alfa spider

Alfa Romeo Spider – the unexpectedly reliable wedding car choice

THERE’S a dusty corner in the deep vaults of the Simister anecdotal archives that no longer needs to be quietly reshuffled. The time that I caused a rush-hour traffic jam by conking out in a city centre bus stop – in a bright red E-type, naturally – is still firmly in the top spot as the most stressful bit of motoring I’ve ever done.

The moment I called on a Ford Cortina’s brakes on a particularly steep hill somewhere near Sheffield, only to find it didn’t really have any, comes a close second, but I was ready to demote that too the other day. Not only was I about to make my debut as a wedding car driver, but the blushing bride in question was none other than my younger sister.

I was delighted to be entrusted with such an important task, of course, but I’m sure you’ll forgive me for having visions of gliding helplessly onto the hard shoulder and having no choice but to wait for a van with orange flashing lights to show up, or having to tackle a puncture with an infuriated-looking bride glancing at her watch, wondering how late really is classed as fashionable. Certainly, when I got hitched three years ago I made sure it was someone else’s Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow doing the all-important duties, just to avoid the potential headaches.

But I actually enjoyed the drive far more than I had any right to, and that’s partly because the wedding wheels in question were just about the last thing I’d been expecting – an Alfa Romeo Spider. While that meant the big journey was limited to just two people, it meant the bride and I could focus on the really important things on the way to her big day.

Like how well the Spider suits being offered in black with tan leather – you’d expect red to be the colour of choice for a small, Italian sports car, but with Britain’s Alfisti it was definitely black that proved the most popular colour. I’m sure my about-to-be-wed passenger appreciated too how the centre console was canted towards the driver to give it a much sportier feel, and how all the words on the dials had been left in Italian – olio, benzina, and so on – just to make the drive to the wedding venue feel just that little bit more exciting. She definitely would have appreciated the two-litre Twin Spark engine too, although I suspect the 3.2-litre V6 might have been a bit handier for getting there on time.

But as my younger sister and her now husband embark on what I’m sure will be years of happily married life together, there is one question I’m sure they’ll be pondering – why doesn’t Alfa have a Spider in its range today? The Italians are really missing a trick, particularly as it’d be easy to base it on the Fiat 124 Spider.

I’m happy to confirm that the Spider made it on time, the wedding went without a hitch, and Alfa’s finest chalked up yet another fan. Definitely preferable to a Cortina with knackered brakes, anyway…

How my MX-5 helped to break two world recordS


LAST weekend I broke a Guinness World Record. Well, me and 1,543 other people, from all walks of life and every corner of the country.

What did we all have in common, other than all happening to be on the same windswept airfield in North Yorkshire last Sunday? The Mazda MX-5. You won’t have seen it because all the news cameras were down in London focusing on some running event that took place the same day but the result was spectacular; a convoy of sports cars stretching as far as the eye could see, all moving in unison. It was spread across four lanes of cars taking up the entire length of Elvington’s three-kilometre runway and back again, plus the taxiways linking it all together. So there you have it – the world record for the biggest ever parade of convertibles now belongs to a load of us who own Mazda MX-5s (and the record for the biggest ever parade of Mazdas too, for that matter).

There were MX-5s everywhere, but if you’d have been in for a bit of a shock if you think that once you’ve seen one MX-5, that you’ve seen them all. Sure, there were shedloads of bog-standard cars, but there were also super-rare BBR Turbo models and RS models shipped in specially from Japan. There were lads who tricked theirs up with big alloys and bodykits, and a lady who’d given hers some TVR Tuscan-esque flip paintwork. And, of course, mine; a Eunos V-Spec with lots of little luxuries that were never offered here on the UK MX-5s. Say what you like about the world’s best-selling sports car being fitted with an auto box, but I’ll have the wood, leather and air con any day.

But the really big shock was getting out of Yorkshire and back to reality. Head out in an MG or an Alfa Spider and you’re virtually guaranteed a cheery wave if you pass a fellow owner coming the other way, but in an MX-5 it’s a rare occurrence, and even now, three decades after the MkI was originally launched, you’ll still get occasional sneering comment if you take one to a classic car show.

Which is all Mazda’s fault, of course. Had it made the MX-5 a bad car that breaks down all the time, fewer people would’ve bought them and wouldn’t have been inclined to use them as daily drivers. I know plenty of people who still use MX-5s fast approaching their 30th birthday as everyday cars – which means you see them more often, and that sort of takes away the novelty. Which is why, I figure, most of them don’t wave.

I reckon it’s time they started giving those cheery waves in the same way other owners of old cars do – and that they get their names down next time there’s another attempt at the record. At the last count there were 26,438 MX-5s on the UK’s roads – a​nd I’m sure a few of the 95% who didn’t take part last weekend would be another go.

They’re going to need a longer runway next time.

I’ll admit it – driving in Scotland is fun

David was able to enjoy Scotland safely in his Mazda MX-5

IT’S BEEN a while since I’ve had a pen pal but I seem to have picked one up at Classic Car Weekly. He doesn’t write often but the topic’s always the same – I’m apparently guilty of glamorising driving dangerously on rural roads.

So he’ll no doubt be writing in when he discovers I’ve just spent a weekend driving around the Scottish Highlands, not to visit a distant aunt in Fort William, but for fun. I’ll admit it; I did nearly 1000 miles over four days for no good reason other than to drive on great roads simply because I enjoy doing it.

We’ll start with the location. Pick up any of the glossy travel mags and they’ll tell you that the A82 between Glasgow and Glencoe is Europe’s best stretch of road but this simply isn’t true – you can’t enjoy driving it because you’ll be stuck behind a lorry winding its way up to Inverness, and you can’t stop to admire the view because all the laybys are full of Dutch motorhomes. But the A87 and the A887 are utterly wonderful. Set off from Southport tomorrow morning and you’ll be there by mid-afternoon, and because you’ll want to stay overnight you’ll be giving the Scottish economy a helping hand, too.

But the real joy is you can do all of this without going anywhere remotely near a speed limit. Yes, I’ll freely admit that there were far too many people up in the Highlands driving dangerously in BMW X5s and doing silly overtakes in Honda Civic Type-Rs, but that’s something you’re as likely to see in Parbold as you are in Pitlochry. The trick is to drive around in a car that thrills at real world speeds.

I spent the weekend up there in my Mazda MX-5 but you’d be just as happy in any MG, Caterham, Lotus or Alfa Spider – and if you do need something with an extra set of seats, anything vaguely old with a Peugeot, Ford or BMW badge up front should suit the bill. Some of the best drives I’ve ever done have been at the helm of a derv-driven Peugeot 306 and a 15-year-old Ford Mondeo, so don’t knock ‘em until you’ve tried them!

But the end result is always the same; you emerge with a smile on your face, the Highlands economy gets a boost, and – unless you really do drive like a berk – Police Scotland don’t have to deal with unnecessary paperwork. Drive sensibly of course, but freely admit that it’s something you enjoy, like playing a piano or going fishing.

I might even arrange for my pen pal to go up there and for there to be an Austin-Healey 3000 waiting at the other end. Chances are, I suspect he’ll enjoy it…