This Alfa Romeo 2000 Spider was worth the wait

Photography by John Webber

[Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the March 2009 issue of Classic Motorsports.]

"If you ever want to sell that car, let me know.” Most of us have uttered this ever-popular request at some point. But just how long should we hold out for a response? 

A few months? Maybe one or two years? Longer? As Alfa Romeo 2000 owner Mark Strohauer has learned, sometimes an answer is worth the wait.

In the 1900’s Image

The mainstream masses might not be familiar with the Alfa Romeo 2000, but the model line represented an important milestone for the company. As the 1950s came to a close, Alfa Romeo needed a model to replace their popular, family-oriented 1900, a car that had been around since the beginning of the decade. 

The 1900 was a model of firsts, as it pioneered the company’s use of unit construction and left-hand drive. It was also their premier production-line model. Alfa built the Berlina sedan in their own factory, while outside coach builders like Ghia, Vignale, Bertone and Touring designed and built various coupe and open versions. 

In 1958, Alfa introduced the 2000 as the 1900’s replacement. They based their new 2000 Berlina and Spider on the late 1900 drivetrain and suspension. 

The factory once again built its own four-door Berlina, while Carrozzeria Touring designed and built the Spider. (A sales brochure also called it the Roadster 2 Liter and described it as “perfectly suited for long and quick travels and for touring purposes.”) A year later, Bertone introduced a 2000 Sprint Coupe. In Alfa circles, these were all called 102 Series cars.

Fate Deals a Hand

The new-for-1958 Spider looked absolutely stunning. However, it wasn’t exactly the fastest car the factory had unleashed.

The company’s iron-block, aluminum-head, twin-cam engine received a pair of Solex carburetors when fitted inside the Spider. The 1975cc four-cylinder engine produced a very reasonable 115 horsepower at 5900 rpm. 

The car’s mass put a damper on that enthusiastic engine: The all-steel roadster weighed close to 2700 pounds.

A 1959 Road & Track test measured a zero-to-60 mph time of a little more than 14 seconds and a leisurely zero-to-100 time of 50 seconds. An Alfa sales brochure claimed a top speed of 126 mph, although other sources claimed 110 mph. 

While the car didn’t offer neck-snapping performance, it featured high style and comfortable cruising thanks to its roll-up windows, roomy interior and convertible roof—although the top wasn’t exactly a breeze to erect or stow. 

Think of the Alfa Romeo 2000 Spider as a relaxed touring car, not a racer. Its inline-four produces only 115 horsepower, but the interior features just the right mix of sport and comfort. That combination can be difficult to resist; current owner Mark Strohauer has been under the car’s spell for years.

The suspension provided a supple ride and competent handling. The large trunk offered plenty of luggage room plus a 13-piece tool kit fitted in a wooden case. Adding to the convenience, the understressed engine and proven drivetrain were dependable and relatively easy to service. However, the list price of just over $5700 put the car out of reach for many buyers. Sales did not soar.

As it turned out, some of the car’s strongest competition also wore the Alfa badge. The models from the Giulietta line, which the company first introduced in 1954, were more nimble and less expensive to buy. Many enthusiasts considered these Giulietta cars more fun to drive—and certainly better suited for competition.

Alfa struggled to move its 102 Series cars, as evidenced by period advertisements that hawked reduced prices. However, sales continued to slow, and Alfa stopped production in 1961. In four years, they had produced around 2850 Berlinas, 3443 Spiders and about 700 Sprints. The Spider proved to be most popular among American buyers, and a high percentage of the production run ended up in the U.S. Nowadays, 102 Series cars are called “iron blocks” to separate them from Alfa’s later aluminum-engined 2000 series.

Star-Crossed Journey

Atlanta area resident Mark Strohauer has long had a thing for sport cars. He started with an MG, but became disenchanted with the little Brit after he carefully examined a friend’s 1971 Alfa. 

“I couldn’t get over the Alfa Romeo, with its all-aluminum engine, dual overhead cams, aluminum differential housing and sleek lines,” he recalls. “That car started my quest to find an Alfa.”

After taking a neighbor’s 1974 Spider for a ride a few months later, Mark became so smitten that he bought the car. That was close to 30 years ago, and he’s been an Alfa fanatic ever since. At last count, Mark has owned nine examples.

As word of his affliction got out, he found that old, beat-up Alfas began to follow him home. One day, a friend mentioned that there was an old iron-block Alfa 2000 for sale. 

“At that time, I didn’t even know what one was, so I looked it up,” Mark admits. He liked what he saw. Turns out that particular deal didn’t fly, but Mark developed a passion for the so-called “big Alfas” and continued his search. A few years later, he ran across a 1961 Alfa Romeo 2000 in Alabama and was able to buy it. “That car was pretty rough,” he recalls. “I did some detail work on it and kept it running. It was what we call a good 20-footer.” 

About three years after buying the car, Mark learned of yet another Alfa for sale. While at the 1993 Alfa convention in Baltimore, Mark and two other Alfa enthusiasts made arrangements to drive to Pennsylvania to see the car. When they arrived, the owner, an older gentleman, met them at the door with some heartbreaking words: “I’m feeling better, and I’ve changed my mind. I’ve decided to keep the Alfa.” 

Mark and his crew were disappointed by the news, but since they had made the trip, the owner—who introduced himself as Mr. Lawson—offered to show them the car. “He was a very nice guy,” Mark recalls, “and he lived in an 18th-century stone farmhouse with outbuildings containing a Porsche Carrera and a Rolls-Royce. His main garage was a completely equipped workshop, and the Alfa was there in a heated and air-conditioned space, so we knew it was a special car. When I saw it, it looked better than new.”

After spending a bit of time with Mr. Lawson, Mark and his friends got a history lesson—both on the car and on the owner’s life. Mr. Lawson had purchased the Alfa new in 1959. He had been head of research and development for DuPont, as well as a World War II pilot who flew in the same squadron as Jimmie Stewart. “He was a very interesting guy,” Mark recalls, “and we had a fine time, even if the car wasn’t for sale.” 

When Mark got home, he wrote the owner a letter. Along with thanks for Mr. Lawson’s hospitality, he included that fateful request. “I also told him I was still interested in the car and to let me know if he ever wanted to sell it,” Mark says.

Lightning Strikes Twice

Seven years passed, and Mark still had the iron-block Alfa he bought in Alabama. While he enjoyed the car, he hadn’t been doing much with it. By that time, he had decided that he wasn’t going to restore it.

“Out of the blue, somebody called me up and asked me if I would consider selling the car,” Mark says. They soon worked out a deal, and the buyer took not only the car but also a truckload of spare parts. 

Mark admits feeling a twinge of seller’s remorse as he watched the car and parts drive away. He had just sold a hard-to-find Alfa, a decent example of the iron-block car he had once coveted. 

As he turned away, Mark swears the Lawson car flashed through his mind. “I wondered whatever happened to that car,” he says. Then the tale takes an improbable turn. Mark explains, “As I walked back into the office, my mother handed me a message. While I was outside selling the old white Alfa, Mr. Lawson’s daughter had called to see if I was still interested in buying his car.” 

Naturally, Mark thought his mother was pulling a fast one, but she assured him that the call came just as she watched his old car going down the driveway. The story gets even spookier: “When I looked at the car back in 1993, I had told [Lawson] I couldn’t afford to buy their car until I sold mine. I got their call literally minutes after I sold mine.”

Cue the theme music from “The Twilight Zone,” haul out the Ouija board, and try to reach Rod Serling. This series of events is enough to raise the hair on the back of an Alfisti’s neck.

Mark wasted no time getting on the phone. Yes, he was still interested in the car—and what’s more, he now had the money. 

He learned that Mr. Lawson had recently passed away, and the family was settling his estate. The car had been moved to the family’s winter home in Arizona, and Mark soon flew there to check out the car. The Alfa looked as good as he remembered, and he had it shipped home. Seven years after he first tried to buy this elusive 2000, it was finally his. 

And It Was Good

The records that came with the Alfa painted a pleasing picture. The car was originally purchased from County Cars of Media, Pennsylvania. It cost $5900 when new—only about $400 less than a well-equipped Cadillac at that time. Although Lawson had only used the car for weekend jaunts, he treated it to a top-to-bottom, photo-documented restoration. The job was completed in 1986 and has held up remarkably well. 

Since Mark bought the Alfa, it has required only little maintenance. He replaced a pair of mirrors and installed correct Borrani wire wheels, which were offered as a purchase option. He also replaced the troublesome Solex carbs with a set of Weber 40 DCOE units on an original-style intake manifold. 

While the tail features Ferrari-like elements, the nose is unmistakeably Alfa. Borrani wire wheels, simple vents and a full tool kit add just the right details.

The public has enjoyed the car, too. It won a judges’ choice award on its first time out and continues to impress judges and show participants today. The car’s rarity adds to its appeal, as many people admit that they have never seen one of these cars before. In fact, Mark has never spotted another one at a show. Perhaps even more telling, some of those who weren’t around for the heyday of the famed Italian brand aren’t familiar with it at all. “Who makes Alfa Romeo, anyway?” is a question Mark hears often.

Mark doesn’t let those questions dampen his spirits, as his enthusiasm was never about the marque’s popularity. Long before the series became desirable, he was drawn to this particular model by its elegant style and imposing size. Today, he feels fortunate to be the second owner of a rare, unmolested example, especially when he considers the eerie chain of events that culminated in the purchase. “I just can’t explain how it all happened,” he says. “It’s too amazing to be pure coincidence.”

Call it fate. Call it divine intervention. The fact remains that Mark got a phone call offering him the 2000 he tried to buy seven years earlier—at the exact time he was making the sale he needed to finance the deal. So don’t despair if you haven’t heard back about that special car you’ve been pursuing. Sometimes it takes a while—and maybe a little help, too.

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Comments
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amerson
amerson New Reader
5/26/21 1:47 a.m.

Not a fan of shiny chromes, but I must say that they look awesome on classic cars.

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