Veteran to classic: Alfa Romeo 2600 spyder (cont'd)

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Lesson one is that there is only one way to extract the hoops from their nest and until you find it the mechanism will not budge. Having got it all sticking into the air, there is also a crucial pressure point which will transform this assemblage of metal rods and flapping canvas into a taut roof; and if you have sufficient strength left, the rigid rear edge of the hood has to be slipped over three chrome hooks on the boot. Oh, for the very elegant steel hard-top which Touring offered as an option.

Perhaps it was only the pouring rain which made it seem so hard, but in any case the shower had gone by the time we had figured it out — so we folded it all back into the back-rest cum cover, popped the fasteners in place, and set off again.

Even on the dual carriageways which removed us from London the feel of the car was coming through. A gentle, even floating ride, quite low-geared steering, and a relaxed cruising pace thanks to the five-speed box with its long angled lever and unhurried change; all these confirmed that the big convertible is meant for different things to smaller nimble Alfas. But it is a quick car, a mile-eater with a wonderful elastic surge in every gear; revving it beyond 4500rpm seems to add little to the performance, even if it amplifies the glorious noise, so typical of twin-cam Alfas though deeper and harder than usual.

Be gentle in pulling away, for the narrow tyres will spin easily in first, and do not rush the up-change, and you will be rewarded with a thrilling progression through the ratios, the open throats of six carb-chokes blaring at full throttle in each gear and the penetrating exhaust rasp swelling behind. Brake and change down for the next corner and the rasp changes to the abrupt gargling sound of a large powerful engine on overrun as you lean on the brake and use the side of the foot to blip down to second, snicking momentarily into neutral between cogs to aid the half-hearted synchromesh. Back onto the throttle and the wide convertible swishes away from the bend, the broad thin wheel quite responsive at speed despite its low gearing.

Ergonomics did not interfere too much in the symmetrical layout of the dash: the usual twin speed and revs indicators are flanked within a curved hood by paired dials for oil and water temperatures to the left and oil pressure and fuel to the right. Below left is a row of light switches, with wipers, fan, and ignition in the corresponding positions opposite. It takes a bit of groping to find them all tucked behind the wheel, but Alfa (or Touring) has thoughtfully provided a foot switch for combined wash and wipe. But the poor quality of Italian electrics of past years shows in the floppy little lever on the column which triggers the indicators, and the erratic functioning of the light switches.

Italian style leaps up in the passenger grab-rail which stretches like a flying buttress across in front of him, and the delicate swan-necked bracket for the rear-view mirror angling out from the binnacle. And there is some bright lateral thinking about the floor-mounted handbrake; perhaps inverted thinking would be a better description, for rather than squeeze the driver’s knuckles against the transmission tunnel as a normal push-button lever would, Touring has elected to turn the thing on its head. The thumb release comes half way down the lever and the pilot uses it in thumbs-down fashion; it looks odd but works well.

What a wonderful car this must have seemed in the early Sixties with its luxurious blend of visible flair and audible breeding; a real Grand Tourer with generous luggage capacity. Naturally it would be expensive both to buy and to run (our short day consumed over £20 in fuel) but it did combine the finest Italian automobile pedigree in the work of one of the great Italian coachbuilders. Touring’s designs may not have shown the inspiration of Bertone, nor the eccentricities of Zagato, but its proportions were well considered and the quality of the craftsmanship was superb. Tim Stewart’s spyder shows this: the panel fit is even, invisible edges are properly finished, the bonnet and boot are rigid and lock solidly into place, and the details, the embellishments such as the chrome hood-mounts and number-plate frame, are fitted exactly to the body’s curves.

If the 2600 series Alfa Romeos have one truly unusual quality, it must be their scant competition history. True, Zagato did build a run of lightweights called 2600SZ but in reality the straight-six cars were the last connection with a tradition of big, fast, comfortable machines which has not been successfully re-invoked since. Unless, that is, the latest 164 can prove its worth. GC

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