Abandoned project - Faine

By: Jon Faine


alfa romeo spider 2 alfa romeo spider 2

Russian steel, you probably know the story

"For Sale; Citroen: Suit Wealthy Idiot" is my favourite car ad of all time. Somewhat against interest, I admit it was an ad for a DS, spotted years ago back when newspapers (remember them?) carried classifieds (ditto) and the Saturday Motor Market was worth grabbing early in the morning so we could frantically scour the pages in an endless thrilling dream of bargains.

Now the action is all online and within the covers of magnificent specialist magazines like the one you are holding in your trembling hands. And full of guaranteed bargains it most certainly is. This treasure might become one of them.

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I bought my 1967 Alfa Romeo Duetto Spider about a decade ago with the best of intentions. It had been converted to right-hand drive many years before and early in its Australian life, then fitted with a roll cage and thrashed around a track as a club race car. After some success on the track, it was sold to an Italian classic car collector who ‘restored’ it by the then typical shortcut of tarting her up with layers of bog to look good and then she was used as a weekend cruiser.

The style of these pretty curvaceous cars was exploited to the max by Hollywood in The Graduate, a film featuring a curvaceous model of a non-metallic kind. Dustin Hoffman and Mrs Robinson shared an interest in many things, but the Alfa Duetto that he drove and that starred in the film was not one of them.

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The proud owner of my car sadly died after enjoying it for a while leaving it in his estate to a mate who decided to straight away cure it of the growing cancer that inevitably bubbles up in old Alfas. Russian steel – you probably know the story. Either way, upon inheriting the Duetto and its suspiciously flaky sills, the new custodian got stuck in, stripped the car back to a shell and sent it off to be chemically dipped. The intention was to establish just how far the damage had gone and the extent of the clearly needed rectification. Before committing, he wanted to establish exactly how much steel was left.

You know the scene in Rocky Horror Show where Brad and Janet come to suddenly appreciate just how dire their plight is? Or that hair-raising moment in The Shining when Jack Nicholson starts hacking at the door with the axe? Well, the stripped and blasted Duetto in the full glare of sunlight provoked a similar reaction and is a similar horror story.

Absent of veneer, bog and paint, the full shit show was evident. The previously ambitious new owner who had inherited what he thought was a good classic Italian sports car instead realised his windfall was a nightmare. An asset became a liability.

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Not as it was designed

Patch upon patch, roughly welded joins, the wrong nose cone, holes in floors… the whole catastrophe. Unsurprisingly, enthusiasm for the project evaporated and it was advertised as an abandoned project. I saw the ad the same day it was listed, made the trip to Geelong the same day and grabbed it for what I thought was a reasonable investment. It is a long-term project – a "one day I will get around to it" car. Duettos do not often come to market in any condition, let alone unrestored.

It is one of the cliches of the old car world to never try to resurrect someone else’s abandoned restoration. It can only end in tears. Missing parts, mislabelled or not labelled at all, a jigsaw puzzle – guaranteed mayhem.

To the credit of the seller, on this abandoned project great care had been taken to label every nut and bolt, every single part of trim, chrome, rubber, electrical harness, the instruments and wires – it is all there, labelled and stored in neat tubs. The motor and gearbox are said to be in terrific condition, and still together as one unit. The rolling shell sits on its original wheels, and the entire sandblasted tub has been sealed in primer.

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Over the nearly ten years it has been mine, I have grabbed a stash of original NOS panels and parts as they have come up for sale and have nearly everything needed to knit together a solid body cleansed of its diseased bits. The challenge now is to work out where to send it so that one day it graduates to live up to its promise. Here’s to you, Mrs Robinson.

 

From Unique Cars #474, January 2023

 

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