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Discussion Starter · #1 · (Edited)
My Alfa Romeo 2600 Touring Spider: So far, so good

The time feels much longer, but it’s really only about 2-1/2 years since I became the ‘guardian’ of a 1963 Alfa Romeo 2600 Touring Spider that was in the middle of a cosmetic restoration. I was looking for a sports car of the late ‘50s or early ‘60s because my taste responds to the cars of that era by being impressed about their character and elegance. Initially, I wanted to satisfy a dream that was the result of two cherished model cars I owned as a child: a Matchbox 1963 Jaguar XKE coupe and a Corgi or Dinky Toys XKE convertible. Both of them were red.

When I seriously started to look at XKEs, I learned from talking to several owners that the better looking early cars were not all that nice to drive (the later cars are supposedly nicer to drive but I don’t like their looks). Perfectly healthy drivers told me that their backs could take no more than 3 hours in these cars before they had to get out for some stretching. That didn’t seem very appealing to me. My back has seen medical treatment for many years. So, I decided to expand my search. In addition to the Jags, I started to look at Ferraris, Lancias, Maseratis and some other English and Italian cars. I liked some cars more than others. Two car models I looked at were the Aston Martin DB2 and the Maserati 3500 GTI, but it took until long after I bought the 2600 Touring Spider that I realized that I seemed to be responding favorably to “Carrozzeria Touring” cars.

Although some credit needs to go to Hemmings magazine and several TV shows that cover classic or muscle cars, I believe I would not have bought a classic car without the Internet. Here, I could do inexpensive browsing, research and window shopping late at night.

I remembered a car sitting in a used car parking lot in Zurich, Switzerland, in the early ‘80s. It was a white 2600 Spider that I recall as being offered for about 4,000 Swiss Francs. A look from 10 feet gave me the impression that the seller was either selling rust or a car that was involved an accident. Anyway, I didn’t have the money so the car became somebody else’s problem. Back to the Internet: Entering “Alfa 2600” into a search engine led me to the Yahoo! newsgroup at http://autos.groups.yahoo.com/group/alfa2600/ where I lurked for 2 or 3 months before I felt compelled to post a message.

At some point, I was intrigued enough by what I had read in the newsgroup that a good-looking 2600 Sprint for sale in California seriously made me think about buying one. A coincidental business trip allowed me to arrange for a test drive, and I was impressed by the sound of the open-stack Webers during acceleration. But I felt I just didn’t know enough about these cars to assess rust, some noise the engine and transmission made, or how hard it would be to do the interior. While I was contemplating what I wanted to do, the car was sold.

Some time after that test drive, I received a message off the 2600 newsgroup asking what car I had. I replied that I had none. I was just looking and really hadn’t really made a decision to buy this type of car. But this message started a chain of events that surprises me to this day, and probably will do so for a long time to come. Eventually, the sender of the message made me aware of a car that wasn’t really for sale but suggested I contact the owner who was described to me as very knowledgeable to have a look at his car. I contacted the owner, and ended up buying the car. It was a rolling chassis with reasonably good looking paint. The bright-work, interior, windows, engine and drive train were removed and in a bunch of boxes, together with many NOS parts. In essence, the car was a very large 3D puzzle. So, why did I buy a car I really didn’t know and of which I didn’t even know if all pieces were there from an owner I really didn’t know? There was something special about it. Two things, actually. #1: This is the car that started the Alfa Romeo 2000/2600 register. #2: On first look, I felt like the car wanted me to take care of it. So I did. Simple as that.


I took a good friend of mine along when we went to see the car. Before we left, I had given him the cash for the down payment and asked him to refuse to give it to me should he believe I was doing something stupid. The idea was to use this as a safety mechanism in case I got too excited. The seller knew I was not knowledgeable about these cars, showed me the content of all the boxes and patiently explained what he had done and what needed to go where. This was the last of his Alfas. The one he wanted to keep for himself as a driver, next to a Facel HK 500. He told me that I would be getting all of his Alfa parts with the car. The car wanted me. The seller seemed honest and nice. I could not refuse. About three months later, another friend helped me to get the car.

I had rented a garage but it turned out to be unsuitable for doing any work. Summer, fall and winter passed. Not much happened, except for research, sourcing parts dealers and becoming familiar with eBay. In spring, I found a new garage and moved the car. Here is what it looked like then (with an after-market fiberglass hardtop) from the front:
 

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Discussion Starter · #2 ·
…and from the back:
 

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Discussion Starter · #3 ·
The car was in the new garage. Summer, fall and winter passed again. Then, in spring of 2003, I finally got to work on the car. I never thought that so much time would pass until I’d be able to start. I knew the previous owner had some work done on the body a few years before I bought it. The interior needed to be done and the engine compartment needed detailing before the car could be put back together. Or, so I thought. The car interior had moth infestation in the felt that covered the rear seats. Here is what the rear seat felts looked like:
 

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Discussion Starter · #4 ·
So I decided to rip out the felt. Underneath, there was some ugly looking insulation that had broken down in some areas. I decided to remove as well… and found some surface rust. I needed to dig deeper, but the engine compartment also needed attention:
 

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Discussion Starter · #5 · (Edited)
While I contemplated the strategy for dealing with the engine compartment, I decided to remove the windshield in order to remove the dashboard that needed to be recovered.

When I tried to remove the steering wheel, I noticed that the steering box moved in the engine compartment when I turned the wheel. I told a friend and we had a closer look.

As it turned out, there were some cracks under the bolts that held the steering box in place and some broken welds and another crack just below the reinforcing bracket. You can see them above the bolt at the top and near the bottom of the picture:
 

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Discussion Starter · #6 · (Edited)
Intuitively, I immediately knew I needed help. At the same time, I was in denial. DENIAL! Voices in my head whispered: “Just put the car together! Get it on the road! It’s all that matters!” Fortunately, there are times where my mind works rationally -- or something close to it. I decided to ignore the problem for now and started to work in other areas of the car. I went back to stripping the heat and sound insulation off the interior floor. That’s when I noticed two tiny holes in the passenger side floor pan. A little bit of probing with a screwdriver expanded one of the holes to half an inch in diameter.

Although I didn’t want to do apprentice work on a piece of metal that my life might be depending on, I argued with myself that fixing the cracks around the steering box was really just a matter of learning how to weld. But the floor pans were an entirely different matter. Denial no longer worked. I needed help. Badly.

As luck would have it, a member of the local Alfa Romeo club approached me and asked if I needed body work done. He introduced me to Jorge Santana, who turned out to be an exceptionally nice guy and a skilled panel beater. For him, fixing the cracks around the steering box was no problem at all. Here is what these cracks looked like immediately after welding with a torch:
 

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Discussion Starter · #7 · (Edited)
But that is not even half of the story. In order for Jorge to do the work, the car had to be moved to his shop. Before doing that, I removed pretty much everything I could from the car. Then, at the shop, we removed the front suspension and rear axle. Jorge built a dolly that I could use in my garage. Because it was too complicated and too expensive to build a rotisserie, we put the car on jack stands. I call this picture “car on stilts”:
 

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Discussion Starter · #8 · (Edited)
Now, I was in a position to clean the underbody and engine compartment. Because the exterior of the car was final paint, I could not use blasting media and had to be careful with the wire wheel -- despite masking the car all around. What I ended up doing was scraping the undercoating off with a set of chisels. As mentioned in this thread, repeatedly sharpening the chisels on a grinding wheel (at least every 10-15 minutes) and testing various cutting angles really made a difference in the amount of physical strength required to remove the undercoating.

The picture below shows the rear seat pans from behind. The black stuff in the center is oil and grease from the differential and universal joint on the drive shaft. The driver side rear seat pan shows a classic rust pattern with these cars: There is surface rust under the undercoating. After a while, some small cracks start to form around the drain hole, then the undercoating starts to flake off. In reality, the problem is much bigger than it looks. If this is not taken care of, the seat pans will rust through until the support of the radius rod is being weakened, as can be seen on pictures of a different car I posted in this thread.

As you probably can imagine, going from this….
 

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Discussion Starter · #9 ·
…to this…
 

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Discussion Starter · #10 · (Edited)
…is a messy affair. The stuff that was exposed to oil or fuel becomes sticky like glue. I f you happen to step on it on the floor, you’ll carry it all around the workshop unless you repeatedly scrape it off. This is about 2 hours of work.
 

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Discussion Starter · #11 · (Edited)
But, don’t think for just a second that the scrapings fall only on the floor. This is what I looked like, despite wearing a baseball cap, safety goggles, a breathing mask, and an acrylic face shield. Did I say this was a messy job? This may give you an impression of how messy it was:
 

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Discussion Starter · #12 ·
But in the end, the effort was worth it. Here is what the spare wheel well looked like after treating it with Mar-Hyde One-Step rust converter:
 

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Discussion Starter · #13 ·
And here is the same area after applying the new undercoating:
 

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Discussion Starter · #14 · (Edited)
To answer the question from this thread, this is the professional grade rubber undercoating we used:
 

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Discussion Starter · #15 · (Edited)
But scraping the undercoating off was only a means to see what the metal looked like. I had mentioned the hole on the passenger floor panel. Well, we replaced that panel. The driver side looked good, as it had been repaired before. Jorge suggested that the driver side floor panel may hold for 3-5 more years. So, I decided to replace that one as well.
When Jorge cut out the floor pan, he discovered a nasty little crack in the pedal box that is visible near the lower left corner of this image (note also the tiny rust hole above it -- we’ll hear more about that in a second):
 

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Discussion Starter · #16 ·
When Jorge cut out that piece of metal, we discovered that the “little rust hole” I mentioned above was a bit more serious than we thought. The pedal box was essentially rusted through from the inside out and gave way with little effort:
 

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Discussion Starter · #17 · (Edited)
Then, Jorge cut the pedal box open. We encountered the next surprise. Here’s a picture of the “topolino” we found dead in the pedal box:
 

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Discussion Starter · #18 ·
Remember that I said Jorge was a skilled panel beater? Well, here is the upper part of the new pedal box he made by hand:
 

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Discussion Starter · #19 ·
And this picture gives you a glimpse at both new floor pans he made, also by hand. He also straightened the frames below the floor pans and made the holes round again, something I thought could not be done without special equipment. He did it by hand, while they were in the car:
 

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Discussion Starter · #20 ·
In my opinion, Jorge has done a fabulous job. It was time to take the car shell home:
 

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