How to Upgrade Your Alfa Romeo's Suspension in 12 Simple Steps

Photograph Courtesy Alfa Romeo

Story by Carl Heideman • Photography by Carl Heideman unless otherwise credited

When American auto manufacturers basically abandoned the convertible in 1975, the European manufacturers kept the topdown flame alive. Most of the British convertibles died off in about 1980, though, and by 1984 Fiat decided to stop selling cars in the U.S. 

American automakers eventually restarted convertible production. The Japanese then got into the game, and the Europeans came back soon after.

Through all these fluctuations in the market, Alfa Romeo kept the faith. They continued to send their venerable Spiders to the U.S., and we kept buying them—albeit in small numbers. As a result, those later Spiders have operated under the radar. 

Collectors clearly remember the earlier Giulietta and Duetto Spiders—and pay handsome prices for them—but the post-1975 cars tend to lag in desirability and value. 

If you’re shopping for a bargain, however, that can work to your advantage. There are some nice Spiders out there, and sometimes they’re dirt-cheap. While these later cars lack some of the styling cues found on the earlier iterations, they did benefit from updated technology and enhanced sophistication.

We recently picked up two later Alfa Romeo Spiders for very fair prices: One’s from 1978, and the other is 10 years newer. We plan to give the 1978 car a fairly thorough rolling restoration. The 1988, however, is a pristine, original-paint example that just needs some maintenance due to its age and mileage—only about 70,000 on the clock. 

One issue we noticed on both of these cars—as well as just about every other Alfa Spider—is a squishy suspension. Spiders used a lot of rubber bushings in their suspensions and drivetrains, perhaps more than other cars of the era. After two or three decades and thousands of miles of use, these rubber parts obviously need replacing. 

That may sound daunting, but after performing the work on our 1988 Alfa Romeo Graduate Spider, we discovered it’s a relatively simple DIY job.

Step 1: We usually start the process at the rear suspension. Our car’s rear bump stops and rebound straps obviously needed some attention.

Step 2: The new parts merely mimic the old ones, meaning this is an easy, bolt-together project. The result? No more annoying bumps and clunks. 

Step 3: Next, we addressed the bane of most Spider suspensions: the rear control arm bushings. Since our car was in good condition, the rear control arms came out pretty easily. For cars that have been exposed to salt or excess moisture, disassembly may require lots of penetrant and even some heat. When these bushings go bad, the result isn’t just clunks and clangs—torque steer can become a problem, too.

Step 4: We pressed out the old front bushings using a hydraulic H-frame press. See how the bushings were worn? That affected ride quality and handling. We opted for uprated urethane replacements from Centerline Products, a one-stop Alfa Romeo supplier. Removing the bushings has to be done with great care, as it’s fairly easy to tweak the control arms. Fortunately, it’s a job you can farm out if you’re uncomfortable doing it yourself. Some suppliers offer rebuilt control arms on an exchange basis as well. We pressed out the rear bushings in a similar fashion, and the replacements were again uprated urethane, three-piece affairs.

Step 5: Before installing the new bushings, we first lubricated the control arm with the supplied lube. Then we were able to use our hands to push the bushings and spacers into the control arms.

Step 6: We carefully jacked the control arm up to the rear axle and reinserted the bushing's bolt.

Step 7: Next, we moved to the the front suspension. It was in pretty good shape, but we decided to replace the upper control arms with adjustable units from Centerline. We broke the upper joints free from the spindles with a pickle fork.

Step 8: The upper control arms hold the upper ball joint and a couple of bushings. The factory arms aren’t adjustable, though, limiting alignment possibilities. The Centerline replacements shown on the right feature an adjustable midsection.

Step 9: The upgraded upper ball joints simply replace the originals, and we again applied grease liberally to make future disassembly easier. Finally, we could align the suspension. 

Step 10: But wait, we weren’t quite finished: Our next exercise was to improve the anti-roll bar mounts and bushings. Again, we opted to replace the front and rear factory rubber bushings with urethane pieces from Centerline. We applied lube liberally—this step is important for keeping the squeaks at bay.

Step 11: The driveshaft was the last assembly we addressed. Spiders feature a two-piece shaft with a carrier bushing, plus a rubber doughnut instead of a front U-joint. We replaced the bushing and doughnut with stock pieces.

Step 12: We reinstalled our rebuilt driveshaft so we could begin enjoying our Alfa. Instead of wallowing like a cantankerous beast, it now travels down the road like a new car.

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Tim Suddard
Tim Suddard Publisher
8/7/20 10:23 a.m.

I did the suspension on my Spider as well. What a difference it made.

 

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