Parte Prima - The Buy
It all started innocently enough a little over a year and a half ago – Spring of 2012. Things had been quiet on the 24 Hours of LeMons front. Brian Shorey had moved to the land of flakes, nuts and fruits, taking his winning LeMons Milano with him. I had talked to friends about the fun of LeMons racing; some had expressed halfhearted interest in getting involved, but no real commitment. I missed the excitement and camaraderie, but not too much. Things were nice and quiet. Pleasantly so.
Then Tom Lesko circulated an email – a local widow had inquired if he could help her sell her late husband's '86 Spider. He had been restoring and modifying it to be his dream car. Unfortunately, before the project's completion, he had become ill and subsequently died. His dream died with him and the car had sat, moldering in his garage, for almost 20 years. Tom courteously visited to inspect the car. After the shock wore off, he sent around the email and some grim pictures describing a parts Spider that was available. I sent it around to some of the halfhearted Limonisti. Unfortunately, Jim Scutti got excited about the project. Jim is a Spider kind of guy and this was a project that appealed to him.
Not me. I figured a Spider in LeMons racing was just plain stupid. I mean, the whole thing is stupid, but a Spider would take stupidity to a whole new level. They are very small, very open, slow, and did I mention very small and open? The thought of racing a Spider mirror-to-mirror with big GMs, Fords, Volvos, BMWs etc. just seemed plain stupid on the face of it, and in the words of Forrest Gump, "Stupid is as stupid does."
However, never let it be said that stupid ever deterred us. What the hell, it's worth a look. Against his better judgment, Jonathan Kirshtein agreed to join in (see Forrest Gump above) – at least until we knew what we were up against. In a morbid curiosity sort of way, how could you not?
Off we went to look the car over. When we finally got into the garage to inspect it, shock does not begin to describe the emotions that rolled over us. Overwhelming tragic loss and hopelessness were more like it. In a dark and cramped garage, sitting on sawhorses and covered with trash, in primer gray, sat a sad Spider shell. No rear suspension, no driveshaft, no rear axle, no interior (at all – metal wherever you looked), no trim, top, steering wheel, bumpers. In fact, nothing that made it a car. Windshield in place, engine and transmission in place, dash in and the speedo only showed 58K miles. Front suspension in. That was about it. Body an unbelievable mix of straight panels except for the outer rocker panels which were cut off the car. Rust-free-ish but plenty of holes and weird stuff. Inside the rocker area was an array of homemade reinforcement brackets running the complete length of the car. Big holes in the floor pans had been repaired by brazing in metal sheets – probably by the DPO before this DPO, because there were plenty that had not been repaired yet. Doors had been set in and completely Bondo'd over – no handle hardware or even holes for same. The complete rear valance had been removed and an aftermarket plastic panel added – with a quad-pack of round taillights. To make the picture even more appealing, the floor of the garage was not actually visible. It was covered entirely with trash of all types, in some places a good 4-6 inches deep. Holy Frickin' Moly.
After the initial shock wore off, we started looking a little more earnestly. As we looked, the picture started to shift a little. There was bad sheet metal, but around all the suspension joints the car was rock-solid. In fact, most of the car was solid – and straight. It had not been hit anywhere. It seemed to have all the bracketry in place – all the stuff you need to hang parts properly – without the annoyance of having to fabricate every little thing you need.
We turned up more and more parts – most of them cleaned, painted, and for the most part looking brand new. As the "inventory" grew, it looked less and less of a disaster. The engine bay was painted bright clean and red. Of course, it was clear the car had originally been black – which begs the question, why did he decide to paint a black car red? Couldn't he find a red one? Anyway, the engine looked pretty clean. Cam covers polished brightly – had he rebuilt the engine? In fact, everything in the engine bay looked clean and shiny. Labeled plastic bags everywhere with parts in them. Two sets of aftermarket springs, and aftermarket shocks. Rear end, spare axle shafts. The list kept growing.
Then the widow asked if we wanted to see the rest of the parts upstairs! Two flights up and the shock continued. Alloy wheels. Seats freshly recovered and looking new. A new top, all kinds of trim – all either new or might as well have been. Ansa exhaust. Headlight buckets and trim. Brand new-looking bumpers, damn near perfect steering wheel. Most of the critical missing parts were there. Trunnion arm – all painted. Drive shaft – all perfect and painted, with new U-joints. Trailing arms all painted – with strange spring seats. Carpeted panels, brand new stock exhaust, brand spanking new fuel tank with ricambi originali sticker still on it. Sway bars, bumper shocks, trans console. WOW! It all looked there – certainly close enough to actually put a track car together. This was starting to look like it might work. In fact, now we were starting to worry that it might look too nice to pass LeMons muster!
Team Huddle. Jim had taken the lead on negotiations and said the asking price was a little high, but within striking distance. Three things attracted us.
Further negotiations, deal done. Date set for pickup.
Pickup – YIKES! This is when reality started to set in. The frickin' car would practically have to be rebuilt just to get it down on the ground and out of the garage. The one little fact that none of us actually owned a trailer or tow vehicle did not seem to bother anyone. Actually, there was not even a ready home for this thing either … details, details. Gotta think BIG PICTURE, baby! Like, what about a team name? The most important thing required to be successful in LeMons racing: Ya need a good team name. A lot of time spent on this – with no result to show.
Much more time spent going through the rebuild in our heads (a thought experiment?), step by step, to plan what we needed to bring – no one wanted to make this trip a third time. Lists grew – parts, tools, jacks, jackstands, wheels with mounted tires, lug nuts, etc., etc. – all the minutiae that are required to hold a car together. Snow shovels to clear the garage floor (I am not kidding). Facemasks to prevent respiratory disease (again, I'm not kidding).
While we made our plans for pickup, buyer's remorse started to set in. What are we doing? Racing a Spider in LeMons is STOOPID. Do you think the engine will turn over? Did anybody remember seeing a distributor? Was the ECU actually in the car? Are there any synchros in the gearbox? What about all the big gaps in the sheetmetal, especially in the places where the roll cage will anchor? Don't harsh my buzz man, we're going forward. Forza Alfa! In avanti verso la vittoria.
We roped Eliot Shanabrook into picking the car up with his trailer. Meet us at 12 on Saturday. That gave us three hours to put the car together, get it off the sawhorses, pick up all the parts, and get them out of the condo. No problem.
As it turns out, it really was no problem. It all went off like a Hollywood caper movie. Like The Italian Job. The only thing we were missing was the schedule sheet with the times, and practicing with stop watches.
We actually had everything we needed. The car was nice and straight and everything went on easy-peasy. We were all familiar enough with the jobs at hand that we actually worked as a well-integrated team. Getting it off the sawhorses was interesting, but no Alfa hacks were harmed in the making of this car.
Every now and again, I think back to that day and still cannot believe how well it went. Not sure if Eliot will ever be the same, however. He is particular about what he calls a racecar. This was not it. He enjoyed himself, though (at our expense). See part about "Stupid is as stupid does".
Dropped the car at Jim's, everything put away, and beer by 3 PM. Totally amazing. Congratulatory backslaps all around. Now what? Drive fast, have fun, win races? Maybe…………….
(Click on the thumbnails below for a larger view, and then