Road cars

Alfa Romeo has announced the return of the Alfa Spider, to be built by Mazda in Hiroshima from 2015. Don’t be appalled. The car will be developed jointly by Alfa and Mazda over the next three years, the Mazda version being the new MX-5. Each will use their own engines, styling and set up, so all the joint venture will really ensure is that they’re built properly in a volume that makes sense for both manufacturers. You can also expect the result to be light and, most importantly, rear-wheel drive.

I’ve always wondered whether the Alfa Spider would live in our hearts in quite the same way had Benjamin Braddock not been given a Duetto as a graduation present. The truth not relevant to The Graduate was that those early Spiders were merely pleasant cars, a modest standard to which all subsequent Spiders failed to aspire. By the early 1990s, the Spider had descended into complete self-parody and ended up a sad, antediluvian shadow of its not-that-great former self, not so much a has-been as a never-really-was.

Nor can much that is nice be found to say about the front-wheel drive Spiders that followed, either the GTV-based model of the 1990s or the Brera Spider of the last decade. Like the first Spider, the moment you had drunk in their undeniably attractive appearance, you’d already experienced absolutely the best they had to offer. No car should be at its best when parked and certainly not an Alfa Romeo.

Nevertheless, my hopes are high for the new one. Forget Alfa’s last Japanese JV resulting in the Arna and Nissan Cherry Europe and focus instead on a more recent but still distant collaboration. In the late ’80s Alfa Romeo joined with Fiat, Lancia and Saab to create a new ‘Type 4’ platform. Just like this new deal with Mazda, all parties used the same chassis but were allowed total freedom to clothe and power it how they chose. It resulted in the Fiat Croma, Lancia Thema, Saab 9000 and Alfa 164. And of them all it was the Alfa that was best by far. I think there is every chance that the new Alfa Spider won’t be the best since the original, but the best full stop.

While we’re on the subject of car manufacturers evoking spirits from their past, Renault appears on the point of putting Alpine back into action. At the Monaco Grand Prix it first showed and then ran this extraordinary looking concept car called the A110-50, allegedly to celebrate the original A110 reaching its half century.

Of course, all the talk is of whether it’s going to make it into production. We have to be careful here because manufacturers are very good at suggesting they might turn concepts into cars when, in fact, they have not the slightest intention of doing anything of the sort because it increases coverage many times over.

Then again concepts that actually work properly usually demonstrate a level of commitment by their creators far beyond what’s needed to create an inanimate object and park it on a motor show stand.

But let’s assume just for a moment that Renault is sincere when it says it is actively looking at ways of putting the car into production. What should it be? Clearly it should be small, light and place its engine behind the driver, all of which the concept achieves, courtesy of its Mégane Trophy race car underpinnings.

I think it should then be tuned to be a maximum attack track day car with enough civility to drive to the ’Ring and back without reducing its occupants to tears. So it needs a small amount of luggage space, a decent-sized fuel tank, heating and options such as air-conditioning. Any attempt to go after the Porsche Cayman would be doomed.

The problem with my suggested approach is that sales volumes would be low, so the purchase price would need to be high, and is anyone going to spend a lot of money on an Alpine? If the last one, the great driving but glacially slow-selling A610, is any guide, the answer would seem to be few. But the A610’s problem was they aimed it at 911 buyers, an inevitably doomed strategy. Renault’s maths alone will tell them if it can make money out of a stripped-out but still expensive track day car. If not, I expect we’ll be waiting a while yet for Alpine to return.

I have fumed at length on the website the Government’s crowd-pleasing yet thoughtless decision to exempt pre- 1960 cars from the MoT test, so won’t dwell on it for long here. But as they appear to have developed a Toivonen-type skill for hand-brake turns on all matters from pasties to buzzards, is it too much to hope for one here?

Briefly, their pitch is that owners of pre-60 cars are such good coves who maintain their cars so well they don’t need MoTs. My pitch is that this is arrant, dangerous nonsense. Now any old wreck that’s been slowly rotting away in a shed these last few years, because it has no more chance of passing an MoT than I do of winning the Targa Florio, can now be put back on the road entirely legally. Far worse than this, cars with potentially lethal faults that would be picked up in an instant by anyone qualified to issue an MoT certiicate can be tarted up and logged on to some poor, unsuspecting member of the public. And if the Government thinks that not a single person involved in the old car world is capable of behaving this way, they are even more removed from reality than I thought.

The man responsible, Greg Knight MP, has accused me of making heavy weather of this issue. He may have a point, but not half as big a point as will be made to him and his Government by the families of the irst innocent bystanders to be injured or worse by a mechanical failure on a pre-60 car that would otherwise have been spotted by a routine MoT check. After less than 18 months in the role, Bentley boss Wolfgang Durheimer is leaving Crewe to become head of R&D for Audi. While the news is undoubtedly good for Audi and a clear it for Durheimer who is an engineer irst and foremost, it means Bentley is about to usher in its third CEO in two years. That man is Wolfgang Schreiber who is currently in charge of VW’s commercial vehicle operations. The better news is that Schreiber has also been both technical and managing director of Bugatti.

Time will tell what this means for Bentley. Unlike Schreiber, Durheimer is not a VW careerist and was at both BMW and a then independent Porsche before joining Bentley. Durheimer also has racing in his blood and had commissioned a feasibility study into the possibility of returning Bentley to Le Mans. All I hope is that Schreiber sticks around and brings stability back to the Bentley board.

Andrew Frankel