Alfa Romeo Spider 2000 S2 test-drive

2014 Drive-My

Alfa Romeo Spider 2000 S2. I’m hit with a sense of deja vu jumping into the Alfa. Like the E-type it has barrel-sided bodywork and headlights cowled in nacelles extending gracefully up the bonnet. It also suffers from chronic lack of legroom caused by the steering wheel set slightly to the left, squeezing my leg against the transmission tunnel. There’s nothing to rest my left foot on, and the clutch pedal is a foot-twist to the right. At least the bigger windscreen makes it easy to duck out of the wind.

The dashboard is more engaging to look at than the E-type’s, with instruments nestling down deep coves and the gear lever sprouting diagonally from the centre-console. Before I’ve turned the key, it feels more sophisticated and extravagant than the Jaguar.

Alfa Romeo Spider 2000 S2 test-drive

Take the Alfa’s engine beyond 3000rpm and it sounds like a karaoke version of a Ferrari Dino.

This is a good thing, as in the context of our test, before Britain entered the European Economic Community in 1973, import taxes punted the Spider’s price above £2400, putting it in direct competition with the E-type Roadster. Any potential buyer paying a visit to the kind of Italian multi-marque concessionaire that sold them would want to know his money wasn’t being wasted, even if he was tempted by the sight of the Spider sitting alongside a not-dissimilar-looking Ferrari 365 GTC.

On the road the Spider feels not unlike the E-type in its sense of quality and sophistication, albeit without the torquey potency endowed by 4.2 litres of XK six. Instead, the lightweight Alfa twin-cam with its aluminium block and cylinder head needs revving hard to get the best out of it. But this is no hardship, because it thrives on revs. Beyond 3000rpm it affects the exotic voice of a Ferrari Dino, the twin Dell’Orto carburettors breathing hard and producing a sharp baritone bark under load.

Any glance at a specifications sheet would tell a prospective buyer that the Spider is nowhere near as fast as an E-type, but this doesn’t matter because it’s by no means slow – 0-60mph comes up in 8.8 seconds and it hits 119mph flat-out. Also, the shallower rake of the windscreen cuts wind noise and I feel far less exposed, so it’s less of  a hardship to press on in the Spider. It’s a very linear performer, never feeling overwhelmed by torque and easily engine-braked into corners. It has all the power it needs.


 Unlike the E-type, there’s an overdrive fifth gear, which helps make the motorway cruise quieter. Unfortunately, selecting it is awkward – the lever’s position means that in fifth, the gearknob ends up less than an inch from the headlight-control column stalk. Get it wrong and I’ll either stab myself in the fingers or punch the stalk from its housing.

It rolls more heavily in the corners than the Jaguar E-type, and there’s a live axle at the rear, but grip seems Velcro-like on its 185/70 R14 tyres (a mild upgrade from the usual 165 R14s) and coil-sprung front double wishbones. On wet roads it will eventually understeer, but this is easily avoided as I can feel the front suspension progressively absorbing the cornering load as it dives, and back off long before it breaks traction. The disc brakes feel reassuringly E-type-like, as does the firm but lightly-weighted steering.

In fact, overall the Spider feels so similar to the E-type it’s surprising they aren’t compared more often. The fact that the Spider can pull off this trick so convincingly is testament to its sophistication. However, there’s no avoiding the performance difference. I’m having too much fun to concentrate too hard on the speedometer, but when I do, I realise I’m always around 10mph slower, and using another 1000rpm.

It uses far less fuel – 24-32mpg as opposed to the E-type’s 15-25. However, it feels more highly strung, which could suggest a more intensive maintenance schedule to the uninitiated, regardless of lower overall running costs. In reality, the twin-cam was a tough, well-proven engine that was designed to sustain high revs; but given Italian-car dealerships’ well-documented reputation for awkwardness in the Seventies and British scepticism of foreign cars at the time, it’s not surprising a lot of E-type buyers overlooked them. They really shouldn’t have done.

An owners view

Russ Smith:

Alfa Romeo Sprint ‘E-type? Been there, done it,’ says Classic Cars’ assistant editor Russ Smith. ‘I ran one – a Series 1.5 2+2 – while I was editor of Classic Car Weekly in the 2000s. ‘The truth is, the Spider does everything just as well but costs a lot less to run and is easier to live with. I work on all my cars but, as I found out, E-type parts cost a fortune and nearly every major job involves removing the rear axle. ‘The Spider isn’t as fast as the E-type, but that’s not the point – it’s as fast as you’d go in an E-type, and it uses sophisticated design to achieve this with less power.

Car Alfa Romeo Spider 2000 S2
Sold/number built



steel monocoque


1962cc in-line four-cylinder, dohc, two Dell’Orto DHLA 40G carburettors

Max power

150bhp @ 5500rpm

Max torque

156lb ft @ 3500rpm


Five-speed manual


rear-wheel drive


independent, wishbones, coil springs, telescopic dampers, anti-roll bar


live axle, trailing arms, coil springs, telescopic dampers, anti-roll bar

Steering Recirculating ball

Discs front and rear




8.8 secs

Top speed 119mph
Mpg 28
Price new £2439
Price now £14,500

Our car

What we’ve been up to with our classic cars this month… Russ Smith s Spider makes a splash joining the CC fleet this month. Alfa exorcises E-type ghosts. The body now contains a fair percentage of British steel. The story so far – 1972 Alfa Romeo Spider 2000 S2. Owned by – Russ Smith. Time owned – 2 years 11 months. Miles this month – 248. Costs Just petrol. Previously – Oil pressure relief valve hassles.

Because it’s included in this month’s cover story, this seemed like the perfect time to introduce my Alfa Spider properly. As touched upon in the feature, I bought the car nearly three years ago to replace (after a suitable period to get over the relationship) the E-type 2+2 I was previously ‘married’ to. That Jag gave me an even harder time than Phil Bell is having with his.

Alfa Romeo Spider 2000 S2 - 1972

There were several reasons why I chose a Spider, the main one being that my budget wouldn’t stretch to a good enough Alfa 105-series GTV, or even a GT Junior for that matter, as they appeared to shoot up in price the moment I keyed the names into an internet search engine. But I knew I had to own a twin-cam Alfa of some description, because every time I drove one for a feature it left me with that lingering first-kiss kind of tingle. The later, wedgy GTVs were considered, but though lovely to drive they simply don’t have the Spider’s charisma.

I have always loved Pininfarina styling, still missed my old Fiat 124 Spider, and discovered that I could afford a decent and hopefully tax-free S2 Spider, which for me is the best-looking version from their long production run.

After months of searching for an example that wasn’t woefully over-described I tracked this one down through the Alfa Romeo Owners’ Club website, and was reassured by the CD of photos showing a complete professional body restoration done four years previously. The test-drive suggested similarly healthy running gear so I haggled gently and became an Alfa owner.

Apart from a stuck oil pressure relief valve that caused the contents of the sump to dump on the garage floor and proved devilishly awkward to fix – plus having to replace all four brake calipers – ownership has mostly been a blast.

Oil valve aside, the Alfa has – as hoped – been much easier to look after and work on than the E-type. And no longer having chrome wire wheels to clean and care for is a liberation in itself.

I just wish I’d been more diligent when checking the soft-top during the buying process. No excuses: I’ve even written in the past about the need to check for rot in the header rail by squeezing it. And I did; only I managed to squeeze it in the two places that were actually sound. The rest of the rail is so bad that, teamed with the slightly shrunken hood material, it now takes two people to wrestle the hood into submission and attach it to the screen top, then two cable ties to keep it there.

So top of this year’s jobs list is to buy a good secondhand hood and frame for those rare occasions when I do want the top up. Then there’s the exhaust manifold, which has cracked in two places. It’s a common problem on these cars but so far isn’t causing too much extra noise. That surely can’t last, though. Time to get busy.

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