Becoming Alfisti

It’s been a long, long time since my last post.  Thanksgiving came and went, Christmas came and went, New Year’s came and went… and then there was Super Bowl.  Now we Texans love us some football.  BBQ and football.  This is where Friday Night Lights got its name.  Most of us are Cowboys fans and some of us are Texans fans, but who gives a hoot’n holler about the Patriots or Falcons?!  Everyone I talked to just wanted to see the Falcons win because they were sick and tired of seeing the Patriots win.  BO-RING!

So being a good Texas boy, I reluctantly had the game on (I mean, it is football after all).  Kickoffs, conversions, punts, field goals, penalties, touchdowns.  It’s all happening.  It’s on.  Atlanta is winning and I’m trying to finish making queso with just the right amount of Rotel Tomatoes in it… and then it happened.  Like it had been an American icon for years, the Alfa Romeo marque shows up on the announcers desk front and center!!!  I yelled out like a twelve year old girl at a Justin Bieber concert.

Everyone’s talking about it and I’m thrilled to hear people talking about Alfa Romeo again.  More people should know about the great history, the ground breaking automotive engineering, the legendary racing.  Most people don’t even know that Enzo Ferrari drove for Alfa Romeo for years.  Enzo used Alfa to build his first race cars.  Scuderia Ferrari was really the Alfa Romeo racing team with Enzo as Racing Manager, and using Alfa for his own personal goals eventually got him fired from Alfa Romeo.  The Alfa Romeo 8C 35 was it in those days and it bore forth the Ferrari marque like an illegitimate child Alfa Romeo wanted to hide under the stairs.

Anonima Lombarda Fabbrica Automobili (A.L.F.A) – Founded June 24th, 1910

“The money that we earn from the sale of the 125 Sports is swallowed up by the open wheel cars, a well without bottom. On top of that there is little possibility of success, because the Alfa 158 and the Maserati 4CLT are practically unbeatable.”  – Enzo Ferrari

Roadtrip to Shiner

This week the humidity finally dropped and the weather is starting to feel like Autumn.  I’ve continued to make progress with my tune-up and with each little change I find it very valuable to drive the Alfa for a while to see how the adjustments actually affect performance.  Not just a drive around the block.  I prefer a hundred miles or more at this point.  I changed the spark plugs last weekend and I’m seeing a nice improvement with my backfiring issue.  More about that later; but I find things continue to improve as I drive the beloved jewel like she was meant to be driven.  Higher RPM, higher speed, with smooth shifting and transition through the gears.

This morning I took a drive west down I-10 to Flatonia where they have the great Czhilispiel festival at the end of the pepper harvest season in Texas.  We grow a lot of peppers and chilis in The Great State of Texas.  Great event with awesome beer, chili, BBQ, and Czech food!  A great little town with a lot of heart and Texas tradition.

Every drive is better than the last and this one allowed for a long run at 90mph without having to lift too often.  I could stick to a car in the left lane and hang back two or three car lengths at speed.  The exit for Flatonia off I-10 allows you to turn south and head to Shiner, Texas.  Another awesome town with a lot of history.

If you say Shiner, most people will think beer.  Shiner Bock… yes please.  Shiner beer is not from a brewery called Shiner, contrary to popular belief.  It’s made in the same traditional way Kosmos Spoetzl brewed it in his Texas born and raised brewery – Spoetzl Brewery.

Leaving Spoetzl Brewery and continuing south sends you to old HWY 90 just a half mile or so down the road.  A sharp left and I was headed east, back from where I came.  Old 90 was the I-10 of yesteryear and has the same speed limit for the most part.  The only difference is you get to feeling like it’s your person highway there’s so few cars, and you pass through some of the old towns along the way.  I was able to set my own pace for the most part and found a real improvement in high RPM, high gear driving.  My backfire issue is slowly clearly up and I’m gradually getting comfortable with running it for extended periods at higher and higher RPM.  I honestly think she needs these runs like an allergy plagued teen needs a neti pot!

5000rpm in 5th gear = 105mph.

The Tune-Up… continued

Football season has begun and since it’s still hot as hell here, I’ve been taking a break from my beloved jewel and keeping up with my favorite team.  As I mentioned in my previous tune-up post, I’m working slowly through the SPICA mechanical fuel injection pump tuning procedure and here are some things I’ve discovered so far…

I’m using the official Wes Ingram procedure and integrating the other Alfa Romeo club documents in where it makes sense.  The Wes Ingram procedure is very thorough and leaves nothing to chance, so I find each time I run through it I make decisions along the way, deciding if the current step is really necessary.  You won’t need to actually complete every  step each time you go through it.  You’ll instinctively know where you can move on and feel confident after a few times through.

The procedure starts with making the decision regarding the Spica pump being defective or not.  Wes gives steps and guidance on how to determine that for yourself but I’m skipping this step and assuming the work done and information I have from the previous owner is evidence enough that the pump is not significantly defective.  Rather, the pump is just what it is; a Spica pump with over 100,000 miles on it.

Next the procedure tries do address the pump timing which is tied directly to the ignition timing.  As I mentioned in several previous posts, I’m not a  car mechanic and I know very little about ignition timing.  I’ve been studying this part for some time and of course took the opportunity to buy a new tool.  I got a cheap Xenon timing light with advance from Harbor Freight for $29.95.  This step insures the timing of the spark and fuel injection is in perfect sync.  Steps are also included to ensure the fuel supply is good by confirming the fuel light works.  Mine is all good!

Moving on in order, the next step is to get things all setup with the Spica pump gap and thermostatic actuator (TA in some documents).  This basically ensures that when the car is  started cold, the throttle is a little rich until the coolant temperature  come up to spec at 170 degrees.  I did the bench test for my thermostatic actuator and found it was a newer model (refurbished) in the original 1974 Spica pump.  This means that the probe that extends from the bottom of the TA as the temperature rises is longer than the original.  Unfortunately, the phone I took picture with when I removed my TA for testing died and I lost the pictures, however I did document the probe lengths at cold and hot temperature:

  • Cold reading – 24.59mm
  • Hot reading (173 deg.) – 29.20mm

This means that when I adjust the set screw under the thermostatic actuator that it image1bottoms out and I can’t set it far enough in to get the critical .019″ gap (see the documents linked in my first Tune-Up post for details on the .019″ gap).  I found a couple of people who are clearly very knowledgeable about the Spica tune-up procedure on AlfaBB and one of them suggests adding two washers (two modern washers turn out to be 4mm thick when put together) as shims to take up the slack and put the newer TA with a longer probe within spec for an older model Spica pump.  The washers will have to be ground down to allow for the TA mounting screws, so I’m working on getting things shimmed up.  I may just go with one washer instead of two, but I definitely need a shim to get within factory specification.

 

In the follow up steps, the bell crank for the throttle cable that controls the throttle plates are adjusted.  This is an area of concern for me as well.  The throttle plates have to be fully closed when you aren’t on the throttle peddle for correct idle, and the bell crank has to be set to stop at full open throttle.  More on that later but the issue for me is that the set screws should never be touched after factory setting and I have no way to confirm if they are spec or not.  I’m trying to determine if any club members or my local Alfa mechanic have the factory tool to set these permanently.

Once I get the set screws confirmed I’ll work on setting the fuel mixture and confirm the fuel cutoff solenoid is working perfectly.  This will prevent the backfiring I’m getting right now even though I’m lifting my foot completely off the throttle when I let up (a common cause of backfire in the Alfa Romeo inline 4 cylinder engine).

So in a nutshell… here is where I’m:

  1. Pump assumed not defective but well used
  2. Ignition and pump timing assumed good
  3. Fuel light and fuel supply confirmed good
  4. Thermostatic actuator confirmed in spec (but needs shim for new TA in older pump)
  5. Pump gap as close to spec (.019″ at 170 deg.) as possible but shims required
  6. Bell crank, idle stop, and full throttle stop suspect but adjusted accordingly
  7. Long rod and short rod length suspect but adjusted accordingly
  8. Deceleration micro-switch and fuel cutoff solenoid suspect
  9. Fuel mixture still suspect but has been adjusted best effort at 2500 rpm
  10. Cold start device not tested

 

Holiday Weekend

It’s always nice to have a three day weekend and Labor Day didn’t disappoint.  As I’ve been walking through my Spica Tune-up steps over the last couple of weekends, I decided to just go out and make some early morning drives.  She needs to be driven and I can’t say no!

One of the books that comes with this beloved jewel is Pat Braden’s “Alfa Romeo Owner’s Bible”.  It’s great and truly an excellent technical & historical manual (plus buyers guide) for any Alfa Romeo enthusiast.  In the section on maintaining your Alfa Romeo, Pat talks about driving an Alfa and I’m inspired to receive it deep in my heart and pledge to always live by it…

Alfas don’t just like to be driven hard.  They need it.  When your car limps in for service, the plugs are fouled and the oil is so diluted with volatile hydrocarbons that the engine is grinding itself to death.  To correct this sorry condition, the mechanic waits until you are just out of earshot and then takes off in your jewel, driving it with an abandon that would give you seizures.  After a few minutes at full-throttle and something near 100 mph the spark plugs clear and all the junk in the crankcase begins to evaporate.  He gets a big grin, you get a bill for $59.95, and the car never ran better.

Pat Braden – the Alfa Romeo Owner’s Bible (chapter 4, pg. 76)

Drive it like you stole it son…

Now Texas is made for driving.  I drive an Alfa Romeo 2000 Spider Veloce.

The Tune-up

One of the more unique things about the US model Alfa Romeo of this time period is the mechanical fuel injection.  The mystical SPICA (pronounced spee-ka) injection system.  I won’t even attempt to go into detail about it, but I want to stress that when you’re talking about a tune-up, your talking about maintaining the Spica injection system.  Don’t think you can own and still love one of these beloved jewels if you can’t get used to doing the step-by-step Spica tune-up procedure yourself on occasion.  The carburetors and air fuel mixture that most people are accustomed to working on don’t exist on these cars.  You’ll want to follow the Spica tune-up procedure whenever you feel the car isn’t running or idling right.

Now I’m obligated to give special recognition at this point to Wes Ingram who demystified the Spica injection system and documented the step-by-step process so that owners didn’t have to find an Alfa Romeo dealership to work on it.  The Spica injection system was a crucial part of selling Alfa’s in the US as emission regulations developed over the years.  In the age of hotrods and tweaking engines for more horsepower, the dealerships didn’t want owners playing with them (check out the Alfa Romeo Owner’s Bible by Pat Braden for more detail).

So with all that said, I’m working my way through the Spica tune-up procedure step-by-step until I feel comfortable enough to do it straight through myself.  As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I’m no car guy and this is a HUGE learning experience for me.  Each time I set out to work on the Spica system, I usually start by read the whole procedure document first, then I read the section I’m attempting to learn two or three times, and then I try a walkthrough of just that section (sometimes without actually making a change).  It’s critical to understand that most of the steps in the procedure rely on completing the previous steps, so don’t just start adjusting things randomly.

Important Spica tune-up documents and videos:

 

I guess with any hobby you’ll find that if you do your research, you’ll get a thousand different answers to any question.  After reading a few alfabb.com forum threads, a new owner can get really confused about what is fact and what is questionable opinion.  Information overload and some of us stress over wether or not we’re doing what we set out to do the right way.  More research!

I never did find a simple list of parts to do an oil change on a US model 1974 Alfa Romeo 2000 Spider Veloce… maybe this will help some other new owner one day.

My parts list and important notes:

  • There are two oil filters – 1 engine and 1 SPICA injection system
    • Engine oil filter – Bosch 72161WS (small form premium filter) from AutoZone
    • SPICA oil filter – filter and gasket from Centerline International website
      • Part #OF294 -Gasket for Spica Oil Filter, Reusable
      • Part #OF293 – Oil Filter Spica Fuel Injection Pump

You’ll want to change the Spica filter at least every other engine oil change

  • Oil – Castrol GTX 20w-50 conventional
  • Half of a 16oz bottle of Redline Engine Break-in Additive (add about 8oz to engine oil each oil change)

The Redline break-in oil is an additional Zinc additive to prevent cams of softer metals from flattening out so quickly (some say it’s not necessary, but why not?)

Don’t over tighten the sump plug or spin on engine oil filter.  Both of mine were so tight it was a four hour battle to get them off.  They just need to be snug to make a good seal.  The sump plug head is so shallow the socket kept coming off and slightly rounded the corners.  The plug was so tight I had to buy a breaker bar.  The oil filter was so tight I had to look online for advice and found a trick when all else fails.  I had to drive large screwdrivers through the filter canister body and keep inching it around until it finally let loose.  One thing the forums didn’t mention though is that you don’t want to damage the threads from the filter connector that’s part of the engine cooling system!  Don’t drive the screwdrivers through too far down toward the base of the filter canister body (where it connects to the engine).  Stay middle to top.  I damaged my threads but fortunately not enough to prevent me from getting a filter screwed on.

You don’t need to use a tool to tighten the filter.  Just hand tight and you can feel when it reaches the rubber seal… half a turn past or so and you’re plenty tight.  Don’t forget to smear a little fresh oil around the seal first.

  1. 27mm socket for sump plug (6 point better than 12 if you can find one)
  2. You’ll need to replace the copper washer on the sump plug each oil change unless you anneal it first to make it soft enough to effectively make a seal

I couldn’t find a copper washer so I learned to anneal the copper (an old blacksmithing technique to soften metal). Google it… heat up the washer with a blow-torch glowing red hot then quench it in water.  Makes the copper soft enough again to make a good seal.

Learning the Basics…

It’s been several weeks since accepting delivery of this beloved jewel… and getting to drive it has been a real adventure.  I love it and can’t get enough!  The difference between driving it and an everyday SUV that never really gets up to 3000 rpm is beyond words.  Driving a classic Alfa Romeo makes having no power steering and a manual transmission a pleasure.  Once at temperature, shifting just feels and sounds right between 3500 and 4000 rpm if you drive by ear.

Not ever being a ‘car guy’, I’m trying to learning to do the basic maintenance myself.  Just the basics… clean oil and in-tune?  I hope to get it on a lift and have the Alfa specialist in my area help me make a new ‘issues’ list soon.  I’ll  compare the ‘needs to’ list with invoices & receipts I got from the previous owner to help me set new priorities.  Driving & getting accustom to how a 46 year old Alfa Spider runs & handles has been the real first step for me.  She definitely sounds loud, smells like gas, and burns oil.  Just what we all love about a classic Italian sports car!

Current goals:

  1. Have fun and drive it like I stole it (Italian Tune-Up)
  2. Learn to change the oil and filters myself  (source the parts I need)
  3. Learn to go through the ’69 – ’74 SPICA injection system tune-up procedure

I also notice that it didn’t start well.  Gradually got harder to start as the weeks heated up.  We have weeks of high 90’s and high humidity in my part of Texas.  Seemed to be running really rich and spewed black gunk from the tailpipe when you warm it up.  The cold start was becoming more and more difficult and wouldn’t idle.

I also notice the tachometer and speedometer never dropped to 0.  They always stop at 500 rpm and 10 mph.  Never lower.  I didn’t know what to think and it made me suspect they didn’t work.  I even asked a local Alfa club member about it who said he’d never seen one with dials that would drop to 0…  turns out there are tiny little stop pins that prevent the tach and speedo from reading below 500 rpm and 10 mph.  It’s not a flaw at all, its a feature.