In 1996, I went to a car auction to help a friend look for a reliable sedan. Instead, I bid on and won a little black sports car. This started a remarkable journey over the past quartcentury in the land of Alfas. I sold that first Alfa to buy another in 1999; but Gloria reappeared and found her way to Makepeace Manor.
See the license plate on my little black Spider, 1ST LOVE? This is the Alfa that started it all for me. It was November, 1996. The year had begun with the end of a six-year relationship, which precipitated my move to Alexandria. I was living near Old Town by the King Street Metro Station and building my second bachelorhood.
I had saved enough to finally buy what I thought was my dream car -- isn't it every American boy's? -- a Corvette. But when I told my friends, roommates, and girlfriend I was Corvette shopping, their responses were tepid. Nobody saw me as a Corvette guy. Also, I quickly found that the Vettes I could afford all seemed to have been driven hard and put away wet -- or worse. These were 1984-6 cars with higher miles.
Then one day a friend from work asked my car-guy assistance to find a nice used family sedan. I'd always wanted to check out the Tysons Corner Auto Auction so off we went. Duds for him, but a 1988 Porsche 924 caught my eye. I bid $3,000 but it got away. When a little black convertible followed a bit later I decided to be more aggressive. The car looked really fresh, and though I knew little about Alfa Romeos, I knew that the bidding was on the light side for an eight year-old convertible with just 58,000 miles. I bid and bid again, and as the hammer was headed down the auctioneer gave me a final glance. $2,850 was the magic number.
The roommate said, "This is like a James Bond car!" The girlfriend said, "Now that's what I want to ride in." I became an instant Alfista. The car ran well but handled terribly. As I did the first repairs I learned that I could not necessarily afford to keep this exotic car on the road. Fortunately I had a friend who had owned a couple and he linked me to Doug Mitchell at Crown Auto, who got Gloria sorted and happy.
Within a few months I was touring the Alfa museum in Arese, Italy. I joined the Alfa Romeo Owners Club and took on editing the Capital Chapter's Alfantics newsletter. By 2005 I was serving on the National Board, eventually becoming national president for two terms. I've gained meaningful friendships locally and nationally while sharing four-wheeled adventures for a quarter century. That final bid at that fateful auction truly changed my life.
I had sold Gloria to buy a low-mileage Alfa Spider Quadrifoglio back in 1999. 15 years later, she reappeared in a classified ad on Craigslist, the worse for wear and not running. I did not have time to take the project on but I posted about it. My friend Greg Phillips bought Gloria and did some fine work to recommission her. When he posted her for sale in 2015, I bought my old car back. Reunited and it feels so good!
Gloria is a 1988 Spider Graduate. In the 1980s Alfa was trying to figure out its place in the market. The Spider had gone upscale with many standard features, but the Graduate, offered from 1985 to 1990, was a de-contented version that headed back to its legitimate 1960s roots (making its being named for the car that co-starred with Dustin Hoffman in a certain 1967 movie most fitting). The Graduate had steel wheels (which starting with 1988 bore full plastic phone dial covers), vinyl seats and top, and manual window winders. Many, including this one, do not have air conditioning. Since equipment is a matter of taste, there is often minimal difference in the prices of Graduate, Veloce, and top of the line Quadrifoglio models. The cars all have the same basic body and mechanicals so condition and mileage are the bigger factors.
Gloria immediately after I bought her in the fall of 1996.