Love At First Sight

The first time this 1959 Alfa Romeo Giulietta Spider Veloce rolled into Peter Krause’s shop, he knew it was the one. Low, curvy and drenched in red paint, it caught his eye and wouldn’t let go. “It’s like a girl who walks by and you can’t help but look twice,” he now says.

However, when the pair first met some six years ago, the car was someone else’s date. Peter’s company, Krause & England, is located in North Carolina and specializes in vintage and sports cars. A customer who had just bought the Alfa Romeo sight-unseen from a dealer in the Pacific Northwest had the car shipped directly to Peter for a preflight inspection.

The new owner was headed to the upcoming New England 1000 road rally and wanted to make sure everything was kosher. Peter’s report: It was nice. Really nice.

In fact, Peter says that 30 seconds after the Alfa was freed from the transporter, he called the new owner, offering to buy the car when he no longer wanted it. At the time, the car’s $22,000 selling price seemed fair, as Peter knew that restoring another example to that level couldn’t be done for that figure.

“The car drove as good as it looked which is really, really unusual,” he says, explaining how many early Alfas were mistreated through the years, often with lackluster results. Some look great and are no fun to drive, while others may go down the road nicely but have too many cosmetic issues. “I knew that it had never been molested.”

A year later, the Alfa was already for sale, as the owner needed space for other projects. “So I wrote a credit card check,” Peter says. “The world of easy money.”

Peter received the car a few days before Virginia International Raceway’s Gold Cup Historic Races and figured that event would be a perfect destination for his first road trip with the car. The famed track had just reopened after sitting dormant for more than a quarter of a century, and Peter and track officials had created the Gold Cup to celebrate the facility’s history.

The new Alfa would tie in nicely with the track’s legacy. While many people credit Carroll Shelby as the track’s first winner, pointing toward his 1957 first-place finish in a Maserati 450S, the results say otherwise. Shelby actually won the track’s first feature race; that race weekend started with a contest for small-bore cars, and Ed Hugus claimed the win in a car much like Peter’s—except it was two years newer.

Going Back Even Further

The history of the Giulietta Spider Veloce, and Alfa Romeo as a whole, goes back further than that 1957 race win. While the Spider’s carefree demeanor may seem fun and playful, the success of this model line kept Alfa Romeo from becoming a memory.

World War II was not particularly kind to both Alfa Romeo and its native Italy, and company officials realized that a mass-market car could be their savior. While the 1900 series car was their first postwar offering and sales of the model did help refill the coffers, something was needed for the masses: The 750 series would fill that role.

With typical Italian flair and attention to detail, this new people mover was more than just a boring sedan that offered the bare minimum. Alfa Romeo unveiled the 750 series with the all-new Giulietta Sprint coupe in 1954, and the four-door Berlina sedan soon followed. The Berlina featured a sharp Bertone-designed body, huge aluminum drum brakes and a jewel of an engine, as the twin-cam 1290cc four-cylinder loved to rev. It could be called one of the original sport sedans.

To add some flair to the model line, the basic mechanical bits were eventually put under some sportier bodies, like the Spider convertible. The limited number of Spider and Sprint models may have been good for Alfa Romeo’s image, but the 131,876 Berlina sedans sold made the company profitable and got them back on their feet after the war.

The U.S. was an important market for the re-emerging Alfa Romeo, and New York City’s Hoffman Motors was the brand’s official importer and as a retail outlet during the late 1950s. Like so many others, Peter’s Alfa passed through Hoffman Motors, and the paperwork shows that the car was first sold during the same month he was born, October of 1959.

While Peter knows that the car was first sold in 1959 and then appeared at a 1998 Barrett-Jackson auction, the Alfa’s history between those two dates is lost. Peter was told that the car was restored somewhere on the West Coast but he has no details.

“It was a sympathetic restoration,” he says, as the car doesn’t sport aftermarket floor pans or any evidence of rust or crash repair. Peter believes that the brake shoes are the originals. “It still has the canvas muffler hangers instead of rubber or metal ones—it’s just insane,” he says of the car’s originality.

The original Weber 40DCOE3 carburetors can still be found under the hood, but the car is not totally stock, as somewhere along the line it picked up a rear axle from a later Alfa Romeo along with a five-speed gearbox.

Still, Keith Goring of Alfas Unlimited—who is recognized as one of the industry’s premier Alfa Romeo experts and owns a 1956 Giulietta Spider prototype—has been over Peter’s car. His verdict? One of the nicest examples he has ever seen. “That reaffirmed my gut feeling that it’s a keeper,” Peter says.

What Now?

Peter and his Alfa have now been together for five years, and while the car hasn’t yet covered 65,000 miles, it’s no garage fixture. Every now and then, this car gets a workout.

Aside from occasional use as a daily driver, Peter has taken the car on track a few times, as the Vintage Sports Car Club of America welcomes select pre-1960 sports cars—roll bars aren’t always required, meaning the Alfa can run in street trim. The fact the Alfa fit under the club’s cutoff date also made this particular one appealing to Peter.

He has raced the car three times with the VSCCA, and pre-event prep is minimal: “I changed oil and filter, taped up the headlights, and put some masking tape numbers on the doors.” (The last bit of tape residue was removed a few minutes before we photographed the car, as Peter ran this spring at VIR.)

Despite the original suspension components and narrow Pirelli Cinturato tires, Peter says the car’s basic balance is pretty close to the race-prepared examples he has driven. “Other than the body roll, the balance is similar,” he explains.

Peter doesn’t plan on turning the Alfa into a full-time racer, as that’s not why he bought the car—he recognized that it was something special and patiently waited for the car to fall into his hands.

“When I got it, people said I paid too much,” he says, adding that he is now turning down offers approaching $55,000.

“This is providence.”

Behind the Wheel

While photographing Peter Krause’s Giulietta during this year’s Gold Cup Historic Races at Virginia International Raceway, we spent some time driving the car around the area—nice curvy pieces of tree-lined asphalt.

Classic Motorsports’s Auction Editor Andy Reid is no stranger to the Alfa marque, as he has owned several examples, including later Spider models. His driving report gives Peter’s car very high marks:

The Giulietta is surprisingly modern feeling. There is no wonder it was such a sensation when it was introduced. It starts right up and idles smoothly from cold. The gearbox, though having longish throws when compared to a car like a Miata, has exactly the same feel as the later Spiders, which is to say it is very nice and direct. You never wonder which gear you have selected.

Steering is almost identical to the later Spiders with, if anything, less effort needed, the result of narrow tires. Handling is also excellent when compared to the later Spider.

The entire chassis feels tighter with less flex felt. While the brakes are drums and are not power assisted, they are still very good. This is where you tend to notice the differences. The later Spider has excellent brakes, almost on a par with a Porsche 911, a benchmark car from the period. While the drum brakes stop well and exhibit little fade, the extra pedal effort makes them a bit of a chore to use.

The Giulietta is also down on power quite a bit, though you really don’t notice it when driving the car—only when you compare it side-by-side to a modern Spider do you notice the difference. On the other hand, the early Spider engine loves to rev, happily going past its redline where the later car seems happier at lower engine speeds.

Without question, the time to become an Alfa owner is now. Giulietta 750s in this condition already sell for more than $40,000, which still represents a good value. However, few are for sale, and they would not be the best choice for a daily driver since some parts can be very difficult to come by.

The sleeper of the bunch and by far the rarest is the Giulia Sprint Speciale. These very rare special-body cars are a true classic exotic and are currently changing hands for less than $30,000. There is no better bargain in all of collector cars that I can think of.

These cars finally seem to be on the rise, so the time to buy is now, before they ascend to even higher levels. They represent the definitive small-bore Italian sports car of the era and are not too expensive to maintain. Buy smart and you will have a car that defined the small-bore Italian sports car.

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