Steve Szalai’s Alfa Romeo Spider Speciale

Updated: 28 November 2020 18:26

A little unrefined. A lot fun.


I have been designing modifications, and getting built, a 1976 Alfa Romeo 2000 Spider "Speciale" since early October 1985. Maybe you'll think it's pretentious to add the "Speciale", but perhaps after seeing what has been changed, you'll not be so offended. Most of the time has been spent waiting while earning more money to pay the body shop. I couldn't stand not driving an Alfa in the interim, so I bought a 1977 Alfa Romeo Spider around 1989.

The car was taken off the road for body work on 5 October 1985. It was driven for the first time in its new form on 5 October 2001. It then went off the road as a result of a problem I'd prefer not to discuss <grin>, and returned to the road on 31 May 2002.

An accident took it off the road in February 2006. Finding a body shop willing to work on it (and to actually work on it) was difficult. I eventually found Coachwerks, which did good work, fast. But I ran out of money from the insurance claim. As I expected, the money the insurance company gave me was significantly insufficient. I took the 1977 Alfa Romeo Spider off the road for parts in February 2006. Now I am driving an old VW Jetta Diesel with faded paint and rust spots.

Someone asked "Why?" would I do this. I got carried away, big time. Same question could be asked of anyone who does anything out of the ordinary (buying an Alfa Romeo, climbing mountains, white water rafting, skydiving) but I'm not plummeting to the ground after leaping from an aircraft.

Someone commented that rubber skirts "never" improve the look of a car. By and large I agree, but I didn't like the ugly undercarriage, so I hid it. Overall I prefer the skirts to the undercarriage. I admit the air dam rubber skirt takes the nose too close to the road, making even not-so-steep driveways and towing a problem.

Back to the Road Blog

12 Oct 2018:The Pirelli P7 tires were very old, and tire rubber doesn't age well, so I replaced them with Pirelli P Zero Asimmetrico tires. The tire mounting machine broke one of my wheels. Fortunately I had a spare wheel.
23 Mar 2018:Drove the car on the highway tonight. Big smile. Clutch ground a bit on the 20th. Bleeding fixed that. Head stud leak is back after another failed fix. Frown alternating with big smile.
20 Mar 2018:Drove the car today. Big smile.
19 Mar 2018:I had misdiagnosed a rear end clunking as a differential problem, which depressed me enough to stop working on the car for almost a year. I discovered that there was no problem with the differential, but rather with the driveshaft. The rear section was one spline off. Correcting that, fixed the horrible clunking. Found head leak that had evaded my search for a source. It turned out to be one of rear head studs. Now seems to be fixed.
10 Jun 2017:Fuel filter started leaking. Ordered new Filter King with NPT fittings.
09 Jun 2017:Got engine idling. Electric fan does not interfere with engine timing. Hot-torqued the head studs. I'm finally starting to feel good about my chances of getting the car back on the road again.
03 Jun 2017:I'd not liked the non-SI (non-metric) bolts that were part of the chassis stiffener kit to attach the cross-members front and back, so I replaced them with 10mm class 10.9 bolts in the front and 8mm class 10.9 bolts in the rear. The 10mm bolts fit better than the stock bolts, but I had to drill out the rear holes in the stiffener to fit the larger rear bolts. The new bolts are not as loose in the holes, so I'm hoping the stiffener will flex less.
Three and a
half years of
When electric radiator fan activated, engine timing became erratic and unusual. Found leak in intake port #1 so had valve guides replaced. It seemed that things that worked, stopped working. So, to avoid more things failing, I mostly stopped working on it. The plan worked; nothing else broke. Oh, woe is me. I did rebuild the engine, again, even got it back in the car, but then let it sit for a long time.
20 Dec 2013:Got engine idling. Filter King fuel pressure regulator leaks, so it will have to come out. Leaks oil past upper sump gasket; I hope a little extra torque on the bolts will seal it up.
08 Dec 2013:Passenger side window installed.
08 Dec 2013:Carburettors, coil, timing computer, MSD, distributor cap installed.
23 Nov 2013:Alternator, starter, radiator and Perma-Cool fan, Filter King pressure regulator/fuel filter, Oberg oil filter, carb support, coolant and oil hoses installed.
20 Nov 2013:Alternator in car, not tightened yet.
19 Nov 2013:Header installed.
13 Nov 2013:Engine and transmission installed in car.
07 Nov 2013:Had trouble finding Hylomar gasket sealer. Found some and lower sump installed. Alternator to wait until header installed.
30 Oct 2013:Engine back together, except for lower sump and alternator.
17 Oct 2013:Got crank and flywheel back from JB Precision.
11 Oct 2013:Crank and flywheel back to JB Precision for balance.
08 Oct 2013:No alignment mark on flywheel. Started disassembling engine to be balanced again.
07 Oct 2013:Crank and pistons installed. Front timing cover, water pump, and oil pump, installed.
27 Sep 2013:Got my block and 2nd crank back from JB Precision. May be able to start putting it together this weekend.
23 Aug 2013:Ordered pilot bushing from Spruell Motorsports (have not confirmed Spruell has stock).
23 Aug 2013:Turns out, Centerline doesn't have the pilot bushing. I'm looking elsewhere for that.
23 Aug 2013:Ordered crank bearings and pilot bushing. If I'm lucky, I'll see them end of next week. Of course, given my luck so far, early September may be a more reasonable expectation.
15 Aug 2013:Crank is bent and already .030" undersize. Can't get .040" oversize bearings, so no point in grinding it down to .040" undersize. The crank is toast. But I have a crank from another engine (which was apart and unlikely to be rebuilt). Took it to JB Precision and it's good, and only .010" undersize. Centerline Alfa hopes to have the bearings back in stock early next week. So, assuming Centerline gets them, they are about two weeks from me.
24 Jul 2013:Crank back in. Doesn't turn. Took block and crank to JB Precision to figure out the problem and install crank.
01 Apr 2013:Timing cover off. Pistons and liners out. Crank out. Engine degreased.
29 Mar 2013:Engine removed from car. Clutch, flywheel, crank pulley, water pump, intake manifold, cam cover, head, cams, oil sump, oil pump, oil filter adapter removed from block.
24 Mar 2013:Transmission out.
04 Feb 2013:Engine disconnected, except for transmission, header, and Oberg oil filter.
01 Feb 2013:A head stud broke. I found it under the car. I will probably start to disconnect the engine tomorrow.
30 Jan 2013:Idles better.
Thermostat housing still leaks with two gaskets.
Hot torqued.
09 Jan 2013:Car starts and idles (poorly). Needs tuning.
Thermostat housing leaks like a sieve. The mounting face had been machined, but not parallel to the thermostat mounting recess. So the thermostat cap does not seal. I think I can fix it with a custom gasket under the stock gasket. Not elegant, but I don't want to take the intake manifold off the engine to get it machined again. Waiting for a new gasket from International Auto Parts.
Radiator fan hits something as it rotates. It didn't when I tested after I installed it.
16 Dec 2012:Driver side window installed. Holding off on the passenger side because there is a clearance problem.
27 Dec 2012:Engine turns over, but will not start. Turns out I had a broken wire on the magnetic timing sensor wire.
07 Dec 2012:Console and carpets installed.
Tachometer and speedometer cowls installed.
Key and headlight/signals switch cowl installed.
22 Oct 2012:All dash and console lights and switches work.
All signals and side markers work.
Electric window motors/cables work. Holding off on windows and door mirrors.
19 Oct 2012:Speedometer and Tachometer installed.
Battery connected. No shorts. Some electrical wiring problems to work out.
18 Oct 2012:Headlights, front signals and side markers, and fog lights, installed.
17 Oct 2012:Tail pipe installed.
Console installed.
5 Oct 2012:Windshield installed.
Radiator fan cover installed.
Found a small paint flaw in left tail-light housing.
Outside door handles installed.
Rear side marker lights installed.
3 Oct 2012:Car back from Coachwerks.
25 Sep 2012:Driver's door latching fixed.
Got the hood light wires installed (easier than when the hood is on the car).
21 Sep 2012:Hood repainted.
20 Sep 2012:Radiator fan cover manufactured in aluminum.
Holes drilled in tail for Alfa Romeo script.
13 Sep 2012:Car flat-decked to Coachwerks body shop.
7 Sep 2012:Installed brake and clutch hydraulic fluid and bled both.
K&N filters installed on carbs.
Windshield washer bottle installed.
5 Sep 2012:Return to Coachwerks body shop rescheduled to 12 Sep 2012.
24 Aug 2012:Redesigned cover over electric fan to top front of radiator.
23 Aug 2012:Engine bay complete (minus fan cover and hydraulic fluid).
Scheduled return on 5 Sep 2012 to Coachwerks body shop for paint touch up.
5 Aug 2012:Timing computer and MSD installed.
3 Aug 2012:Middle exhaust section installed. Alternator installed. Brake master cylinder installed. Adjusted handbrake.
2 Aug 2012:Installed dash cold air vents with fans.
1 Aug 2012:Radiator installed (minus hoses). Electric fan with much improved shroud installed. ZF steering box installed. Cabin steering column brace installed. So far I haven't been able to get the steering wheel "key" installed with the spring and spacer (need 3 hands). Header installed. Steering centre link installed. Front of chassis stiffener installed.
8 Jul 2012:Carbs installed. K&N filters oiled but not installed.
11 Jul 2012:Radiator installed. Electric fan interferes with fan to radiator cover. Removed fan. Need to modify the mounting brackets. Bottom fitting on radiator was not perpendicular to radiator, so there was not sufficient clearance for hose. Removed radiator to get fitting straightened.
8 July 2012:Water pump with -16 fitting installed. Radiator test-installed. Ready for paint.
4 July 2012:Burman steering box removed. It was leaking from the lower seal, which had already been replaced. I may replace it with a spare ZF steering box, now in pieces to be cleaned up.
28-29 June 2012:New -20 Aeroquip lower radiator hose doesn't fit. Radiator out to replace -20 fitting with -16 fitting. Removed crank pulley to get water pump off to replace the Aeroquip hose fitting. Radiator to Townside Automotive to replace fittings. Water pump to Lejeune Engineering to replace fittings.
27 June 2012:Starter installed.
22-23 June 2012:Engine, transmission, driveshaft installed.
20 June 2012:Engine build complete, minus intake manifold and carbs.
19 June 2012:Borrowed Alfa Romeo tool A.2.0145.
Flywheel, clutch pressure plate, Oberg oil filter adapter, and alternator installed on engine.
15 June 2012:Picked up crank turner/lock and torqued crank pulley nut.
13 June 2012:Crank turner/lock designed. Machine shop manufacturing.
11 June 2012:Valves leak. Head taken to machine shop
7 June 2012:Pistons, water pump, distributor installed in engine.
6 June 2012:Piston wrist pins installed.
5 June 2012:Cylinder liners installed in engine.
1 June 2012:Track rod and tie rods installed.
28 May 2012:Installed calipers and new pads.
Installed tie rods and track rod (Heim joints). The heim joint bottom bolt on the track rod at the steering box is too long, so I'll have to have it cut.
26 May 2012:Painted brake calipers red.
Installed rear roof drain hoses.
25 May 2012:Painted the raised lettering "Alfa Romeo" red on the black wrinkle powder coated cam cover.
23 May 2012:"Waxed/polished" the engine bay. It looks better and may be easier to keep clean.
20 May 2012:Clutch master cylinder installed.
Custom heat shields (for transmission hump and steering box) installed.
Custom made Alfa Romeo model plate installed on firewall.
19 May 2012:Front sway bar installed.
16 May 2012:Rebuilt brake calipers (pads not yet installed).
13 May 2012:Brake lines all installed.
12 May 2012:Brake rotors (cross-drilled and slotted) installed with rebuilt front wheel hubs.
11 May 2012:Brake lines in engine bay, back to proportioning valve, installed.
Rebuilt tail light guard in trunk, completed, not yet installed.
10 May 2012:Brake M/C and Clutch M/C ordered from International Auto Parts.
12 December 2011:Clutch/flywheel balanced.
2 December 2011:Performance modified clutch received from Spruell Motorsport.
29 November 2011:Brake caliper rebuild kits received from International Auto Parts.
24 November 2011:Got my leather-reupholstered seats back from Styles Auto Upholstery.
10 November 2011:Polished through the transmission hump heat shield again, so taking it to Lejeune Engineering for more welding.
8 November 2011:Clutch plate and disc need replacing, so I ordered a performance modified Sachs plate, disc, clutch bearing, and also an oil pump screen from Spruell Motorsport.
4 November 2011:Clutch and flywheel to JB Precision to check for wear, repair as required, and balance.
3 November 2011:Crank installed in block and timing cover on.
Got new custom firewall model (11502) plate and MSD timing computer decal from Elite Sportswear.
Styles Upholstery has the hide (4 months after it was ordered) for the Recaros.
27 October 2011:Crank back from balancing at JB Precision
Styles Upholstery still hasn't received the leather for the Recaros (apparently a supplier problem).
26 October 2011:Got last piece of gold cadmium plated brake line back from Victoria Plating.
14 October 2011:Cam cover, intake manifold, Oberg oil filter, door handles, MSD, wiper arms, mouldings, "Alfa Romeo" script badge and other parts to Victoria Powder Coating.
6 July 2011:Front wiring harness mostly back in.
Engine block bell housing studs replaced by bolt kit from Spruell Motorsport.
Test-installed rad and returned to Townside Motors for mounting bracket adjustment.
29 June 2011:Ordered tie-rod end replacement kit (uses Heim joints) from Spruell Motorsport.
23 June 2011:Recaro seats (driver's seat fabric worn through) to Styles Upholstery for leather upholstery.
20 June 2011:I painted miscellaneous parts with Blackcote. My Lemmer electric sprayer isn't giving me the results I want (OK for a minute or two, then goes globby) but I think I can live with some of them.
20 June 2011:Rings arrived from International Auto Parts.
19 June 2011:Cleaned up steering box and column.
19 June 2011:Rear electrics installed (minus tail lights for now, for convenience).
18 June 2011:Painted rear roof studs with Nyalic.
14 June 2011:Received Aeroquip AN20 fittings for rad etc.
Took rad to Townside Motors to replace the AN16 fittings. Water pump and coolant return thermostat cap (rad coolant return) to Lejeune Engineering to replace the AN16 fittings.
10 June 2011:Ordered Deves rings, Door gasket end plugs, single handed brake bleeder from International Auto Parts.
10 June 2011:Ordered Main bearings from Centerline.
3 June 2011:Ordered Borgo 10.4:1 pistons and liners, rod bearings and thrust washers from Spruell Motorsport.
21 May 2011:Started working on it.
21 April 2011:Car flat-decked home. Let it cure for a month.
19-21 April 2011:Wet sand and polish.
18 April 2011:Painted engine bay.
15 April 2011:Painted.
13 April 2011:Car moved into paint booth this afternoon. Expect paint Thursday or Friday.
12 April 2011:Car is in preparation for paint.
5 April 2011:Lost priority at Coachwerks so probably no work until Monday 11 April.
1 April 2011:Car approaching preparation for paint.
15 March 2011:No body work today. I'm trying to find a sacrificial anode for my aluminum wheels. No luck so far in Victoria.
14 March 2011:Coachwerks started body work on the car today.
4 March 2011:Car is back in Coachwerks body shop (I've gutted it). I may get it back on the road after all.

What's so special about this "Speciale?" Most of the modifications are bodywork. Every panel except the hood and trunk lid have had their lines changed. Some modifications affect the mechanicals. Here are some of the significant modifications.

Photographs below.


  • Engine
    • Borgo 10.4:1 pistons
    • Ported head
    • Performance cams
    • Larger intake valves
    • Performance valve springs
    • Custom aluminum flywheel
    • Shankle header (with Jet-Hot coating)
    • Primaflow exhaust
    • Dellorto DHLA 45 carburettors
    • K&N carburettor filters
    • Custom throttle actuator
    • MSD (multiple spark discharge), MSD coil
    • MSD timing computer and RPM limiter
    • Custom magnetic pickup distributor
    • Filter King pressure regulator / fuel filter
    • Perma-Cool 14 inch electric radiator fan
    • Oberg remote oil filter
    • Canton Racing pre-oiler
    • Aeroquip stainless steel braid hoses
      • fuel, brake and clutch flex lines, coolant
    • Polished block, head, and sump
  • Other Mechanicals
    • Ereminas chassis stiffener
    • Custom Nylon and Delrin suspension bushings
    • Bilstein shocks
    • Spruell steering kit (uses Heim joints)
    • Rugh Engineering stiffer, shorter springs
    • Custom front spring spacers
    • Compomotive aluminum 2-piece 15"x7" wheels
    • Pirelli P Zero Asimmetrico (225/50ZR-15) tires front and rear
    • Drilled and slotted brake rotors
    • Ceramic brake pads
  • Bodywork
    • Pulled out front and rear fenders
    • Straightened doors to match fenders
    • Custom metal air dam with skirt
    • Air ports in air dam
    • PIAA fog lights mounted behind air dam
    • Rocker panels squared and flared
    • Side skirts
    • Recessed Ferrari 308 taillights
    • Running and signal lights
    • Recessed rear license plate
  • Interior
    • Recaro LS seats, custom leather
    • Leather dash
    • Electric window regulators
    • Console, switches, and indicators
    • Alfa Romeo clock in console
    • Carpets replace rubber mats
    • Courtesy lights in footwells
  • Other
    • Cibié headlights with 16 gauge wiring
    • Car alarm
    • Remote trunk release
    • Re-routed battery cable
    • Wiring changes
    • Hidden backup flood light
    • Custom high output alternator

Thanks to the following suppliers, etc.:

Alfa Romeo Spider Speciale - front, right, on grass
Compomotive wheels,
Pirelli P7 tires,
air dam, side skirts,
Alfa Romeo heart logo painted on dam,
Cibié headlights,
fog lights,
stainless trim powder coated black,
signal lights, side marker lights,
Recaro seats.
16 June 2002
All Italian Vehicle Display
Waterfront Park, North Vancouver
British Columbia, Canada

Alfa Romeo Spider Speciale - rear, right, on grass
Ferrari 308 taillights,
side skirts.
16 June 2002
All Italian Vehicle Display
Waterfront Park, North Vancouver
British Columbia, Canada

Alfa Romeo Spider Speciale - engine bay, left
Shankle header,
MSD coil,
Aeroquip fittings and stainless braided lines,
mechanical engine fan removed,
thicker radiator,
powder coated cam cover.
04 June 2002
British Columbia, Canada

Alfa Romeo Spider Speciale - engine bay, right
MSD timing computer and MSD,
MSD coil,
Dellorto DHLA 45 carburettors,
K&N carburettor filters,
Aeroquip fittings and stainless braided lines,
Oberg oil filter.
31 May 2002
British Columbia, Canada

Alfa Romeo Spider Speciale - engine, on stand, front right
Shankle header,
Oberg oil filter adapter with Aeroquip fittings,
thermosender in oil sump,
aluminum water pump pulley,
engine fan removed,
oil sump, block and head polished.
08 May 2001
British Columbia, Canada

Alfa Romeo Spider Speciale - water pump, right
Aluminum water pump pulley,
Aeroquip fittings on water pump.
08 May 2001
British Columbia, Canada

Alfa Romeo Spider Speciale - bare chassis, front, left
All metal, no fiberglass,
air dam,
rocker panels squared and flared,
fenders pulled out, not flared,
door curve removed,
fog light housing,
upper shock mounts braced to fender
and open into engine bay,
custom dolly.
04 August 2000
British Columbia, Canada

Alfa Romeo Spider Speciale - speedo, tach
indicator lights (LEDs) in speedo.
handbrake, oil pressure idiot light,
heater fan (stock),
fog lights, high beams,
turn signal.
7 September 2002
British Columbia, Canada

Alfa Romeo Spider Speciale - dash and console
leather covered dash,
custom designed console,
Alfa Romeo clock,
Recaro LS seats.

LEDs at top left of console:
  • auto theft alarm indicator, pre-oiler warning, oil filter clogged
Switches, from top to bottom, left to right:
  • electric interior heater (in standard heater box)
  • solenoid switch for heater core coolant flow
  • heater fan (almost invisible in this photo)
  • console & instrument lights dimmer, hazard lights flasher
  • fog lights, thermometer (coolant, oil), console lights
  • electric window switches
  • wiper intermittent, wipers, windshield washer water
  • wiper intermittent rate, choke
7 September 2002
British Columbia, Canada

Check out Steve's Alfa Romeo spares page
16 June 2002 All Italian Vehicle Display - Vancouver, B.C., Canada
Contact Steve
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