the impact can be quite frightening). Always try to drive around rather than over road hazards, especially if you have lowered the car in any way. An impact with something as innocent as a smallish rock can literally shatter an engine. Sump guards are available, but project under the car even more, and may create a risk of frame damage in an impact at speed.

Be careful with the front spoilers on Series 3 and 4 cars as well, as these can be almost as expensive to replace as cracked sumps.

The early cars’ crumple-zone design means there is precious little to hang a tow rope to in case you get stuck or need a bump start. I have had the most success from the front by wrapping a tow strap (not chain) through the front shield grille and around the cross brace for the front bumper (on a Series 2… goodness knows what a Series 1 owner would do). From the rear, the closest thing you can wrap a rope or chain around is the torque-T over the top of the rear axle… almost half way under the car. There is probably a risk of frame or mounting damage if you try to pull the car this way. Call a tow truck instead.

When cruising long distances in a Spider, try to keep your foot totally parallel with the accelerator pedal (heel under the pedal). The more natural foot position seems to be with the heel under the brake pedal and the ball of the foot on the accelerator, but this can lead to your right thigh cramping up after a few hours.

Never tighten the mounts to the signal light lenses (front and rear) on the early cars more than JUST snug. Overtightening can break the mounting points and ruin the lens.

What’s *the* most important tool I should take with me when I go on a long trip in my Spider?
A cellular phone. Think about it.

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By Scott Johnson - Copyright 1996 - Third Edition, Released August 2001 - All Rights Reserved.