May 9, 2019 update to the Alfa Romeo Spider project car

Project Alfa Romeo Spider: Ignition Upgrades

With our suspension and brakes all rebuilt, it was time for a test drive. Most sane people go around the block. Sure, we did that, but just a few weeks later we took our little Alfa on our Orange Blossom Tour. By the end of the week, we had racked up about 1000 miles.

Our verdict on the suspension: Wow, what a difference. This car now handles like a modern sports car, but still rides and retains the comfort and ergonomics that make this one of our favorite long-distance vintage cars.

Prepping For The Tour

Before the tour, we did a bit more prep, starting with an oil change and then some ignition tuning.

Theoretically, you can use any oil in your classic sports car. We prefer to use a correct oil, and that’s where Millers Oils comes in. For more than 100 years this family owned company has been building performance oils for racing and high-performance street cars. Their Classic Sport 20W-50 is a semi synthetic blend designed for Aston Martin, Jaguar and Ferrari, so we are very comfortable running it in our Alfa. This oil has a high ZDDP content which helps compensate for unleaded fuels and protects an older engine’s valves.

We also realized the company’s claim of reduced oil consumption, as our rather-worn Alfa engine used just one quart of oil in one thousand miles of hard use.

Upgrading Our Ignition System

When we bought our Alfa Spider, it had a really cool Delta Products Mark Ten B Capacitive Discharge Ignition system. While this unit still worked and was probably installed when the car was nearly new, we didn’t trust it and knew ignition systems had improved a bit over the years.

We contacted RML Automotive for some ideas, as they have done a lot of research with Alfa ignition systems. Bonus: They happen to be located within walking distance of our Florida headquarters.

When it comes to ignition, the key to making any car, especially a high winding car like an Alfa Spider, run correctly is to get enough ignition advance.

Other popular magnetic trigger distributors make only 20 degrees of total advance. RML Automotive’s owner, Rick Loveccio, proved this to us, by putting a competitor’s brand new distributor on his distributor dyno. Yes, we dynoed a brand new distributor that made only 20 degrees of total advance. Rick then put his own distributor on the dyno and showed us how it makes 28 degrees of advance, which is what you want on a 1750 Alfa engine. And when this advance comes in is also important, as you cannot have too much advance at low rpms, or it will overwhelm the engine. The last three or four degrees need to come in at about 4000 rpm.
RML charges a very reasonable $279 for this recurved distributor, and about $75 extra for a performance coil. The distributor features an optical trigger, so there are no points to adjust or fail.

Once we got the distributor off the dyno, Rick helped us get rid of the car's rat’s nest of wiring and the old ignition box, then install the new distributor. We were surprised at how much better the car ran. 

With these modifications we have a great handling and running 1971 Alfa Spider, and can’t wait for our next tour. Our only wish is that we had about 30 more horsepower in our little Alfa.

Stay tuned, as wishes sometimes do come true.

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View comments on the CMS forums
pwbag New Reader
5/9/19 5:41 p.m.

ZDDP ?  Zinc, I guess?  Something left in my feble mind from chemistry classes, how long ago??  

DDP?  What's that.  ?

A good story on oils, & lead sources for the gasoline for these " old engines"  with or without hardened seats, although best of my memory your Alfa should be able to take all but the newest "oxygen" enriched fuels, (grain alcohol) , what a way to sell a bad idea.

Thanks, as I learn to navigate your magazine, a treasure exists?


wrenchklutz New Reader
4/8/20 9:44 a.m.

What about this teaser for "more horsepower" that you left here last year?  Your readers who are Alfisti want to know!

Tim Suddard
Tim Suddard Publisher
4/8/20 6:48 p.m.

We are going to start working on the Alfa again soon. We have a couple of projects to finish, before we take the Alfa apart again.

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