When a certain Jim Magill let me know he’d be arriving in New York City with a right-hand-drive Alfa Romeo built right on the cusp of import eligibility, I knew I needed to see it. Jim, being the upstanding gentleman that he is, obliged me. He even let me drive.
This car was originally sold in Carlisle, England and is said to be one of only three similar cars in the United States right now. With its wheel on the right, I was a little worried about giving it a spin in Manhattan, having never driven an RHD car before, but Jim assured me things would be fine. And they were.
First, some background. Jim is one of those guys who likes to bend reality. Just one look at his Instagram and you might get a sense of what I’m talking about. You’ll see unfamiliar-looking cars on familiar-looking roads. Cars from France, cars from Italy, cars that appear too new to be on American roads and cars that might be indeed old enough to import but are simply too obscure and seemingly pedestrian to be worth the trouble. Well, unless you’re Jim Magill, of course.
But why would anyone do such a thing? After driving a Fiat Panda farther than anyone in their right mind would allow, Jim has developed something of a reputation as a go-to man when it comes to taking cars out of their home markets and putting them in North America where they don’t belong.
It all started more than ten years ago, Jim brought Sylvia, his trusty Fiat Panda 4x4, to the States after trips to Africa and Turkey. Since then, he’s helped the Lane Motor Musem in Nashville, TN fill out its collection with a number of cars that otherwise wouldn’t be found over here. A few years later and a Fiat Multipla, Fiat Tempra, Volkswagen XL1, and Citroen C6 (which I got to take for a spin earlier this year) later, Jim’s still at it with this Alfa.
The car is a 1994 model built very late in the year so it just barely scrapes under the dreaded 25-year import rule. Even so, Jim thought it best to register the car in Vermont where attention is a little... lax. Always a good idea to keep any to a minimum, right? After getting it registered, Jim made his way down I-91 and the Merritt Parkway to the City on his way down to Tennessee to bring the car to its new owner.
On Thursday, the bright red Spider rolled up to an upper Manhattan corner with Jim behind the wheel. We took a quick spin and a couple of pictures, and Jim was off again. It wasn’t enough time to really get to know the car, and we didn’t manage to get the manual top down because of intermittent drizzle, but that was okay. It was plenty of fun in any case.
In case you’re unfamiliar with this car, here is some background. This car (and the GTV, its hardtop sibling) was how Alfa moved on the from the classic Spider you know best. Having been introduced in the first half of the ‘90s, the car is largely Fiat underneath, sharing most of its mechanicals with the FWD Fiat Tipo and Tempra as well as Alfa’s own 155. None of those cars made it here, but the 164, with which the Spider shares its most striking styling feature, the deep crease rising along the side of the car, did for some reason.
Out back, the Spider traded hatchback rear suspension for a more complicated multi-link arrangement. It wasn’t a lot, but it was enough, apparently. Top Gear seemed to think so, at least.
As for power, the spider came with a host of motors, the smallest being a 1.8 liter straight-four, a slightly larger 2-liter four like the one in this car and the largest a version of Alfa’s 3.0-liter transverse V6. Italians could have had the car with a tax-special 2-liter V6, but that car seems to be quite uncommon.
Despite being a low spec car with nearly no options fitted, it features some pretty impressive red seats. They aren’t original, having been fitted to a Lusso model, but they’re surprisingly comfortable (even for a big guy like me) and the kind of detail that makes an Alfa an Alfa so I’m glad they’re there.
As for how the car drove, I have to say that I was a little more focused on making sure I didn’t crash into anything I didn’t see in the RHD blindspots. Trying to catch second gear and getting fourth was another issue at the front of my mind while I was behind the wheel as well. I really ought to get some practice with this sitting to the right situation, but at least we didn’t die and I didn’t break anything with my ham-fisted left-hand shifting.
Thanks to Jim, I was able to get a little taste of motoring from across the Atlantic, where small roadsters are more than just Miata Culture. That’s really special as it often feels like American car culture is getting increasingly homogeneous. We need more cars like this one. Cars that are cheap (this one cost Jim less than £1450 and everything on it still works!) and relatively efficient but simple and raw enough to keep in working order so you can keep a smile on your face.
Unfortunately for most of us, though this car is going to Tennesee, it won’t be accessible to oggling eyes at the Lane like the other cars Jim has brought down there. This one is for a private citizen to enjoy. You know what? I have to respect that. It’s good that there are people out there who are looking for something unique, something that needs someone like Jim Magill to bring around.