At the Paris Show, Alfa Romeo unwrapped the production version of the 8C coupe. It goes on sale late next year at a price of around 160,000 Euros (AU$265,000), so to limit the run to only 500 units might be a perfectly sensible decision. But what about the Spider?
This feature was originally published in MOTOR’s December 2006 issue
“Obviously, we would like to see the open-air version get approved too,” answers head of design, Wolfgang Egger. “As far as design and engineering are concerned, most of the groundwork has been done. We now know how to package the folding top, we have made room for a 150-litre cargo bay, and have triple-checked the torsional stiffness of the body.
“It is also worth noting that the Spider has a character of its own,” Egger continues. “It is more of a cruiser than the coupe, it is more elegant and less extreme. It’s a style statement as well as a performance car, and we have enough parts to build it! But it remains to be seen whether marketing can find enough customers to justify the considerable extra investment.”
Most Italian concept cars have super-tight cockpits – a real squeeze, unless your father was a jockey and your mother a prima ballerina. The 8C Spider makes an exception to this rule by offering enough cabin space to accommodate even the Pavarottis of this world.
The three-spoke steering wheel with the squared-off bottom adjusts in reach and rake, the power-operated seats whir back a surprisingly long way, the deep footwell benefits from the car’s phallic proportions, and there is plenty of clearance between the slab-sided door panel and the feisty transmission tunnel. The only element which puts the lid on our budding love affair is the manual roof, which when closed makes you duck and crouch in discomfort.
At last I’m in, firmly secured in position by the clamshell carbonfibre seatback, and by the merciless belt. The anti-slip aluminium pedals are well-spaced, but the clutch is almost as heavy as the dreaded Legmaster III in the Golden Gym. How come?
Because the 8C Spider is, unlike the coupe, not fitted with the paddleshift Cambiocorsa transmission we know from various Maseratis. Instead, it features the traditional six-speed manual that is standard on the GranSport.
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After a day of hard asymmetrical footwork, these cogworks can only be described as second-best choice. First gear refuses to stick most of the time, reverse would not find its destination even if there was a GPS system attached to it, and the considerable slack in the shift pattern suggests that this particular ’box was filled with grappa, not oil.
Thankfully, the quad cam V8 plays in a different league altogether. Its soundtrack makes your eardrums go numb with emotion, its subtle vibrations tingle your spine, and its take-off performance is impressive enough to briefly make the two Alfa press guys fear for their jobs.
“This thing can accelerate in under four seconds from 0-100km/h,” confirms Egger, grinning from ear to ear. “Which underscore the 8C as a serious driving machine, not a poseur for the boulevarde of vanities. Even with the soft top in place, we are expecting a maximum speed of about 300km/h.
"Theoretically, the car could go faster still, but the drag coefficient currently holds at 0.39. Why? Because we insist on zero lift at the front axle and on negative lift in the back. That’s why the rear spoiler points skywards at a 19-degree angle.”
“By fabricating the entire body and the interior out of carbon fibre,” Egger continues, “even the Spider tips the scales at under 1500 kilos. The weight distribution works out at a perfectly balanced 50:50.”
Despite the brand-new synthetic skin, the 8C Spider is, in essence, still a Maserati in disguise. Compared to the closely related donor car, the GranSport Spyder, the 8C is 80 kilos lighter, 60mm wider, 30mm lower and 40mm longer. The wheelbase grew by 110mm to 2550mm – which happens to exactly equal the footprint of the Maserati coupe. The transaxle layout is a straightforward carryover element from the GranSport. The same applies to the Cambiocorsa gearbox installed in the 8C coupe.
With the exception of the super-heavy clutch and super-vague gearbox, the 8C Spider drives like a dream. Shod with 20-inch Pirelli P Zeros (245/40 front, 275/35 rear), the striking two-seater turns this disused assembly hall at Alfa's Arese plant into an impromptu slalom course, with zero-tolerance steel pylons and unmarked random excavations thrown in as additional handicaps.
Despite the treacherous dust-over-time-over-concrete surface, the Spider is cornering with such precision and sharpness one could be tempted to believe Pirelli is not only supplying tyres but also blades for speed skaters. The steering is accurate and informative, quick yet progressive.
The brakes – four ventilated discs straddled by fat Brembo calipers – know the full spectrum between fine retardation and instant freeze-frame. The suspension, double wishbones all-round but none of the skyhook trickery they are so fond of in Modena, reads the road with a confidence-inspiring mix of translation and interpretation.
ESP can be switched off completely, but I suspect this is neither the right time nor the right occasion to flash the hooligan alter ego.
The beautifully detailed V8 engine is a 4.7-litre version of the Ferrari-designed 4.2 we know from the Coupe/Spyder and Quattroporte saloon. Rated at 335kW, it produces 37kW more than the four-door model and 45kW more than the fixed-head two-door sports car.
In terms of displacement, the 8C engine even edges the Ferrari F430 which uses a 4.3-litre derivative of the same matrix. With max torque of 470Nm available at 4750rpm (and 80 percent from 2000rpm), the Alfa motor whips up more twist action than the F430, and it also distances both Maseratis.
Although the 8C Spider is a handbuilt one-off design exercise, it works well enough to keep breaking the lap record inside this industrial complex. The back straight of the building is long enough for a full blast in third gear, so here we go once more, with much more enthusiasm.
With the butterfly throttle valves wide open and the four tailpipes blowing like chrome trumpets, you can virtually watch the plaster crack and hear the skylights rattle in their frames – row after row after row. Redlined at 7800rpm, the 90-degree V8 keeps pushing the driver deep into the Sparco race seat originally developed for the Ferrari Enzo.
Unlike the 8C coupe, which is all carbon fibre and road racer inside, the cockpit of the Spider is dominated by acres of black leather. Black is also the colour of choice for the steeply raked windscreen frame and for the steel rollover protection elements.
The centre stack, on the other hand, is generic Italian sports car: three round air vents, Ferrari HVAC controls with Alfa graphics followed by a row of aeronautic switchgear, and a Becker radio-and-nav combo down low, in case you get tired of listening to the glorious eight-cylinder bellow.
Unlike the 8C coupe prototype, which is the work of Stola, the Spider was built by Carrozzeria Marazzi of 1960s Autodelta GTA fame.
“It was a wonderful experience to work with these craftsmen, many of whom came back from retirement especially for our project,” recalls a beaming chief designer. “With the help of salami, cheese and plenty of red wine, we usually kept going deep into the night, and if there ever was a need for inspiration, all I had to do was take the cover off of one of the classic Alfas stored in this facility.
"The folding top was a particularly tough nut to crack. In the end, we assigned this task to two pensioners who had conceived the roof for the Duetto way back when. They completed the job – design, packaging and execution – in only six weeks.”
When folded, the canvas hood stows beneath a leather cover which is fastened to the body via velcro straps. To make sure the part-time roof remains firmly in place even at very high speeds, the R&D team looked for some wind-tunnel assistance, and settled on Dallara, the renowned maker of single-seater racing cars. With their help, they also created a track version with extreme aerodynamics for even more downforce. If at all, the track version will unfortunately only appear in coupe guise.
Quite a few of the 500 8Cs to be built have been pre-ordered by owners of the classic 8C 2300 of which 188 units were built between 1931 and 1934. If there is demand for more of the same, Alfa could add 50 lightweight Dallara-inspired street racers, plus of course the 8C Spider. A right-hand drive version isn't on the cards, sources say.
I was ready to celebrate this remarkable car with a dirty big burnout that would have wrapped up the day nicely, despite the weather. But at 4000rpm in first gear, the throttle cable suddenly snapped, and our supermodel slowed to idle speed.
For the last few photos, 30km/h was thus our velocity. No, dynamically not very exciting. But the perfect pace to paste this unforgettable shape onto the hard disk in the back of your mind.
Remembering the good times on classic MOTOR
2006 Alfa Romeo 8C Spider prototype
BODY: 2-door convertible
ENGINE: 4691cc V8, DOHC, 32-valve
POWER: 335kW @ 7000rpm
TORQUE: 470Nm @ 4750rpm
TRANSMISSION: 6-speed manual
SUSPENSION: double A-arms, coil springs, anti-roll bar (f), multi-links, coil springs, anti-roll bar (r)
BRAKES: ventilated discs (f), ventilated discs (r); ABS, VDC
WHEELS: 20-inch alloys
TYRES: Pirelli P Zero 245/35ZR20 (f), 285/35ZR20 (r)
Anyone who attended last month's Sydney Motor Show may have noticed the stunning 8C Competizione coupe on Alfa Romeo's stand – fresh from its world debut in Paris the month before.
Officially on sale now, but with deliveries not due until September '07, the Maserati-based 8C will have its build number limited to just 500. It's Alfa's first V8 since the spectacularly unsuccessful Montreal coupe died in 1976, but sadly for Aussie Alfisti, all are left-hand drive.
Dial M for Muscle
Like the 8C coupe, the Spider is blessed with a sensational set of rims – Alfa-traditional telephone-dial alloys in a rather non-traditional 20-inch size. The rears wear massive, and costly, 285/35ZR20 Pirelli P Zeros, though anyone flash enough to cough up $265,000 for the 8C coupe, let alone the concept-for-now Spider, has no right to complain.
Interestingly, underneath the 8C Spider sits a stretched Maserati GranSport Spyder platform.