2008 Alfa Romeo 8C Spider

Gus Gregory

Every supermodel has her favorite catwalks. In the case of the Alfa Romeo 8C Spider concept car, the most notable appearances so far have included Pebble Beach (concours d'elegance), Goodwood (Festival of Speed), the Nrburgring (Oldtimer Grand Prix), and Arese. Arese? That's the old home of Alfa Romeo, a tired and cluttered factory complex on the outskirts of Milan. When we arrived at the gate to take the lady in red carbon fiber out for a ride on the town, the clouds had opened up. Although the 8C does look pretty sexy with its tight-fitting black top strapped firmly into position, the angry Lombardian skies would have thoroughly soaked the flimsy fabric contraption in no time. Thankfully, the Italian car industry's recent state of decay provided a dry and convenient alternative location in the shape of three gutted assembly halls. Stadium-sized, with concrete floor slabs and long lines of evenly spaced cast-iron supports, these industrial monuments to former glory days turned out to be the perfect setting for this remarkable Alfa Romeo styling exercise. Penned by in-house designer Wolfgang Egger, the 8C Spider was inspired by legendary Alfa sports cars from the golden '60s such as the Giulia TZ and the 33 Stradale.

At the recent Paris show, Alfa Romeo unwrapped the production version of the 8C coupe. It goes on sale late next year for about $200,000, and as few as 500 units may be built. What about a production Spider, however? "This question is still subject to debate," answers Egger, lighting a Marlboro and puffing smoke toward the Vietato Fumare! sign on the wall. "Obviously, we would like to see the open-air version approved, too. Most of the design and engineering groundwork has been done. We now know how to package the folding top, we've made room for a 5.3-cubic-foot cargo bay, and we've triple-checked the body's torsional stiffness. But it remains to be seen whether or not we can find enough customers to justify the extra investment."

Most Italian concept cars have supertight cockpits, but the 8C Spider is an exception. The three-spoke steering wheel with the squared-off bottom adjusts in both reach and rake, the power-operated seats whir back a surprisingly long way, the footwell is deep, and there is sufficient clearance between the slab-sided door panel and the transmission tunnel. But when the manual roof is closed, the swayback silhouette causes taller people to duck and crouch in discomfort. The show car is fitted with a somber mix of black leather and brushed aluminum, but Egger has prepared a variety of alternative color schemes.

When I finally get in, I'm firmly secured in position by a clamshell carbon-fiber seatback and a merciless seatbelt. The aluminum pedals are well-spaced, but the clutch is too heavy. Unlike the production coupe, the 8C Spider concept isn't fitted with the paddleshift Cambiocorsa transmission we know from various Maseratis. Instead, it features the traditional six-speed manual from the Maserati GranSport Coupe. These cogworks can only be described as the second-best choice. First gear refuses to stick most of the time, reverse is hard to find, and the considerable slack in the shift pattern suggests that this particular gearbox was filled with grappa, not gear lubricant. Thankfully, the 32-valve V-8 plays in a different league. Its sonorous sound track makes your eardrums go numb with emotion, its subtle vibrations tingle your spine, and its take-off performance is impressive enough to briefly make the two Alfa Romeo PR guys fear for their jobs.

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