This story has it all: an untouched Alfa Romeo, a well-documented history and a long overdue reunion with the car's original engine

Photography by John Webber

Greg Tolbert knew it was a long shot when he placed the call. He was phoning a number he’d tracked from a name in a notebook that came with his garage-find Giulietta Veloce. But the neglected Alfa Romeo hadn’t turned a wheel since a gallon of gas sold for 42 cents, so his odds of reaching anyone relevant seemed slim. 

A wonderful lady answered,” he says, “and when I explained who I was and why I was calling, she told me, ‘My husband loved that car. He would have been thrilled to get this call.’” 

Fate had stepped in, and Greg was speaking to the widow of his Veloce’s original owner. As they talked, he learned that although her husband had died five years earlier, she still had a box of his old car records stored away. 

She said that she couldn’t bring herself to toss them out,” Greg recalls. “So I politely begged, and she said yes, she would be happy to send that box.” He waited impatiently. When the package finally arrived, he tore into it like a kid on Christmas morning. To his delight, he discovered…

But we’re getting ahead of the story.

Setting Events in Motion

Before the Alfa’s sudden intrusion, this Spartanburg, South Carolina, enthusiast was perfectly happy with his two distinctly different vintage rides: a Porsche 911T and a Sunbeam Alpine Series V. He knew nothing about old Alfas, and owning one wasn’t on his radar. 

Yet a series of chance happenings led him to become only the third owner of this 1958 Giulietta Spider Veloce 750F, which had been garage bound for in 44 years. “The way it worked out, this car sorta found me,” Greg says.

Although he didn’t know it, he had taken his first step toward this Veloce six years earlier. During lunch with a new business associate, Greg learned that his colleague was considering selling his long-owned but little-used 1967 Porsche 911S. 

As they talked cars, Greg realized with dismay that his friend had lost touch with the market and was severely undervaluing his car: “I interrupted him, blurting, ‘That car is worth a whole lot more than you think.’ When I told him what Porsches like his were selling for, he didn’t believe me. He actually thought I was joking.” 

Later, Greg produced sales results and briefed the owner on having the car evaluated and properly priced. Greg’s help paid off big-time. When the Porsche eventually sold for six figures, his friend was delighted—and destined to return the favor. 

Life moved on. Four years had passed when Greg received a text from his Porsche-selling colleague. It read, “What is this, and what is it worth?” Attached were dim photos of a sad, neglected roadster. Its owner had died, and his widow, a cousin of Greg’s friend’s wife, wanted to sell the car. 

Greg responded, “I know it’s an Alfa but nothing more. Send VIN.” He researched the VIN, fired back his findings, and thought little more about it. 

More than half a century later, this Giulietta still drives as intended. On the left, original owner Lynn Poché horses it around a curve during a ’60s dirt rally stage in Texas. Current owner Greg Talbot enjoys the Alfa on the back roads of South Carolina. Clearly, they are both enjoying the ride.

But one text led to another. Greg learned that the Alfa was a partially disassembled non-runner that appeared to be original and rust-free. The transmission, clutch and some engine parts were piled in the trunk. When this friend decided that he wasn’t interested in taking on the daunting project, he asked Greg if he was. 

“My first reaction was no,” Greg admits. “I already had a red convertible, and I knew absolutely nothing about Alfas.” Still, he became intrigued and talked it over with his dad, Jerry, a lifelong gearhead who had happily passed the car gene to his son. 

Jerry approved, although he knew that Greg didn’t really need another car, especially a project that had been stored for more than four decades. They both knew from bitter experience that reassembling a car that someone else pulled apart can turn into a nightmare.

Despite those difficulties, two weeks later Greg and Jerry found themselves rolling down the interstate, an empty trailer rattling behind. “Insanity prevailed,” Greg says. “Dad pushed me. He told me if I didn’t buy it, he would.” For this pair, there’s nothing like a little competition to boost their father-son bond, especially with a road trip and possible collector car in play. Besides, it’s only 1200 miles to Florida and back, right? 

When they arrived, they found the dusty, unloved Veloce amid scattered boxes of parts. “After talking to numerous Alfa guys, I was convinced it would be a rust bucket,” Greg recalls, “but this car was remarkably solid and complete, down to the jack and tool kit in place.”  Encouraged, they closed the deal, pumped up the flat tires and, despite a frozen rear wheel, bullied it onto the trailer and headed for home.

Along Came a Spider

Alfa Romeo introduced its Pininfarina-designed Giulietta Spider at the 1955 Paris Auto Show, and real production started in 1956. The combination of elegant styling and sporting performance attracted buyers, and the car became an instant hit. 

Offered in both the Normale and Veloce models, the 750F featured higher compression and two Weber carbs, upping horsepower to 90. Advertised top speed for the tiny roadster was 110 mph. 

It was pricey at $3686, but it sold well. Road testers loved it, and many considered it to be one of the best-driving sports cars of the ’50s. Only 835 copies of the short-wheelbase Veloce Spider (Tipo 750F) were produced in 1958, with fewer than 1300 built before Alfa switched production to the 101 Series models in 1959.

 Today, these early examples are highly prized and priced to match. Hagerty values a top concours example a tick above the $200,000 mark, with excellent ones worth about $160,000. For the record, while Greg admires restored examples, he enjoys this one just the way it is.

A Box of Treasure

So, what was in that precious carton Greg received in the mail? He found an Alfista’s equivalent of buried treasure, including notebooks, a dog-eared, greasy service manual, stacks of receipts, and a tattered driver’s log that detailed every tank of gas, every replaced nut and bolt, every spark plug change and every repair. 

According to the log’s first entry, made September 25, 1959—the day proud owner Lynn Poché bought the Giulietta in Dallas—he pumped in 12 gallons of gas, cranked up the engine and sped away. From then on, the log tells us, he seldom shut it off. Three weeks later, the odometer read 1696 miles. In less than two months, the car had covered 4696 miles. 

From Lynn’s widow and other sources, Greg has come to know the car’s original owner as a true renaissance man: a physicist, filmmaker, photographer and avid sports car fan. He was an active SCCA member who rallied regularly and also worked events and races. 

The Veloce was his daily ride, and he drove it when relocating to Illinois and Florida and on vacations to Yellowstone Park and New Orleans. The log reveals that he hustled the wheels off this Giulietta, leaving in his wake a trail of receipts for engine, transmission, clutch and brake rebuilds. The folks in Milano must have been pleased. Lynn drove with brio, fully embracing the pleasure of veloce motoring.   

After 50-plus years, the original engine is back where it belongs, and should current owner Gregg Tolbert get too rev-happy, he has a spare engine and crankshaft. If the engine looks like it’s listing to the driver’s side, that’s because it was designed that way. Despite the odd look topside, the bottom of the sump is parallel to the ground. 

At 19,400 miles, when the Veloce was barely a year old, its engine needed a complete rebuild—the first of three while in Lynn’s care. All did not go well, as revealed in a series of sharp exchanges between Lynn and a machine shop, which ends with Lynn’s admonition: “I see no reason for your allowing the head to be assembled in such a manner. In short, I am greatly dissatisfied with your work on the head.” 

Despite these problems, the engine went back together. Greg learned that Lynn paid $80 to an Alfa specialty shop for a new set of 0.020-inch-oversize factory pistons and $34.90 for a set of main bearings. In total, he paid $329.84 for parts and labor to get his Giulietta on the road again. 

Apparently, this expense didn’t discourage Lynn from exploring the Veloce’s upper rev ranges. Two years and 18,900 miles later, the engine again needed a total refresh. From the receipts and soiled service manual, Greg knew that Lynn did most of his own repairs, farming out only the machine work. This man loved to tinker. 

In 1971, this time after a catastrophic engine failure, Lynn was deep in it again, attempting to repair a broken connecting rod and scored crankshaft. The details of this particular refresh, as the current caretaker discovered 45 years later, caused him considerable soul-searching and no small expense. 

During Lynn’s long ownership, he touched virtually every nut and bolt on this car, many of them several times. While he drove the car hard, he maintained it faithfully, making the final entry in his tell-it-all notebook on March 22, 1973, at 84,152 miles. Cue the “Twilight Zone” theme, please, because on that very day, the car’s current caretaker, Greg Tolbert, celebrated his fourth birthday. 

With the exception of redone seats, this interior is original, including the carpets. The first owner added a Motorola radio (which still works), an under-the-dash amp gauge, a fire extinguisher and aircraft-type seat belts. Yes, the door handles are broken, but the current owner is reluctant to replace them. 

If Lynn was disheartened by the expense and hassle of these frequent repairs, it was not recorded (he owned and enjoyed other Alfas and, later, Mercedes), but not long after his last log entry, he sold the Veloce to Orlando enthusiast Jim James. This man apparently enjoyed his revs as much as Lynn did, because his widow remembered it as “a fun car.” 

Problems continued, and he was to enjoy the Giulietta for less than 2000 miles before the head gasket failed, along with the clutch. Jim, who also enjoyed turning a wrench, pulled the transmission to replace the clutch and stored them both, along with the airbox, in the trunk.

Circumstances intervened, and he never completed those repairs. The Veloce began its hibernation and remained in storage, remarkably intact and untouched, through 44 years and three household moves until Greg acquired the car. 

He was soon captivated by the car’s history and became a persistent investigator, spending hours poring over records, making notes and chasing leads. Greg feels that he became well acquainted with Lynn, whom he imagines would have been an inspiring and entertaining enthusiast to know. 

From Lynn’s first day of ownership, his meticulous records and personal entries tell a long, entertaining tale of a car enjoyed to its fullest. Greg shares an example: “I’m looking at a picture of him dogging the car on a dirt trail, and I notice that the fender mirror is different than the one now on the car. I open the notebook, and in the repair section I find ‘installed mirror.’ I check the receipts to find that Lynn bought the Talbot No. 301 mirror in March 1961 for $8.50. Bingo. What a thrill.”

Reunited and It Feels so Good

Greg was aware, of course, of the critical importance of a classic retaining its original engine. But this example was so correct and well-documented that he didn’t think to check this vital item until after he hauled his prize home. 

Then, as he surfed alfa.bb.com and made friends with the local Alfa Romeo community, the question came up: Does this car have matching numbers? “I thought, well, sure it has,” Greg says. “How could it not?” 

With confidence, he went to the garage, lifted the hood, and his heart plunged into his sneakers. “The engine series was correct, but the number I saw did not match the VIN. I was totally bummed out,” Greg recalls, “but I told myself that the rest of the car was so original and unmolested and had such a great vintage presence that I could live with it.”

He decided that his Veloce wore its age so gracefully that he would not touch its exterior. He concentrated on returning the car to prime driving condition by renewing the clutch, suspension bushings, brakes, tires, hoses and carbs. He redid the seats, because the covers were tattered beyond repair and the pads had crumbled to dust. 

He spent hours on the internet reading Alfa posts. One day he responded to a want ad on alfa.bb.com. “Later I get a message from a different user, a longtime Alfa restorer in Chicago,” Greg recalls. “Soon we are on the phone, and I’m sharing my find. I’m learning more about my car. I get around to my engine dilemma and share the numbers. 

“There’s a long pause,” Greg continues. “He says, ‘That number sounds familiar. Let me check my inventory.’ Soon he’s back. ‘You’re not gonna believe this, but I have your original engine.’ I almost drop the phone. We are both absolutely blown away. What are the odds? So I say, ‘You’re going to buy this car, right?’ He goes, ‘No, you’re going to buy this engine.’” 

Returning to Lynn’s notebook and the particulars of the Veloce’s last engine rebuild, Greg concluded that Lynn had decided it was easier and less expensive to swap out the engine. And why not? The Alfa was a well-worn, fun beater, and a used engine was available. Who cared about numbers? 

After the broken engine was pulled, it apparently languished in the back of an Orlando repair shop until it was hauled to Georgia. Later, the Chicago restorer, always on the lookout for parts, had bought a Giulietta in Georgia that came with a crate of spares. In that crate was this Veloce’s original engine.  

Greg faced a big decision. Since he’s a numbers guy, he ran the figures. The replacement engine in the Veloce was serviceable but needed repairs that wouldn’t be cheap. 

Then his touchy-feely side weighed in. He decided to be a matchmaker; he felt his Veloce deserved to have its original engine. So he did the deal, and in due time the wandering engine arrived in South Carolina. 

Greg had it rebuilt—it had indeed thrown a rod 48 years before—and now it proudly resides in the car in which it was born, sorted and eager to roll. He considers reuniting his Veloce with its original engine as the crowning event in this series of improbable occurrences. “You just can’t make this stuff up,” he says with a grin.

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Comments
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alfadriver
alfadriver MegaDork
6/2/21 4:26 p.m.

Have to find out how far it was from 06962, which is my dad's '59 Spider Veloce that I've looked for in the past.  

RadBarchetta
RadBarchetta New Reader
6/3/21 7:35 a.m.
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