1. If you get a spider in good condition then you should not experience "frequent and expensive trips" to the mechanic. But realize that you are buying a car 15+ years old, and no matter what condition you buy it, you should expect to experience occasional repairs. Well kept spiders have proven over the years to be amazingly reliable, much more so than almost any comparable sports car in its class.
2. I too do not have any great mechnical skills. I once owned an 88 graduate, and have recently bought a 91 S4 that was in fair shape..needing more comsmetic than mechanical repairs. I have found a top-notch local mechanic shop that specializes in Alfas and Ferraris and have relied upon them for my mechanical repairs. I think this is the key for you, I wouldnt purchase an Alfa unless either I felt mechnically inclined or had a local shop I trusted. Spiders do have common problems and having an experience local shop is key. Also, the spider is a pretty simple car to work when compared to most newer cars which are loaded with the latest technology.
3. The answer here will vary somewhat with the year. Here is a good starter thread
giving you some ideas and recommending contacting your local AROC club.
4. I have not found repairs to be significantly more expensive than domestic cars. The biggest challenge is finding a shop that is experienced in repairing Alfas. Since they are fewer in number, you can expect their hourly rate to be a little more than other average domesitic repair shops. Again, if you are not mechincally inclined to do your own repairs, and want reliability, then find a local shop before you buy your Alfa. In fact, I would have a local shop check out an Alfa before I bought one if you can.
5. In general, Alfas are pretty easy to work on. Some things can be more challenging than others, but that is true of any car. With the help of this BB, your local AROC, and getting the shop manuals on CD, many repairs can be done by a novice with a little patience and basic mechanical skills. For me, I have done most of the cosmetic type repairs myself (leaving the mechnical to my local Alfa shop). I have re-uphosltered the seats, fixed various burnt warning bulbs, repainted my dash and console, replaced my speakers, replaced the door panels, replaced trunk/gas release panel, replaced the emblems, repaired my seats, nd replaced cracked vents. All of the above were pretty easy, especially with the help of this BB. Also, International Auto
is a great resource for parts and finding info on repairs and what to look for in an Alfa.
6. IMHO if I were you I would only look at S4s (91 or newer), and would expect to pay around $15K for one in excellent shape as you describe with lower miles (less than 40K). You might find one for less (around $10-12K - see here for example
), but dont be surprised to see some for close to $20K. To give you perspective, a 92' spider in mint condition with only 135 original miles (was in a collection) recently sold on eBay for around $23K. That was about as near perfect as you can get (although it likely needed some things replaced, like hoses, due to age.) But I thought that was a pretty good deal since that was the original sticker price and was the nicest one I personally have ever seen sold recently. To get a broad perspective on prices see this thread
7. You should be able to find lots of advice on buying a new spider by searching this board. Here is one thread
to get you started. But the one thing I would avoid at all costs is rust. Most anything else can be repaird/replaced pretty easy, but rust can be a whole other thing to deal with. Rust isnt as big an issue with most newer Alfas, but I still wouldnt buy one with any significant rust.
I say take the plunge! If you get some help in finding an S4 in excellent shape (via either local shop or AROC) and are willing to pay for it, then I think you can find what you are looking for. Alfas truly are a unique car like no other and will bring you many reliable years of fun driving. But if you do decide to buy one, be warned, you have to treat her even better than your lovely wife...because if you dont, she too can make your life miserable, and no true Alfa fan or man will respect you