GRAN TURISMO CAR REVIEWS

1966 Alfa Romeo Duetto Spider
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white_duetto.jpg

SPEX

 
Years of Production: 1966-1967
Host: GT4 & GT5
 
Type: Roadster 
Class: Sports Car
Country: Italy
 

Price: 35,300 (GT4) 30,699 (GT5 used car lot)

GT5 mileage: 16,292.5
 
Length: 167.3" // Width: 64.2" // Height: 50.8"
Wheelbase: 88.6"
Overhang: @ 6 feet 6 inches
Track: 51.6" [F] 50.0" [R]
Ground Clearance: 4.72"
Construction: unit steel
Weight: 2,115 pounds
 
 
Steering: unassisted worm & sector, recirculating ball, or rack & pinion (depends which website is visited).
Layout: Front Engine / Rear Drive
Tires: 155-15
F. Suspension: wishbones, coils
R. Suspension: live axle, radial arms, coils
Brakes: solid discs (no ABS in GT5)

*GT5 Spider was given oil change but no other maintenance

Engine: 1.6 liter DOHC inline 4
Aspiration: normal
Construction: unknown alloy (website wasn't clear)
Fuel System: 2 single-barrel carbs
Valves / Cyl: 2
Bore x Stroke: 3.07 x 3.23"
Compression: 9.0:1

``````````````````````````GT4``````````````````````````GT5````````
Final BHP:  114 @ 6,000 rpm         107 @ 6,000
Fnl Torque:
108 @ 2,800 rpms       102 @ 3,000

Credits / BHP: 309.65                      286.91
Pounds / BHP: 18.55                          19.77
Hp per Liter:``` 72.6                             68.1

GT4 & 5 Idle Speed: 750 rpms // Redline: 6,500 // RPM Limit: 7,000
 
Transmission: 5-speed manual

``````````````````````GT4``````````````````````````GT5`````````
0-60 mph: 11.050 seconds              11.483
0-100 mph: 30.466 seconds             34.183

400 M: 18.339  @ 78 mph
1 KM:
32.945 @ 102 mph
 
100-zero mph: 4.32 seconds             6.184
Test Track Lap: 3:06.839                  N/A

Top Gear RPM @ 60 mph: 3,100
 
GT4 Top Speed at Redline
1st: 27 mph
2nd: 49 mph
3rd: 73 mph
4th: 99 mph
5th: 125.5 mph @ 6,500 rpms

GT5 Top Speed at Redline
1st: 30 mph
2nd: 49 mph
3rd: 70 mph
4th: 95 mph
5th: 121 mph @ 6,500 rpm
 

 
 

red_duetto.jpg
Mrs. Robinson..would you like to go to a movie?

--------------------EXTERIOR / HISTORY--------------------
 
 
"Hey, do you know how to work a foreign shift?"

That was Dustin Hoffman's question to his new girlfriend Elaine (played by Katherine Ross), just as the love triangle between he, Elaine, and her mother Anne Bancroft (the infamous ‘Mrs. Robinson’) was about to heat up in one of the best movies of all time... The Graduate. Dustin (who played clueless virgin Benjamin Braddock), was apparently referring to the clutch and possibly also the gearshift pattern of his new sports car, an Alfa Romeo Spider "Duetto". Or Duetto Spider. Depends which website you visit.
 
Here's something to think about. This sporty model hit the streets in 1966. The Graduate was released in 1967. At the time of the film's release, the Duetto was literally a brand-new model. Which makes me wonder how uh..."connected".....the scene was between Hollywood and Italy's mobsters. I'd ask questions and dig further, but I'm not particularly interested in winding up at the bottom of the Chesapeake wearing a pair of cement shoes. ;-/. Anyways like I said, the timeline between the Duetto's birth and its appearance in a major motion picture ...where it literally became a STAR in its own right, seems oddly short. I won't ask questions. Uh, let's move on.
 
The Alfa Spider Duetto was only in production for 2 years! Fathom that, folks. And during its production, just a few hundred examples were made. The Duetto represented the beginning of the Spider design, which became a strong seller for Alfa Romeo as variations of the original Spider stayed in production for 26 years. However, the Duetto itself was literally in and out.
 
Also, the name "Duetto" was chosen after Alfa Romeo held a contest. Apparently, the staff and designers at Alfa had a bit of a brain fart...“una creationé magnificento... but what to call it??” they may have pondered. Or maybe they were in some sort of promotional mood. So they started this contest in which an ordinary citizen could name the roadster, and the winner got a brand-new Spider 1600. Either way, that musta been a party at the end.
 
Some sports car purists refuse to use the name "Duetto" when referring to this car, instead they'll call it an Alfa Romeo Spider 1600 and leave it at that. Wonder if these are the same dolts who get prissy about the difference between a ‘Spider’ and a ‘Spyder’...
 
Final bit of history. The Spider Duetto was the last design directly created by the Italian coachbuilder Battista Pinin Farina. Coachbuilder? you might say. Yes. In Italy, car-makers often employ the use of outside help when needing a design for a new car. I think this is a better approach to designing, certainly better than a bunch of dudes sitting in a room "engineering" a new design...which is how you wind up with a Pontiac Aztec or a Chevy Citation. Anyway, these Italian design houses are known as "coachbuilders" because traditional ones like Pinin Farina and Giulia built horse-pulled coaches before automobiles were around. Today we have cars we consider status symbols. In the 1800s it was no different, and to have a beautifully enclosed coach with hand-stitched seats and other niceties, to have the luxury of roll-down glass windows so you wouldn't get rained on or have to smell the horse was a definate upgrade from the flatter, utilitarian designs saved for the masses.

Anyways, back to 1966 and back to the game.
At 2,115 pounds, the Duetto weighs just 45 pounds less than your typical Miata. Several colors can be had from Alfa Romeo's Classic lot, including the famous red seen throughout the film. With a rich racing history, there are many areas in which Alfa had their foot in the door, but probably didn't know their future as a successful sports car-maker relied heavily on the Spider. 


 

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an Alfa Giulia Sprint roadster & GTA battle

-------------------ENGINE / DRIVETRAIN----------------------


Things wouldn't stay this way in the long run, though. But that's getting off-topic. Let's rev that engine. Ahhh.
 
 
 
The constant purr of the dual overhead cam 1.6 liter as Ben drives around is memorable to those of us who saw the film. It looks racy as he zips by some strip clubs at what looks to be Hollywood or Sunset Blvd. It rushes thru dryer country area (perhaps Orange County before it was all hacked by developers). Towards the end of the movie, Ben finally runs out of gas. Anyways.....the theme here is rush rush rush. How about in the game?
 
Unfortunately, it becomes obvious early-on that this car isn't packing much under the hood. We can get thru many GT4 events while the engine is stock or nearly so, but as we're leaving corners or doing an acceleration run, this lack of torque hits home over and over. But as I said, this isn't a huge problem since many races the Alfa Duetto can conquer won't need much more than 200 horses...if that. Upgrades are to be had, thankfully. Three natural-aspiration tunes or two turbos can be fixed-in for the variety of races this car'll enter. And yet, that feeling one gets when dropping the right foot, and then waiting for speed to build never goes away. At best, the rear-end plants itself perfectly (with perhaps a bit of countersteer in cars boasting over 180 hp), but never will there be a wild stallion to tame as this car is driven, especially for those who are more experienced.
 
Decent gearing, though. The Duetto is packed with a typically appropriate 5-speed transmission, which is as good as things got in 1966. The gear ratios always find their match--an important detail in a low-powered environment.
 
So to conclude, I consider the puny engine one of our few demerits; and this is mainly when stacked against others the Alfa Duetto will eventually face as Ai. But as it turns out, power aint everything. What else has the Duetto to offer?
 

 

-----------------------CHASSIS / HANDLING------------------------------
 
BALANCE.

That is the word which came to mind over and over as I drove a Family Cup at Twin Ring's road course, the 3 Spider & Roadster events in the Beginner's League, and finally all four 1000 Mile enduros. Balance. This is one fine machine.
 
The Duetto Spider is a very confident sports car, despite its age. The uncoordinated feeling I've experienced in many vintage American and British sports cars simply isn't here with this Italian legend. When it was released, car reviewers dug the Duetto's craftsmanship. The instrumentation was precise, the seats firm yet comfortable for longer trips. Though the interior wasn't cluttered, neither was it sparse--again, an upgrade when compared to some Lotuses, MGs and Triumphs of the time.
 
This carries over to the car itself in our game on a driving level as well. Even while the suspension is still stock, the Alfa Duetto sits on a solid set of parts. Coils at all 4 corners are firm, yet offer what is often perfect leeway for any typical dillema to be faced at the tracks. This car wants you to be happy. It wants to reassure you. It doesn't want to pretend to be something it's not, or play games.
 
And I must say I often felt this reassurance from my European companion as again and again, I could brake later than other competitors on the tracks. There was none of the complicated driving I'd need in a stock British car from this era (not including Lotus's Elan, of course). There was none of the extreme "in-your-face" horsepower matched with zero handling you'd find in an American. I did not need a limited-slip early on. In the Alfa, brake & accelerator are best of friends..old pals who communicate and get things done the right way, while the accurate and grippy steering leads the way like a protective father...
 
...making the driver smile rather than drive around with a constant teeth-gritting grimace. Minimal understeer carries to extrememly manageable oversteer (maybe 10% of each) coupled with acres of grip at either extreme. Even on road tires, the Alfa Duetto Spider allows you to push boundaries.

A quick note on the '63 Alfa Romeo Giulia Sprint Speciale. It has qualities found in the Spider. What understeer shows up (not much) feels about the same. The main difference between the two is that the Sprint Speciale does exhibit a bit more fishtailing and oversteer, probably due to its higher center of gravity, and longer front and rear overhangs. Not much...but just enough to keep you on your toes. It's a bit more daring to drive.
 
Add a sports or semi-racing suspension and a sports brake kit, and these boundaries get pushed even further in either car...to the point that in some events I felt compelled to drop 10 or 15 horsepower (or more). Dive into a curve, tap the brakes, and hammer the gas early....while the boat-like trunk dances slightly with a triumphant "yes, I just did that" goodbye to any competitors behind you.  Ciao!

 

PROS-------------------------------------------------------

1). It's time to pretend you're Benjamin Braddock! You've got two ladies fighting over you...got a sweet ride...
 
2). Glorious Italian looks. The last design of the great Battista Pinin Farina! Although many Alfas are missing (many which should be in GT4), this is one classic that didn't get ignored.
 
3). Extremely well-mannered chassis. Brakes, suspension, and drivetrain parts can be left stock (sometimes on N3 tires) for much racing. The handling of this car consistently makes up for its lacks in the engine compartment.
 
4). Mazda Miata-ish weight. It seems perfect for a roadster. Plenty of stability, plenty of maneuverability left over...kept in reserve to tackle those corners.
 
5). Power upgrades (NA and turbo) available to keep those wins coming.
 
6). The lovely purr of the stock exhaust. I'm not sure if PD actually sampled an actual Duetto Spider from 1966, but it sounds good.
 
7). Great credit-to-performance value. At first, $35,500 seems a tad steep, but we get a lot of car for this price. Enthusiasts and 'purists' are guaranteed to be satisfied.

8). Easy to tune.
 

CONS-------------------------------------------------------

1). Wimpy engine power. Gotta be honest here....I'm always craving more. Excluding 1st gear runs from zero mph, anything below 5,000 rpms is generally to be avoided, so the Duetto 1.6 only has 1,500 to 2,000 rpms of safe powerband area.
 
2). "Tap your foot and wait" acceleration. Too much stopwatch time passes as the Spider rounds any course that isn't heavily technical and focuses more on straights than it does on corners.
 
3). This car eats front tires a bit fast. At Nürburgring, we're doing 5 laps on a set of S1s. Bit of a surprise...
 
4). As power gets raised, eventually a full-custom racing transmission is needed to keep rolling down longer straights without peaking over.
 
5). Fishtailing and spongy rear-wheel unsure-ness eventually become issues (mostly for less-experienced drivers) as power gets raised. Limited slip needed for these folks to solve.
 

Published: November 19, 2007

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