By: Tarek Hawchar -
Alfa Romeo can arguably be called one of the pioneers of the motorsports industry. The Italian marque has been making exceptional sports cars for over a hundred years now. Not only did Alfa Romeo make remarkable cars but it won countless races with its virtually unbeatable beasts. One such car they made was the 1950 Alfa Romeo 1900. This car was a new way forward for Alfa Romeo as they shifted their focus towards mass producing reliable street-legal cars. However, keeping their racing spirit alive, the Italian company was soon compelled to produce a limited edition sport edition that could be driven both on the streets and on the track. Hence, the 1954 Alfa Romeo 1900 Sport Spider was born.
The 1900 Sport Spider was such a success that it is now part of Alfa Romeo’s Museum in Arese, Italy. I got to judge the aesthetics of this car first hand when I visited the Alfa Romeo Museum in Italy a few days ago. Better yet, I got to take it out for a spin on the Museum’s dedicated track. It was like a dream had come true.
I woke up early on the scheduled day and got to the venue as fast as my rental would take me. On first glance, I couldn't help but notice that the 1900 Sport Spider looked a lot like the 1957 Porsche 356 Speedster's cousin. On closer inspection, it became clear that Porsche did borrow several design cues from its Italian counterpart. The car shone brightly under the Museum lights and its red color made it stand out among the other legendary Alfa Romeo's in the room. The sleek body did not have any definite lines as we often see in modern sports cars. But with its huge hood, it did look monstrous. The rear end resembled a large tomato with mere blips as taillights.
I wasn't complaining since vehicles were styled very differently 70 years ago. We have come a long way in terms of both exterior and interior design. The interior of the 1900 Sport Spider was simple and bland. There was nothing too flashy or appealing inside. Since the 1950s was not known for technological innovation, there were no gadgets or distracting buttons just the bare minimum that would allow you to drive the car. Well, after I got a good glimpse of the car I decided it was time to take the car out for a drive.
Under the Hood
The car was started and steered out on the track by the Museum staff. I couldn’t help but listen in awe the rumbling sound this compact sports car made. It was powered by a 1,997 cc twin-cam engine that had hemispherical combustion chambers and was fed by two Weber carburetors. This inline-four engine had an iron engine block with an aluminum head for optimum weight reduction and performance. I was seated in the car as soon as it was set up on the starting line of the track. I could feel the 138 hp just waiting to be unleashed and that is what I did. I put the car in the first gear and off I went much to the anxiousness of the Museum staff.
Driving and Handling
I am not accustomed to driving a right-hand drive car so the initial few turns and gear changes were a bit awkward for me. I was reaching for the shifter on the right-hand side and all I got was the door. Nevertheless, given my experience with driving cars, I quickly overcame this problem and started to enjoy the drive – a bit. Gear shifts were smooth and manageable once I got the hold of it.
The 1954 Alfa Romeo 1900 Sport Spider was the company's first-ever unibody car. Although unibody cars are a norm nowadays and they are superior in terms of handling. A unibody chassis allows for a lower center of gravity resulting in better cornering and reduced rollover. Oddly enough, this particular unibody vehicle was a bit shaky and difficult to drive. I had to adjust the speed and manage the braking at tight turns just so the car would not rollover.
" IT CAN CERTAINLY FIT THE DESCRIPTION OF A MODERN GRAND TOURER "
The large but slim wheels did not help the cause. The car was not getting enough traction from the road. And while the straight sections of the Museum track were a breeze to drive through, the turns and chicanes tested my driving skills to the limit. If only I had the liberty of taking this car out on real roads, a positive suspension assessment could then have been made.
This car weighs a bit over 2,000 pounds which is not extravagant by any means but it does help with acceleration – a lot. You could compare the Sport Spider with some modern sports cars if you consider the lightning-fast acceleration it provides. Alfa Romeo did state that the car was able to reach the 137 mph mark but I did not dare try test that claims. The car seemed to lose traction and wobble a bit as soon as it entered the three-digit mark.
The steering response was a bit slow and not ideal for such high speeds. Moreover, I couldn't trust the brakes. Seventy years old technology is still seventy years old no matter how advanced the car was at that time. Therefore, I tried to keep it simple and the brakes worked surprisingly better than I had expected.
The 1900 SS was not one of the best cars I had driven in my years of driving but it was certainly one of the most enjoyable. It can certainly fit the description of a modern grand tourer and if driven with skill it could give great results on the track as well.
The 1900 Sports Spider could only make it to the prototype stage as Alfa Romeo never went forward with its production. As I bid adieu to one of the greatest cars ever made by Alfa Romeo I could only think about what could have been if the car had made it to the production line. It is one car that could have easily challenged the Porsches, Ferraris, and Jaguars of that time.