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WARNING: this is one of those tragic stories with an unhappy ending. You know, doddering old fool falls in love with a curvaceous Italian beauty who leaves him heartbroken by the side of the road...

Two weeks ago I purchased a 1981 Spider on eBay. It was listed as "running like a top,” “without any visible rust," and with only 40024 miles on the clock. It had a clean carfax, the price was right, it was 2 AM, I've always wanted an Alfa, and so I bid (and won).

Flew into a city 650 miles away to pick up the car, which turned out to be exactly as described - rust free, very straight body, so-so paint (charitably described by the salesman as "poop brown"), dried up weather stripping, new interior, lousy tires. I sniffed the dipstick (no gasoline odor), and started it up without any problems at all.

I stopped at an auto parts store, added a quart of oil, added a bit of Marvel Mystery Oil to the gas tank for the SPICA, and changed wiper blades. I discovered that the drivers window was stuck fully up, the first-second syncro was a bit touchy, and, at dusk, that the headlight stalk didn't work, although I could flash the headlights. I also made a mental note to do the brakes as soon as I got home, although they were certainly serviceable.

Both in rush hour traffic and on the interstate, the car drove like a dream. I was astounded at how torquey the engine was, and how smoothly it accelerated. Oil pressure and coolant temperature (despite the 90 degree ambient temperature) were solid as a rock, and the car handled like it was on the proverbial rails. There was no backfiring or burbling on deceleration, and I was congratulating myself on having a problem-free fuel injection system. I did find when I stopped for gas that I could only get five gallons or so of premium into the tank. I wasn't keeping precise track, but I think mileage was in the high 20's.

I drove 400 delightful miles and stopped for the night. It started up without any fuss the next morning and all was well until I stopped for gas. Again I could only get five or six gallons into the tank.

I was driving down the interstate entrance ramp a few hundred yards away when I knew something was seriously wrong. The car was losing power, some (but not all) oil pressure, and the coolant temperature had jumped 20-30 degrees. It started to feel like it was misfiring, and then it died. Forever. I coasted to the shoulder (no mean feat given the traffic), and popped the hood. No pools of coolant or oil beneath the car, still no gasoline odor to the oil. I read through the SPICA materials I'd downloaded from this forum, tried all the obvious stuff (nothing worked), and, after it had cooled for an hour, realized that this wasn't a vapor lock.

After a very expensive tow, I told the mechanic to check the fuel filters, spark and gas while I had lunch. When I returned he told me that he'd done a compression check, and that cylinder #1 was 75 psi, #2 and #4 were O, and #3 was 48. I ended up renting a U-Haul van and towing the Spider home on a car dolly. Wasn’t cheap.

I have a large garage, tools, and a bit of know-how. I've ordered every book and manual I can find on the 'net and Amazon. I haven't touched the Alfa yet because 1) I have to put a clutch in my daily driver (Ford Ranger, 168K miles) first, 2) I don't know enough yet from the books I've bought, and 3) I'm reluctant to remove the head without at least having ordered a head gasket.

I'm very interested in everyone's opinion. If engine damage was caused by bad gas, I might have an insurance claim against either the road hazards clause in my comprehensive auto coverage or against the gas station. Should I drain the tank? Is it possible that bad gas could seriously damage my engine in less than a mile? How should I document the engine damage (i.e., take pictures of every step of the teardown)? Anyone with similar insurance claim experience out there?

I didn't hear any loud noises when the engine quit, so I don't think threw a rod, and there's no external damage to the block or the pan. I'd think that the timing chain wouldn't fail without making a hell of a racket - perhaps it jumped a tooth on the sprocket?

So, folks, whaddaya think? I'm agonizing over this (sort of like wondering if your girlfriend's cheating, but not really wanting to know...) Did I burn holes in two pistons? Burn some valves? Blow out valve seals? Or is this a VVT problem?

The only other fact I can think of is that the floor over the catalytic converter was a bit toasty, something I attributed to the fact that it was a least 90 degrees that day. The exhaust temperature light never went on, and when I turn on the ignition I can hear the fuel pump. I did check the tailpipe and got a sooty finger (I'm sure there's a dirty joke there somewhere, but I'm not that creative...)

If the worst has happened, and I have to rebuild the engine, well, then that will be my winter project, and I'm sure I'll have a thousand questions to post here. For now I'm just hoping that one of you can come up with a convincing explanation of just what the hell happened to what I was sure was a very healthy, very strong engine.
 

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Re-run your own compression check and report back.

Pull all four spark plugs and wires and leave out for testing all cyls.
Insert the gauge into each spark plug hole and measure by....
Holding throttle wide open....gas pedal to the floor,
Crank motor,
and visualize the build of pressure on the gauge.
Repeat for each cyl.

Should build fully withing 5 strokes or so.
Need around 90 or so to run fair to poorly.
Decent number is a 150-160.
Want all figures within 10% of top figure.

I just don't buy that mechanic's compression test.
Could be an assortment of things at this point so no need to speculate.
The bottom end is robust. Most common issue...fouled spark plug. Almost sounds like you were not getting fuel by your description. Running lean...getting hot...not enough fuel pressure....on the side of the road.

Best Regards,
John M
 

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Discussion Starter #3
Compression Test?

Thanks for your input.

I'm also having trouble with the compression test (to be honest, I don't know why he ran it in the first place), since the engine was running so well.

I'm going to take a cue from you and check the plugs, as well as the rest of the ignition system.

And, no matter what happens with a tear down, I'm still going to have to replace the fuel filters, so doing that now isn't going to screw anything up.
 

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It could be something very simple in the ignition. Check for sparks when you do the compression test.
Ed Prytherch
79 Spider
88 Verde
 

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This may seem a bit far fetched, but when they first started including a diesel nozzle with the regular gas I accidently (5AM after 12 hrs of driving) filled my Karmann Ghia with diesel. It stopped running about 100 yds. from the station. Didn't hurt anything but my ego and added a couple more hours to my trip.

Aside from something bizarre like that, ditto to the above. Change the rear fuel filter. I don't think you said if you verified the operation of the fuel pressure light. Should flicker on and back off when you first turn the ignition switch. If it never comes on at all it may have been disconnected or broken.

Bill
 

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1. What compression numbers do you get from your test?

2. Is there oil in the coolant and/or vice versa?

3. Does the fuel low pressure warning light operate normally?
 

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(see above for compression checks)
5 gallons to fill it up??

spicas are very sensitive to clean fuel, hence the two fuel filters. when you "tried all the obvious stuff (nothing worked), " did you check all the fuel filters? at 5 to 6 gallons you may have some dirt in the tank and it got sucked up when acccelerating on the entrance ramp. i've cleaned out enough dirt from a tank to increase fill-up by a gallon!!! and hard alfa-esk acccelerations resulted in hesitations sounding and acting like misfires with stalls and stops. a simpletons excuse for the temp increase; as engine stalled, no cooling - or did temp inc before stalling, stopping?
hey its just my 2cents, i go for the simple answer first
 

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Thanks for your input.

I'm also having trouble with the compression test (to be honest, I don't know why he ran it in the first place), since the engine was running so well.

I'm going to take a cue from you and check the plugs, as well as the rest of the ignition system.

And, no matter what happens with a tear down, I'm still going to have to replace the fuel filters, so doing that now isn't going to screw anything up.
I'm with John M. I don't trust that compression check at all.

Dumb question, but do you have gas in the tank? 10 gallons over 400 miles, if you started with a full tank, you're probably empty.

Make sure it has gas, then check for spark and fuel. Even if it's a head gasket you should be able to get it running. And you should get it running before taking anything apart.

bs
 

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On the other point about compression, the mechanic probably didn't have the throttles wide open when he did the compression test - :eek: 1st time I did mine I thought I had a bum motor.:)
 

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the only two spiders I have had both act the same way when filling, if you put the filler in the tank all the way, you only get 6 or 76 gal in. you have to baby the thing and let it burp once in a while to get a full tank.
cliff
 

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I have that filller problem and end up turning the nozzle upside down and it pumps to full.

Also when doing the Compression test I didn't see the instructions to disconnect the fuel pump to keep fuel from pumping into the cylinders during the test. If the spica has some fuel in it, it will pump the mechanical injectors until it runs dry. I vote main fuel filter, POSSIBLY SPICA BELT

Stan
 

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My feeling that complete 0 is just imposible.re run test as John suggested and look on spark plugs. You mentionted that you added 1 q of oil look and see how much oil now if you need other quart its plugs that fouled. Also compression test with engine consuming around 1 q every 300 miles or so will not be accuarate at all.

Greg
 

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I have to 2nd Roadtrip did the redlight in the dash turrn on with the key and then go out.
was the red light on or flashing when it started to run bad? is the redlight stuck on now it will not start? I had somthing like this happen to me when I got a bad tank of gas with crap in it. It pluged the rear filter rightaway. I had to change the filter every month for about a year before I got all the crap out. but the light in the dash will tell.. it will will be also on if youre tank it out of gas.
 

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I would check the compression and ignition, but also check the cam timing marks to see if it has jumped; also check the SPICA drive belt for its timing.
 
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