by Dr. Tim Hartge
Geez, I wish I still had that car back. Well, maybe not this exact car, but one like it! This story is a car story about a car journey, not so much about the car. The car turned out to be a good car, reliable and so much fun to drive. Including at no extra charge that famous Alfa lean in the corners.
The impulse of youth drew me to the Alfa Romeo. Although a first-generation German, I was in love with Italian cars. I gravitated to the emotion of the Alfa marque. The sight, oh, those sexy lines, a five-speed, fuel injection, four-wheel discs, all in 1971! But, what got me going was the sound of that 1750 cc, dual overhead cam engine winding out. Wow, in anticipation of a cacophony of aural sound and sight, I bought an Alfa Romeo GTV from an AutoWeek ad.
It was natural that I would find the Alfa for sale in the classified section of AutoWeek magazine. It was 1984, and I was the advertising manager of AutoWeek. Calling the seller, I learned that the car was stock, with the Spica mechanical fuel injection still intact and in good working order. It had no rust, a southern car located in Oklahoma City, 1000 miles and 15+ hours away.
What could go wrong with this deal? I’m young remember. The seller is an AutoWeek reader, a straight shooter and the car’s a mere stone throws away. Oh, the folly of youth. I made the deal sight unseen, over the phone, May Day, 1984. For some reason, I still have some paperwork and the phone messages from the day. One message indicates that I negotiated the owner down from $3000 to $2650. I sure wish I had that car back.
Whatever the price, I was excited, my first real sports car! Lucky stroke for me at AutoWeek, I was in and amongst a bunch of car crazy’s like me. Pondering how I would get the car back, one of my colleagues, Phil Buck, a Waterford Hills racer who raced a Green, Fiat 128 said, let’s get the car. What, drive there, I said? Yes, he said. Phil was one of those guys, after all, who races a green car, yet alone a Fiat 128? Well, that’s Phil, a bit eccentric, but the real deal, a real car guy. Driving down sounded like a plan. I’d have to pay for a couple of hotel rooms, some gas, and some good company. The trick was leaving on a Friday and returning on a Sunday, going 2000 miles, sure, why not, we’re young. So, we did!
From what I remember the travel down together, was pure bonding, no-stop talk. If I recall, correctly we drove almost 700 miles on that Friday so that we could be in Oklahoma City by the afternoon to pick up the car and hustle our way back home.
We arrived at Steve Lambers’ home in Oklahoma City mid-afternoon on Saturday. Steve met us, I took the car for a drive and completed the deal. We turned that car and pointed NE and headed back to Detroit. The only trouble I remember with the car was a driving rainstorm in the plains. Alfa wasn’t concerned about clearing the windshield of rain, at least this GTV’s wipers weren’t quite up to the task. I recall checking the oil about halfway through, and it wasn’t even using any oil. I also remember pushing it a bit hitting 80 or 90 mph occasionally, no trouble. No shakes, no rattles it may have drifted a bit but, that was probably the wind buffeting the car. On the way back we even found our way to the Cowboy Hall of Fame in Oklahoma City. I’ve since been back to the museum four times.
What this deal taught me was that people could be trustworthy, not everybody selling you a car is out to screw you to the floor. Next, long-distance car travel in America is easy. Gas stations, hotels and food are everywhere, thank you Holiday Inn and McDonald’s. If you break down, there’s always a tow truck, a rental car, or train or a bus home and a shipper for the car. This trip was a pattern for me later in life.
I ‘ve crossed the country no less than ten times, picking up a car or truck in faraway Portland Oregon, Carmel California, Indianapolis Indiana or wherever. I’ve bought Suburban’s off the Bureau of Land Management in Elko, Nevada, and Grand Junction Colorado at auction. Amtrak is fun and a great way to go to Grand Junction, but we’ll save that for another story. I’ve bought Land Rovers from a good, newly acquired friend in Portland, OR., who just loved those 88’s and 109 Land Rovers.
One of the Land Rovers I brought back, I traded to the Ferrari Dealer at the time in Dearborn, Bob Schneider at the Sports Car Exchange. I traded him the Land Rover 109 for a new 1987 demo, Alfa Romeo Milano. I traded the Milano to Phil Buck, the same Phil, my companion on this trip for a 1967 Alfa Duetto Spider. I kept that Duetto for 30 years! That funded my car hobby.
What a journey both literally and figuratively. Buying cars and fetching them by plane, or rail became a craving. In fact, my 2000 Cab, 996, came by way of a road trip to Indianapolis and a drive home. I’ll tell you a secret, when I discovered that I could wrap a new car into a trip for my wife, suddenly, my car hobby from my wife’s perspective wasn’t just “his hobby” now, but our hobby.
It’s better guys, I’m sure you know when she’s’ with you in the car hobby mentally, physically and spiritually than against you. Thank you 1971 Alfa Romeo GTV! We’ve seen more of America by a back road, and the better for it. What a great country, and now we still do it but it’s done, not with Phil anymore, but with my best friend and wife, Gail. Here’s to you honey and the next object of desire, how about a 997 turbo in Santa Fe? I think I need a trip!