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Value and Your Alfa Spider

It seems a common phenomena that people who are looking to buy a car are very happy to find it is undervalued on the market, and then after purchase become incensed that this same market is holding their car back from what they now perceive as its true market value. An Alfa Spider is a rare enthusiast car. Why isn’t it worth more, and why don’t the cars seem to be appreciating?

All cars depreciate. When new, they typically lose between 40-60% of their value in the first three years of ownership. "Normal" cars, the ones you don’t mind driving in the snow and don’t flinch in when Old Mr. Jones is seen cruising up behind you, continue to lose their value at a much reduced rate until they are worth essentially nothing, regardless of condition.

Sporty cars (and I mean this in the broadest sense, from our beloved Spiders all the way to Mustangs, Jaguar XJS’s, and Lumina SS’s) tend to lose 40% of their value in the first three years and then (usually) stop. After that they tend to hold their value, with the lucky ones keeping up with inflation.

In the early years, a very few of them will appreciate immediately. These are typically the rarest, most desirable, and, of course, most expensive cars you can buy. Things like special edition Lamborghini Countachs or McLaren F1s. For the rest, it takes a very long time, usually something like twenty-five years, before appreciation begins to surpass inflation, and even then it is not guaranteed. When this finally does occur the car can be considered to be following the market trends of the "used classics".

A large number of variables affect what price a "used classic" can reasonably expect to fetch (NOTE: in all of these discussions I am assuming a car in excellent condition). Was the car popular when new? How expensive was it? Was the car produced in small numbers? Is the styling particularly appealing? Does it have any appeal beyond what it would have with a knowledgeable enthusiast? Was it produced for a short period of time?

Even unexpected questions can have a profound influence on a car’s value. Was it featured prominently in a popular movie? Was it a type of vehicle used in some nefarious escapade? (To this day white Ford Broncos hold a higher value than other colors of the same car for this very reason.) Did a large number of young people own it as their first car, or first "performance" car? Are those people now in their late 40s and early 50s? The more questions that can be answered "yes", the more likely a given car will be to maintain a high value and appreciate, and the more that can be answered "no", the lower its value and the less likely it will be to appreciate.

Unlike most other Alfa models, the Spider can answer "yes" to a surprisingly large number of these questions (and, happily, "no" to the nefarious one). Although they were never produced in the volume of, say, a Ford Mustang or even a Chevrolet Corvette, they always sold reasonably well. It was also more expensive than most cars in its class. Since it is a classic convertible sports car, it has a substantial appeal to the general public beyond what it holds for the enthusiast. The Spider, particularly Series 1 cars, was also fortunate that it actually WAS featured prominently in an extremely popular, very distinctive movie (The Graduate, Mike Nicols’ first film).

To illustrate an example, the 105 series was produced in four major variants, the Spider, the GTV, the Berlina, and the Montreal (and no fewer than nine "special body" sub-variants… one wonders how Alfa stayed in business as long as it did). Of the major variants, the Montreal was produced in small numbers, had a very high price tag when new, was and is a very handsome car, and contains a large number of very unique mechanical features. Not surprisingly, it is easily the most valuable 105 variant today.

The Series 1 Spider was produced in moderate numbers for a limited time, is considered very pretty by just about everyone, has mass appeal both because it is a convertible and also because it was featured in a major motion picture, and is mechanically sophisticated enough to get just about any enthusiast’s attention. It is the second-most valuable car type in the 105 line.

The GTV was produced in moderate numbers for a limited time, is a very handsome car, shares the mechanical sophistication of the entire 105 line, and, because of its stiffer chasis, is actually a better performer than the Spider. It holds little appeal outside enthusiast circles, but through enthusiast appreciation alone is the third most valuable car in the 105 line, typically only a few thousand dollars less than a Series 1 Spider.

The Berlina was produced in large numbers, has styling that can only charitably be called "plain", and while it does have sophisticated mechanicals and performance that can match a GTV’s, as a four-door sedan its broader base target would mainly be people with families. Unfortunately, people with families, even enthusiast people with families, tend to be more interested in modern amenities like air conditioning, power windows, and cruise control, as well as the greater reliability that modern electronics provide. Because of these factors, the Berlina is and probably always will be by far the least valuable (in monetary measurements, at least) of the 105 series. (It should be noted, however, that the 105 Berlina is a damned fun car to drive, and has a tightly-knit group of owners whose devotion to the car approaches levels that cause Scientologists to take notes. These enthusiasts, coupled with the ravages of time making the cars rare, may yet cause an increase in their monetary value.)

Unfortunately (or not, depending on which side of the ownership fence you are standing on right now), the Spider experienced one of the longest post-war production periods of just about any sports car in history. This is one of the biggest factors holding the value of Series 2 and later cars back. Also, because the cars’ appearance differs only in the details, the non-enthusiast perception is that they are all the same car, and this too causes the value to stay low, and surprisingly homogeneous.

This is beginning to change. The Series 2 cars are finally hitting the twenty-five year mark, a time when most good to fair cars have been destroyed through the various ravages of time, leaving only the superb and those eligible for "project" status (which quickly become superb or evaporate into the parts bin). People who once owned early spiders are now in their late forties to early fifties, a time when expendable income is at its highest and nostalgia its strongest. The end of production also means that the entire line will hopefully become more noticed overall, although this is small comfort for those who own cars still in the initial throes of depreciation.

Finally, there is the biggest influence of all on the entire market… the general condition of the economy. In "boom" times consumer optimism is high, expendable income is available, and most adults feel an urge to spend a little on themselves. After a certain amount of growth occurs due to these "natural" causes, speculators enter the field and cause a massive spike in the value of all enthusiast cars. In the past twenty years this has typically been followed by a turn of the business cycle that causes a recession in the general economy, which in turn causes the speculators to move away from cars and on to other commodities. The subsequent crash in market prices can leave the unwise or over-enthusiastic with massive car payments on vehicles worth half as much as they were a year ago. However, the "grass roots" swell that started the boom usually never goes away, so prices never seem to fall as far as they grew.

So what does this mean, bottom line, to the potential Spider owner or seller?

The original version of this document included rough guides to pricing. Unfortunately I have been out of mainstream Alfa culture for a few years now, and so I can really no longer speak authoritatively on how much excellent cars of the various model years are going for at this time.

However, it should be noted that, in general, Series 4 cars should be depreciating, Series 3 and 2a cars should be holding steady, Series 2 cars should be appreciating slightly (approximately 5-10% per year), and Duettos should be following market trends (down now but due for an upswing).

An Alfa Spider of any year probably isn’t a very good investment when looked at through the cold green light of an accountant’s visor. However, this perception changes noticeably in the warm orange light of a summer evening, and, after all, isn’t that were you really appreciate a fine automobile?

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By Scott Johnson - Copyright 1996 - Third Edition, Released August 2001 - All Rights Reserved.