Sliding behind the wheel, we find that the driving position has the pedals close and the steering wheel -- a beautiful wooden wheel in '83-'85 cars -- far away, but it is less extreme than expected. The other immediately apparent oddity is the location of the stick shift, which pokes out from the lower center dash, but it, too, is not really awkward to use, as it's within easy reach and possesses beautifully positive shift action. A charming aspect of the pre-'86 cars are the twin, deeply hooded speedometer and tachometer gauges. This '84 car has the more basic seats with leather upholstery; '86 and later versions got more contoured buckets. Leather was reserved for the Veloce and Quadrifoglio models; the Graduate got less fancy but more durable vinyl. At six feet, I had plenty of room, and there's a modest cargo shelf behind the reclining buckets.
The Spider's DOHC four-cylinder engine makes 115 hp in stock trim, and it's generally criticized for being slow off the line, but it wakes up once you get moving. The Alfa engine is happiest in the upper rev ranges, generally from 3000 rpm to the redline at 5800. Zuniga's car, however, has been updated with period Alfa performance parts, which give it a loping idle but really enhance takeoff. This Spider has no problem keeping up with the aggressive action on New Jersey freeways. You'll hear the engine working, though. As Zuniga puts it, "When I got my first Spider, my friends could hear me coming from down the block."
Hearing the engine sing is a part of the unfiltered experience of driving a Spider. So, too, is the unassisted steering, which provides great feel and reasonable efforts even at parking speeds. The disc brakes have plenty of bite, and the suspension is lively yet doesn't crash over bumps. This is one fun-to-drive roadster that doesn't feel out of its element in modern traffic.
Also contributing to the Spider's livability are its large trunk and a dead-easy convertible top that can be raised or lowered with one hand. Parts aren't hard to find, but it can help to have an Alfa specialist nearby -- someplace like Col-Gen Motors in Newark, New Jersey, where we collected Zuniga's Spider. Run by first-generation Italian Americans Mike and Tom deGennaro, the shop's Alfa roots go back to Tom and Mike's father, co-founder Angelo deGennaro, who worked with Alfa Romeo USA in New Jersey and before that with Alfa in Italy. It's the kind of place where you're offered an Italian pastry (from their sister's restaurant) while you're waiting, and customers are greeted in a mix of Italian and English.