Converted to the cause

Browse pages
Current page

1

Current page

2

Current page

3

Current page

4

Current page

5

Current page

6

Current page

7

Current page

8

Current page

9

Current page

10

Current page

11

Current page

12

Current page

13

Current page

14

Current page

15

Current page

16

Current page

17

Current page

18

Current page

19

Current page

20

Current page

21

Current page

22

Current page

23

Current page

24

Current page

25

Current page

26

Current page

27

Current page

28

Current page

29

Current page

30

Current page

31

Current page

32

Current page

33

Current page

34

Current page

35

Current page

36

Current page

37

Current page

38

Current page

39

Current page

40

Current page

41

Current page

42

Current page

43

Current page

44

Current page

45

Current page

46

Current page

47

Current page

48

Current page

49

Current page

50

Current page

51

Current page

52

Current page

53

Current page

54

Current page

55

Current page

56

Current page

57

Current page

58

Current page

59

Current page

60

Current page

61

Current page

62

Current page

63

Current page

64

Current page

65

Current page

66

Current page

67

Current page

68

Current page

69

Current page

70

Current page

71

Current page

72

Current page

73

Current page

74

Current page

75

Current page

76

Current page

77

Current page

78

Current page

79

Current page

80

Current page

81

Current page

82

Current page

83

Current page

84

Current page

85

Current page

86

Current page

87

Current page

88

Current page

89

Current page

90

Current page

91

Current page

92

Current page

93

Current page

94

Current page

95

Current page

96

Current page

97

Current page

98

Current page

99

Current page

100

Current page

101

Current page

102

Current page

103

Current page

104

Current page

105

Current page

106

Current page

107

Current page

108

Current page

109

Current page

110

Current page

111

Current page

112

Current page

113

Current page

114

Current page

115

Current page

116

Current page

117

Current page

118

Current page

119

Current page

120

Current page

121

Current page

122

Current page

123

Current page

124

Current page

125

Current page

126

Current page

127

Current page

128

Current page

129

Current page

130

Current page

131

Current page

132

Current page

133

Current page

134

Current page

135

Current page

136

Current page

137

Current page

138

Current page

139

Current page

140

Current page

141

Current page

142

Current page

143

Current page

144

Current page

145

Current page

146

Current page

147

Current page

148

Current page

149

Current page

150

Current page

151

Current page

152

Current page

153

Current page

154

Current page

155

Current page

156

Current page

157

Current page

158

Current page

159

Current page

160

Current page

161

Current page

162

Current page

163

Current page

164

Current page

165

Current page

166

Current page

167

Current page

168

Current page

169

Current page

170

Current page

171

Current page

172

Current page

173

Current page

174

Current page

175

Current page

176

Current page

177

Current page

178

Current page

179

Current page

180

Current page

181

Current page

182

Convertibles can disappoint when compared to their coupé cousins, but not this Alfa Romeo 8C Spider – it has performance as well as looks
By Andrew Frankel

There are few rarer breeds of car than convertibles that transpire to be better to drive than their tin-topped brethren. This was not always the case: back in the days when car bodies were exactly that – bodies with no structural significance bolted onto ladder frame chassis – it mattered not at all in engineering terms whether that body was open, closed or even present. Before the war it was commonplace for manufacturers to test cars on the road without any body at all before sending them off to one of the coachbuilding houses.

But in these modern times of monocoque construction, the bigger the aperture you make in the car’s structure, the more wobbly that structure will be, and there’s no bigger hole you can make than chopping off a car’s roof.

Putting some of that strength back by way of added reinforcement results in cars that are invariably heavier and still not as rigid as their engineers would like, which is why, almost uniformly, they don’t drive as well as the coupés on which they are based.

But of course some manufacturers are better than others at this dark and delicate art, and when I think of those convertibles I’ve driven that seemed structurally least sound of all, the one thing that links almost all of them is that they came from Italy.

Two were Maseratis: the first was the Biturbo-based Spider of the early 1990s which was one of that rare breed of car that was so bad it was actually quite fun because you were never quite sure what it would do next. On a wet and bumpy road it was genuinely hilarious. A decade or so later Maserati had raised its game substantially so that when it launched the Spider version of the Maserati Coupé the result was just very disappointing. I drove it as part of a five-car test and can remember giving up trying to maintain the pace of the rest of the group when I looked down and saw the steering column shaking so much the trident in the centre of the wheel was a blur. It came fifth.

Alfa Romeos have not been much better. The first of the front-drive Spiders shuddered its way from place to place, while the only truly surprising thing about the current Brera Spider is that Alfa Romeo clearly thinks it’s still fine in the 21st century to sell a £30,000 convertible with significant levels of scuttle shake.

All of which brought me to the door of the new 8C Spider not sure whether I really wanted to open it or not. It looked so lovely just standing there, baking in the Italian sunshine. Having been broadly enthused by the 8C coupé when I first drove it last year, did I really want to discover yet another perfectly good Italian sports car that had been sizeably spoiled just so passers-by could gawp more readily at its occupants?

Then again, this was a front-engined, rear-drive, carbon-fibre-bodied supercar powered by a 450bhp V8 that, shorn of the insulating qualities of the roof, should sound louder and therefore better than ever. Can’t leave that in the car park, can you?

And now I’m glad I didn’t. Usually you don’t need more than a few yards in a new convertible to discover if its construction has been unacceptably compromised. A drain, a manhole cover or even just a coarse or uneven surface will usually show the symptoms. Whether its the shake from a wheel, a shimmy from the windscreen, a rattle from a door, a jolt from
the steering column or any combination of the above, the signs are hard to miss.

Unless, of course, they’re not there. The 8C Spider is not as rigid as its coupé sister, for that would be impossible, but it’s stiff enough for it not to matter, and that’s what matters most.

The result is not one of the world’s great cars, just one of the most desirable. There is nothing it does so much better than any other roadster similar money (a knee-trembling £170,000) might buy, except make you feel good about having it at your command. As with all the best Alfas over the years, what it does is of little consequence relative to the way that it does it.

The looks you can see for yourself, but unless you’re one of the lucky 35 in the UK or 500 around the world with an order form, you’ll have to take it from me that the sound from that V8 motor, which has been specially tuned to make the most of its new, open-air auditorium, stays with you not hours after you’ve parted company, but days. This engine is built by Maserati and used in all its products, but never in a higher state of tune than this, never with a sharper, louder yet more melodious timbre.

Better still, it suffers from no apparent bodily weakness thanks to a body at least twice as torsionally stiff as Alfa’s other Spider, the drop-top Brera. Best of all, this structural integrity has been achieved without firing the 8C’s weight through the roof. By using carbon-ceramic brakes instead of steel and a very simple Z-frame hood that needs to be attached by hand to the trailing edge of the windscreen, Alfa has kept its weight gain to 90kg or just six per cent.

Alfa says it’s 0.3sec slower to 60mph (4.5sec) as a result, but I doubt the gap is either that large or possible to detect without resorting to stop watches. What matters is that its performance more than matches the promise of those looks.

As, heaven be praised, does its handling. And it is here, in this most unlikely arena, that the Spider not only matches the standards of the 8C coupé, but exceeds them. Thanks to very careful suspension tuning leading to slightly firmer spring and rollbar rates but softer damping, Alfa has been able to use the lessons learned from the original 8C programme
to create a convertible with a better ride, less understeer, crisper steering and more progressive manners on the limit. That roof and the bodily reinforcements also create a perfectly balanced weight distribution. Put another way, this is a car that will drift for Italy, something I never felt inclined to say about the coupé.

Being an Alfa, it still retains the capacity to annoy. And in the sometimes snatched shifts its steering wheel paddles produce, the dead feel of those ceramic brakes, the laughable boot, the lack of storage space inside and the fact you have to fit cheap plastic panels to conceal the folded hood sticks, the Spider provides much cause for speculation that, were Alfa building it as a series production car rather than a 500-off limited run, it would have done it rather differently. But none of this will be of concern to Alfa Romeo. Even at that price and in these times, they’ve all been gobbled up by fans who will see in its beauty, its power and its convertible roof the Alfa Romeo of their dreams. And they will not be wrong to have done so, either.

You may also like

Related products