2008 Alfa Romeo 8C Spider

Gus Gregory

"This thing can accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in less than four seconds," claims Egger, grinning from ear to ear, "which underscores that the 8C is a serious driving machine, not a boulevard poseur. We expect a maximum speed of about 185 mph. Theoretically, the car could go even faster, but the drag coefficient currently holds at 0.39, because we insist on zero lift at the front axle and downforce at the rear. That's why the rear spoiler points skyward at a nineteen-degree angle. Since we fabricated the entire body and the interior of carbon fiber, this droptop tips the scales at about 3300 pounds. The weight distribution works out to a perfectly balanced 50/50."

Compared with its closely related donor car, the Maserati GranSport Spyder, the Alfa Romeo 8C is 176 pounds lighter, 2.4 inches wider, 1.2 inches lower, and 1.6 inches longer. The wheelbase grew by 4.3 inches, and it now exactly matches the footprint of the Maserati GranSport Coupe.

With the exception of the heavy clutch and vague gearbox, the 8C Spider drives like a dream. Shod with twenty-inch Pirelli PZero tires (245/40 in the front, 275/35 in the back), the striking two-seater turns this sleepy industrial complex into an impromptu slalom course, with zero-tolerance steel pylons and unmarked random excavations thrown in as additional handicaps. Despite the treacherous, dusty concrete surface, the red rocket corners with precision and sharpness. The steering is accurate, progressive, quick, and informative. The brakes, four ventilated discs straddled by fat Brembo calipers, know the full spectrum between fine retardation and instant freeze-frame. The suspension--unequal-length control arms all around but with none of the electronic trickery they are so fond of in Modena --reads the road with a confidence-inspiring mix of translation and interpretation.

If the 8C looks a little familiar from some angles, this has more to do with managerial fluctuations than with fast-moving fashion trends. After all, this shape was first shown in Frankfurt in 2003 to rave reviews, so the engineers quickly installed an interior and brought the stage-two model to Geneva in March 2004. Herbert Demel, then head of Fiat Auto, which owns Alfa Romeo, was fired before he could point his thumb in any direction, and his successor, Sergio Marchionne, was kept busy simply finding the money to pay the water and electricity bills--it was touch and go for Fiat as recently as two years ago. Did we forget somebody? Oh yes, there was KarlHeinz Kalbfell, who ran Alfa Romeo until September 2005 and Maserati until this past September. The former BMW manager was reportedly also a fan of the new sports car, but as he struggled to generate the required funds, his underlings quietly tapped other sources to keep the project ticking over. The Maserati connection remained intact all the way through the long gestation process, but the originally planned tubular spaceframe was eventually ditched in favor of a carbon-fiber monocoque, because, says Egger, "It didn't meet the pedestrian protection and crash performance requirements."

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