I live in Delaware and was a teenager in the 80's. I always liked the Alfa Romeo Spider and I am considering finding one from the late 80's early 90's to buy and possibly restore. I would like to know if anyone can give me information about mechanically upgrading the Spiders of this period to perform closer to what todays cars do. I would be interested in increasing the performance, handling, and braking. Are there new parts available for these models that will let me bring it up to par with today's standards while at the same time having a reliable dailey driver? Does Alfa Romeo offer "crate engines" like the American manufacturers that I could purchase and drop in? Are there any particular years that are the best for build quality and reliability? Thanks in advance for any help.
Welcome to the Alfabb eseel and congrats on entering the 12 step Alfaholic program!
All good questions.
Sure you can upgrade performance, handling, and braking. New parts are readily available for most mechanical items. Alfa does not offer "crate engines" but there are other options. Best year for new person is probably 90-94 followed by 82-89.
Now some specifics.
Performance....well no crate motors available, but you could enlist one of the reputable builders to build a performance motor for you that you could drop in. The Alfa 4 cyl is a wet sleeve motor. Meaning the cylinders slide in and out and can be replaced with the pistons for around $450. The crank is nitrided and typically very strong. So a good standard main block is not so hard to find. Rods were over built. So upgrading is a choice depending on how deep your wallet is. There are several options for the block if building normally aspirated. You can go with light weight forged pistons with higher compression....10.1 through 12 or so. Carillo rods are available for around $1200 or so. Also cast stock, 10.1 and 10.4 compression pistons are available. The block is a 5 main block with direct oiling to 1, 3, & 5 mains. The block itself can be drilled for direct oiling of 2 and 4 main for really high end performance applications. Aluminum flywheels are available too. So you can build a nice high compression bottom end with ease. The head also has some further possibilities. Oversized valves and a variety of camshafts are available. Porting and polishing by a knowledgeable alfa machinist is also very rewarding. You can shave the head as well to bring compression up. And apply 3 or 4 angle valve seats to make the head flow very well considering its a 1960s design. More horsepower is in the head than in the block. And headers are a must for the 82-89 spiders...either the cast ones like on a 90-94 or tubular. The stock tranny and diff are up to the task for more horsepower. More than likely you'd want to rebuild the tranny with new synchros. There are gear lightening services available for the tranny and you can have the rear diff reshimmed to increase the lockup.
Any big change you apply to the motor will have to be dealt with on the ECU side either by direct swap out to a stand alone or modification to the Ljet (82-89) or motronic (90-94).
For the more mondane...the motronic ecu is chippable where the Ljet is not. You can gain 10hp or so on the 90-94 by swapping the eprom on the ecu....around $350 or so.
For forced induction, there is a turbo kit in development by autocomponenti.com that promises to require no internal modifications to the engine. Maybe out by this fall or early spring next year.
Engine swaps are also out there. Some do a twin spark conversion to get around 150hp in stock form. Still requires a rebuild of the engine as they are being sourced used from overseas. Or with more extensive modifications, an Alfa V6 engine can be fitted.
So for performance the options are out there, but none are inexpensive.
For handling the car benefits from a chassis stiffener, stiffer springs, and shocks. These items are readily available. This would get you into SCCA trim so to speak. But you can go further here as well. There are some suppling adjustable coil over kits, panhard bars, watts linkages, etc. Just how much money you have and your goals for the car. She'll handle very well with a chassis stiffener, stiffer springs and shocks and better tires and possibly upgrading the wheels to 15".
For braking...the stock is 4 wheel non vented discs. The are very adequate and perform very well. But again, more stuff is available. There are 4 pot pistons and vented discs available, slotted and/or crossdrilled rotors, etc. Just again a balance between the wallet and the goals for the car.
Now a built up Spider can be very reliable. The car suffered in standard form from rust, overburdened tranny synchros, and electrical corrosion. Finding a clean body is most important. The rest is really very simple stuff if you are mechanically inclined. Best to buy the best one you can afford rather than to buy one that needs restoration.
Again, welcome to the Alfabb!