Pre-Purchase Inspection of a SPICA Injected Alfa - Alfa Romeo Bulletin Board & Forums

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Old 08-01-2004, 02:48 AM
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Pre-Purchase Inspection of a SPICA Injected Alfa, Part 1 of 3

Pre-Purchase Inspection of a SPICA Injected Alfa

The first thing the prospective owner should ask is a question to himself . . . . . “Should I buy a SPICA injected Alfa, or a carbureted or Bosch L-Jetronic/Motronic model?” In my opinion you should only consider buying a SPICA injected Alfa if you have a good knowledge of engine mechanics and are willing to invest some intellectual capital in learning to tune and service the system yourself. As an alternative, you might ensure that you have access to a competent Alfa mechanic who is proficient in the SPICA system. And, by the way, a good SPICA technician is hard to find. So, if your not very mechanically inclined and don’t want to learn, I would recommend a later model Electronic Fuel Injected L-Jetronic or Motronic injected Alfa.

Buying an Alfa for the first time is likely an emotional event. The purpose of this guide is to give some knowledge and confidence in assessing the serviceability of the fuel injection system. A 30 year old automobile is not going to be perfect, nor should your approach be to pick it apart to the owner. Using this guide can help give you an idea as to the serviceability of the fuel injection system and the approximate costs of needed replacement parts. In making an objective assessment, don’t look at the car from an emotional standpoint, but instead, more like a mechanic would.

Buying a car which you know almost nothing about can be a daunting proposition. This is especially true of a SPICA injected Alfa Romeo. Mechanical fuel injection was used only on a handful cars with gasoline engines. Further, most of those mechanical fuel injection systems were not nearly as complicated or finely designed as the SPICA system. Several critical parts of the SPICA injection pump are fit to very fine tolerances (millionths of an inch) and can prematurely wear out-of-limits if poorly maintained. A well-maintained injection pump should last 100,000 miles or more. Running the car out of fuel, chronically insufficient fuel pressure, failure to refresh lubricating oil, and allowing corrosion to take over, will all cause a dramatic lowering of that expected operational life. On the other hand, ensuring that filters and oil are routinely refreshed, ensuring fuel pressure is good, and adding an upper cylinder lubricant like Marvel Mystery Oil to gasoline, will probably extend the life of the pump tens of thousands of miles. Also, in preparation of buying any Alfa, reading Pat Braden’s standard reference on Alfa’s is a must . . . The Alfa Romeo Owner’s Bible.

To help in the search for a good example, listed here are inspection points for general assessment of the SPICA Fuel Injection System. An inspection as comprehensive as this guide, will take a little time. Also, practically speaking, a typical, "non-Alfisti" seller may not allow such an invasive inspection. A knowledgeable Alfa seller should be able to easily answer these questions and give you a level of confidence in your purchase. Be sure to tell the seller to have the engine "cold" when you arrive to look at the car.

The two most important aspect of buying a SPICA injected Alfa are:

1. How the car is running?
2. Is the pump is worn to the point of leaking fuel into the oil sump?

Other general questions you should ask yourself are:

1. How is the rest of the car cleaned and maintained?
2. Is the engine compartment dirty? If it is, chances are the FI system wasn't well maintained either.
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Last edited by Roadtrip; 08-01-2004 at 03:47 AM.
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Old 08-01-2004, 03:09 AM
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Pre-Purchase Inspection of a SPICA Injected Alfa, Part 2 of 3

INSPECTION POINTS

Take a mechanics inspection mirror and small flashlight with you when you inspect the car. To give the pump a good visual inspection ask the seller to remove the air cleaner box, altitude compensator, and spark plugs. If he doesn't want remove the air cleaner box and show you the FI pump, or doesn't know how . . . . be suspicious.

1. Look for any loose wires not attached to anything. For instance, a wire not attached to the top of the Fuel Cutoff Solenoid (see fig 1, item FCS) may indicate that the microswitch that actuates the FCS is shorted out and sending a constant fuel cutoff signal to the pump. (Hence why the owner disconnected it). While not a particularly serious problem, the lack of a functioning FCS can result in backfiring during deceleration. The cost of the part itself is only about $60, but the FI pump has to be removed from the car to replace it. A wire removed from the Cold Start Solenoid could indicate that it is inoperative, as well. (see Fig 1, item CSS).

2. Pull the oil sump dipstick. Smell the oil. Does it smell like gasoline? If so, the injection pump may be leaking gasoline into the oil sump past badly worn high-pressure pump plungers. If the oil seems very freshly changed, this could be an attempt to hide the problem. Fuel leaking into the oil requires a complete injection pump rebuild. (About $750, part only). Another way (and even better way) is to sample the oil in the logic section of the FI pump itself. If the owner acquiesces, (which is probably unlikely) ask him to remove the Barometric Compensator (BC) (triangular plate with 3 screws on top of logic section of pump)(see fig 1, item BC). Do not move the throttle while the BC is removed from the FI pump. Removing the BC opens up a large hole in the top of the pump that you can peer down into using your flashlight. Look for general condition, i.e. no rust, well-oiled parts, etc. Smell the BC. It should smell like oil and not gasoline. You can also sample the oil by inserting a long thin object or a plastic straw down to the bottom of the pump, being careful not to disturb any internal parts. Draw the sample out and smell the oil. If the pump section is venting gasoline past the plungers, then the oil will probably have a strong smell of gasoline. The amount of captive oil is really very little so you will barely be able to see it with a small flashlight. This section is splash lubricated. If the parts appear dry, then consider the pump poorly maintained and expect some accelerated corrosion and wear in some of the internal parts. Also, look just forward in the barometric compensator hole and look for a long vertical spring (see Fig 3). It’s attached at the bottom to a lever and threaded onto a screw at the top. Check to ensure it's secure and not rusted. A rusted or poorly secured spring will surely fail and cause the pump to instantly and seriously malfunction.

2. Very Important - Is the plastic anti-tamper cap missing from the SPICA injection pump reference screw? See figs 4 & 5. It could be an indication that the reference screw's position was changed, thus throwing off the pump's baseline calibration. Recalibrating the pump technically requires removal and special tools. Generally speaking, if the threaded screw has about the same number of threads on both sides of the boss, it may be that the screw wasn't changed and the plastic cap was capriciously removed by an amateur mechanic, or just simply fell off due to corrosion of the safety wire. If the cap is missing and the car is running poorly, count on a pump overhaul at about $750, not including labor. It may be possible to get the pump back into proper adjustment while on the car, but it's a tedious and time-consuming process that is probably ineffective anyway . . . and well beyond the capability of a novice owner-mechanic. Also, any future knowledgeable buyer will almost certainly note the missing cap.

3. Check the "T" number on the injection pump. Is it correct for the year car/engine that it's matched with? You can use a mirror to see the placard on the side of the pump section. For “T” number/year cross-reference, see T-number appendix at the end of this section.

4. Are the metal fuel pipes from the FI pump to the injectors rusty or not secured? These pipes must hold over 350 lbs/sq inch of pressure, so, badly corroded ones could fail. Unsecured fuel pipes will vibrate during routine engine operation and weaken from
metal fatigue. Since during the injection cycle only a tiny amount of fuel is pumped, even an miniscule crack/leak can deny fuel delivery to its respective cylinder. The only replacements available are salvage parts or on Ebay, and are difficult to readily obtain.

5. Check the front fuel filter assembly. Is it clean or does it look like the filter hasn’t been changed in a very long time? Is there a wire attached to the fuel low pressure sending unit? See Fig 6.

6. Inspect the spark plugs. Do the spark plugs show a light brown color? If they look like they were just cleaned by the owner, that could be an attempt to hide a mixture or piston ring problem. Black or sooty deposits indicate an over-rich mixture. Shiny black would be excessive oil consumption. The typical out-of-tune system is set too rich. It could also be an indication of a bad Thermostatic Actuator (TA) or, less likely, a sticky Cold Start Solenoid (CSS). Rebuilt TAs cost from about $150 to $200, depending on the extent of needed parts. They are sold on an exchange/core basis.

7. Are the rubber fuel lines in good condition? Are there any leaks?

8. Is the tailpipe black and sooty?
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Last edited by Roadtrip; 06-11-2012 at 09:21 AM. Reason: Deleted verbaige about missing reference screw cap devaluing the car. These are so old that many caps have simply fallen off
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Old 08-01-2004, 03:23 AM
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Pre-Purchase Inspection of a SPICA Injected Alfa, Part 3 of 3

DIRECT QUESTIONS FOR THE SELLER

1. When was the last time the fuel filters (front and rear) were changed?

2. How old is the fuel supply pump? If the supply pump is the one of the original SPICA or Bosch pumps, consider it likely to fail, and soon. If the supply pump is a new model from the Bosch L-Jetronic (outlets at either END of the pump), then that's a plus.

3. Has the SPICA injection pump ever been overhauled? If the pump was overhauled by Wes Ingram Enterprises, there will be an engraved superimposed "IE" on the right side of the pump section. (see Fig 7) I believe now, he's stamping the pulley side of the pump casting. Additionally, if it's a specially modified high performance pump, it will have and "HP 150" (150 horsepower) or something similar also stamped on the pump. Ingram Enterprises is the premier re-builder of SPICA pumps. Ingram overhauled pumps have many durability modifications and are literally "better" than new. Definitely a "big plus" if there's an Ingram overhauled pump installed.

4. When was the last time the FI was tuned? By whom?

5. Has the fuel tank been inspected and professionally cleaned? A dirty, rusty tank can very quickly clog the rear fuel filter and starve the engine of fuel.

ROAD TEST

1. Fuel supply pump test. When you turn the key switch initially to "ON" (not start), does the fuel low pressure warning light (top left red light on center instrument panel) initially flash on, then extinguish? You should also hear a hum from the supply pump in the right rear wheel area. A light that says on a long time or does not go off may indicate clogged filters or a failing supply pump. If you never see it come on at all, then the low pressure warning light is inoperative, and you don't know if there is a problem with the supply pump or filters, or not. After the initial flash of the light, you should never see the come on, even momentarily. If it does, that indicates a failure somewhere in the system.

2. Cold Start. Does the car start easily from cold? Ideally the engine should idle at 1500-2000 rpm initially, slowly falling to 600-900 when the engine reaches 170 degrees. If the idle does not come down by 170 engine temperature, the thermostatic actuator could be bad. If the engine does not fast-idle initially, but settles into a steady 600-900 rpm when warm, it could be that the actuator has been replaced with a later model actuator and was not fitted properly (fix is a simple washer-spacer). Depending upon the model year of SPICA pump, the only available replacement actuators may not have correct cold extension (which governs cold idle speed). This is not necessarily a problem as long as warm idle is correct. Rebuilt actuators cost about $200, exchange.

3. Coolant Thermostat. The SPICA system depends on the thermostat forcing the engine to maintain a minimum of 170 deg for proper operation. A 180-190 deg thermostat is standard on Alfas. Some misinformed owners install 160 deg thermostats in an attempt to band-aid a malfunctioning cooling system. It's usually ineffective and will cause the engine to run too rich as well since the SPICA pump will still think it is in warm-up mode. A car that is very slow to warm up may indicate that the thermostat has been removed altogether. Further, lack of a thermostat may cause eventual overheating as well.

4. Static test. "Blimp" the throttle. There should be a very slight hesitation before the engine accelerates. If there is an instant response, the mixture is probably set too rich.

5.. Running. Acceleration should be smooth and positive all the way to redline. Don't assume miss-firing is a fuel injection problem (unless the fuel pressure warning light illuminates). . . it is much more likely to be an ignition problem. Accelerate to high engine speed and let off the throttle. There should be no backfiring (although you may hear some very slight burbling) and the engine should recover to idle easily. If you note a slight stumble as the engine decels through about 1300 rpm, that’s normal. That is the fuel cutoff solenoid de-energizing to allow fuel delivery for idle recovery.

6.. Have someone follow you and note the quantity and color of any exhaust smoke. Also note the engine condition at the time of any smoke production . . . . . on full throttle acceleration (blue smoke = worn rings), throttle-off decel (blue smoke = worn valve guides and/or seals), or during general running, black smoke = over-rich mixture.

7. After Road Test: Remove the air box again and look at the gap between the throttle arm and the reference screw on the rear of the injection pump. It should be .019 after the engine is fully warmed up. If it is not, the T/A may be bad or the pump not adjusted correctly.




SPICA FUEL INJECTION INSPECTION POINTS CHECKLIST

Visual Inspection:
* Check sump oil for gasoline odor.
* Check reference screw plastic cover installed and safety wired.
* Check pump data placard. Check "T" number to see if year pump matches year car.
* Check stampings on side of pump for Wes Ingram overhaul marks.
* Check fuel pipes for corrosion and all hold-downs installed.
* Check wire attached to fuel low pressure warning light sending unit on front fuel filter
* Remove Barometric Compensator (if able)
* Check general condition of inside of pump.
* Check for smell of gasoline
* Check compensator link spring not rusted and in good condition
* Check for oil pool in bottom of pump
* Check rubber fuel lines in good condition and not leaking.
* Check color of tailpipe not sooty and black.

Questions for seller:
* When where the filter changed?
* How old is the supply pump?
* Has the injection pump ever been overhauled?
* When was the last tune-up on the SPICA system? Who did it?
* Has the fuel tank ever been cleaned?

Road Test:
* Fuel low-pressure warning light flashes on momentarily and then goes off.
* Cold start and initial running.
* Coolant temperature reaches 180-190 deg and stabilizes.
* Throttle "blip" - slight hesitation.
* Strong smooth acceleration to redline.
* Throttle off deceleration. No backfiring.
* No smoke from exhaust pipe.
* Post test: Check pump gap is .019". See figure 5

T-Number Appendix

1969 T237
1970 – No Alfas Imported
1971 T237/1
1972-73 T255
1974 T255/1
1975 T260
1976 (Calif) T261
1976-77 T260/1
1977-79 (Calif) T261/1
1979 (Auto trans Alfetta) T263
1980-81 T265
Note: 1969-1974 had lever-adjustable barometric compensators. Later cars did not have this lever. See fig 1.

Below is a Bench Check Guide for checking an injection pump off the engine.
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File Type: pdf SPICA BENCH CHECK, ver1, 5-05.pdf (1.83 MB, 363 views)
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Last edited by Roadtrip; 02-09-2014 at 03:13 PM. Reason: Added info on Ingram overhaul mark.
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Old 05-25-2006, 05:14 PM
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humble spica origins?

following Criticism was deserved....I've (hopefully) removed the comments in this edit. Advise from my experience is to have a competent individual check every parameter in the previous threads before investing in a Spica injected Alfa. Pro. rebuilt 4-chamber unit cost about $900 in 1986. Don't know what the cost is today. Might eat my own bile from previous submittal if I can't resist cyclic impulse to search for a Montreal. There must be an addiction alternative support group somewhere.

Last edited by mj1pate; 05-26-2006 at 06:25 AM.
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Old 05-25-2006, 08:56 PM
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Well, I'm sorry you feel that way about Spica "poison boxes." However, this thread is about relaying information and helping prospective owners of Series 2 Alfas, not for diatribes and venting speens.
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John Stewart
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Last edited by Roadtrip; 05-25-2006 at 09:04 PM.
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Old 05-26-2006, 08:25 AM
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I'd love to have a Montreal as well, Spica and all. I love the Spica system and it's a great example of precision manufacturing and engineering. I think the "cool factor" is way up there among knowledgable Alfisti. Properly maintained, it's reliable and provides good performance. However, by today's standards, it's relatively imprecise and would be totally cost prohibitive to manufacture. Also, due to the very close tolerances in the pump section (50 millionths of an inch), it's prone to wear when operated with gasoline instead of the originally intended diesel fuel. The addition of Marvel Mystery Oil will help increase the lubricity of the gasoline and prolong the pump's life.

If an prospective owner wants a engine with minimal maintenance requirement, they should get an EFI Alfa. I've made that pretty clear in all my recommendations.

We in the Alfa world are very lucky to have Wes Ingram who still rebuilds these pump for us. The 4 cylinder pumps cost $1050 for a rebuild and Montreal 8 cylinder pumps $1880.
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John Stewart
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Last edited by Roadtrip; 11-13-2012 at 08:56 AM. Reason: Updated pricing of rebuilt injection pumps
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