As a car guy, one of my favorite things on social media is when a friend announces that they are looking for a particular car. I take those posts as a personal challenge. Earlier today a friend posted that he was finally ready to add an Alfa Duetto to his collection of very nice but driveable Alfa Romeos, and it got me thinking. I don’t have any space either in the garage or the fleet for another car right now, but if I did I would seriously consider a well-sorted Duetto. I’ve written here before about how my first car was an S2 Alfa Spider that was remarkably well-sorted but rusty as all get out, and about three decades later I bought that car’s twin, but with a perfect body but mechanically, well, challenged. I loved my first Alfa both as a first car but also as a dirver’s car, and I was so sorely disappointed when the second one was so unhappy. As my TTS partner always says, nostalgia is a funny thing and I was clearly wearing blinders when I bought that car a few years back, but I haven’t lost my appetite for a nice Alfa and now I’m thinking that there is most definitely an early round-tail Spider in my future – ideally before they go the way of the Mercedes Pagoda, which is to say expensive beyond reason. Perhaps one like this beauty for sale here on Mobile.de in Monza, Italy for about $34,000 would fit the bill.
As much as I loved my “kamm-tail” Spider, I’ve always been smitten with the earlier, original round tail design that was more true to the 1959 Pininfarina concept car. It also looks like a prettier Italian take on the front- and rear-slope made famous by the Porsche 356 and 911. There is most definitely a harmony to the early cars that is lost on the later cars, especially the early S2s with taillights that looked like an afterthought in place of the round tail’s gently integrated units. Here in the States, the other thing that was lost but can be retrofitted were the Euro cars’ Plexiglas headlight covers. They make the front end of the car. Well, those and the little hump over the front Alfa Romeo badge. Yup – I’m totally that stupid.
Before I go any farther I want to get the round tail’s nomenclature straight: “Duetto” refers to the earliest of the series with its twin cam 109hp 1570cc motor with twin Weber carburetors. In late 1967 Alfa fitted their 1779cc 118hp motor which retained the dual Weber setup in Europe but for U.S. cars changed over to the love it or hate it Spica mechanical fuel injection (for 1969 and on into S2 kamm-tail production). With the new motor the car became officially known as the 1750 Spider Veloce, although a lot of folks – including Alfisti – refer to all of the round tail cars as Duettos. Just to add to the confusion, a smaller-engine version – the 1300 Junior – was added to the lineup for 1968 and 1969 looking every bit like the rest of the range but lacking some of its bigger brother’s equipment including the headlight covers, brake servo, and the opening quarter windows. It also delivered only 89hp from its 1290ccs, which made a sprightly car a little lethargic. All told, round tail Spider production lasted four model years from 1966 through 1969. With all that said, the car I want is a Duetto – the original 1600cc version.
There are some interesting detail differences between my S2 Spiders and the Duetto. First, the windshield has a steeper rake to it, which also gives the convertible top a more upright profile. Second, the quarter windows meet the doors at a perfect 90 degree angle, as opposed to the later car’s slant. Third, and probably most noticeable to the driver, is a more spartan interior offering a mono-pod containing a large and legible speedometer, tachometer, and turn signals instead of the later car’s twin pods. There are still three ancillary gauges in the center of the dash canted toward the driver, but instead of a plastic console with the shifter sticking out of it at an unusual angle there is open space with a much longer looking gearshift sticking out of the floor well under the dash. The seats will be familiar to anyone who has spent time in an S2 Spider, but lacking the later car’s headrests. To me the Duetto’s interior is a familiar place, but a little more classic by the seat of the pants – which isn’t altogether a bad thing. In fact, the splash of color across the dashboard does the interior some good.
There is a unique twin-tone melody to the vintage Alfa twin cam motor familiar to anyone who has spent any amount of wheel time in anything from a Guilia to a Guilietta to a Berlina, Alfetta, GTV, and yes, Duetto and Spider. I’m a fan of adding an aftermarket exhaust like ANSA to add a little more burble to it, but even the downward-pointing stock unit is glorious to listen to. This car, with its twin Webers with intake horns, must be a symphony of intake and exhaust noise. I’d love to get this car in a long tunnel and accelerate at full throttle! The motor is about as reliable as it gets for this vintage of car, with the biggest challenges being getting the fuel mixture right and the occasional head gasket needing replacement. Both of these are achievable for the home mechanic of limited skill – with the rights tools and books, of course. More importantly, though, is when they are running well they are just a joy to drive. Handling is squirrelly compared with my Boxster, but then it should be. These cars have small tires and light steering, but as (obligatory reference) Dustin Hoffman proved in The Graduate, they are supremely tossable. Oh yes – as with any vintage Alfa, check the second gear synchro. It will go, it’s just a matter of when. Once it’s gone, however, a little double-clutching will go a long way.
My unsolicited advice to the friend looking for a Duetto was to find one in an unexpected color, given that the vast majority seem to be red. Many come from the factory that way and still more were changed due to the popularity and, let’s face it, the fact that they look good in red. Still, my perfect Duetto would be dark blue or dark green – that same green as my two previous Alfa Spiders looks killer on these cars – but good luck finding one. The toughest part about wanting a Duetto these days in finding one that isn’t a high priced recent restoration or a complete basket case. Good drivers are a true rarity, but would you really want one any other way? I mean, what’s the point of a car like this if you can’t – or won’t – use it??!!??