Published in a National Automotive Magazine
(Well, okay, the nation was France)
Autoretro is the French classic-car magazine that I've been reading in recent years in order to fill the void left by the demise of Hemmings Sports and Exotics. The February 2020 issue of Autoretro included an article on the Alfa Montreal, the kind of article that gives the car's history, some driving impressions, and the pros and cons of purchasing one in today's market. One of the cons, according to the article, was the Spica injection system, which the article called unreliable.
As many AONE members know, I have owned, for almost 30 years, a 1977 Spider with a Spica injection system refurbished by Ingram Enterprises and tuned to perfection by Glynn Motorsports. I share with the late Joe Benson the view that the Spica injection is one of the wonderful exotic features of a mid-1970s Alfa and with mechanical wizard Paul Glynn the belief that no Alfa of that period is improved by converting a correctly set-up Spica system to Weber carburetors.
The only Alfas in Europe with Spica gasoline injection are Montreals and US-market models that have been imported back to Europe. Therefore, I assumed that Autoretro's criticism of the Montreal's injection system resulted from a lack of familiarity with and support in Europe for Spica injected cars. I was, as a result, inspired to shoot off a letter defending the Spica system to the magazine's editor. To my great surprise, the letter was included in the May issue, and barely edited down, so that (including the photo by John De Waele that the editor asked me to provide) it takes up almost an entire page—what letter to the editor was ever given so much space?
For those who don't read French and might be interested in the debate over Spica versus carburetors, here is my translation of my letter.
Hooray for Spica injection!
Your article on the Alfa Romeo Montreal (in issue number 449) reminded me with great pleasure of my first glimpses of this magnificent car, which occurred when I was 19 years old and discovering for the first time the famous cafés in Paris's Saint-Germain-des-Près neighborhood. From the terraces of those cafés, one could watch the "beautiful people" pass by, and in 1977 some of those beautiful people traveled the Boulevard Saint Germain in a car that resembled but wasn't a Lamborghini Miura: the Montreal.
I would, though, like to respond to your article's criticism of the reliability of the Spica mechanical injection system, created by Alfa in the late 1960s; this is the induction system used on Montreals and on all US market four-cylinder Alfas from 1969 to 1981. This system enabled Alfa to tune its motors both for performance and, at the same time, to meet the new US air-pollution restrictions, and to do it much better than most of the other brands available on the American market. At a time when electronic injection was not yet the proven solution it later became, the Spica system offered an elegant and ingenious solution, one that merits an article in your magazine.
There are reasons why the Spica injection system has a bad reputation, one that it does not deserve! Alfa, in fact, made the bad decision to keep secret the system's inner workings and not to share it with mechanics, owners, or even—to a certain point—their own dealerships. As a result, numerous minor ignition malfunctions got incorrectly diagnosed as an (expensive) injection problem. In addition, a mechanic or owner who did not know how to adjust correctly the injection could, without realizing it, so misadjust the injection as to make the car undriveable!
However, a Spica system that has been correctly tuned by a true expert (granted that with time such experts are becoming rarer) requires almost no maintenance, is very reliable, and works wonderfully. My 2-liter US-market 1977 Spider starts, when the engine is warm, at the turn of the key, and almost as immediately when it is cold, unlike the carbureted cars of some of my friends. What is more, the exhaust of those same carbureted cars often smells strongly of carbon monoxide and gasoline.
It is essential to regularly change the engine oil in a Spica-injected Alfa and to be sure that the car never run out of gas, as gas and engine oil are the Spica injection pump's lubricants. Once a year the small oil filter in the injection pump has to be changed. And about every 10-15 years the thermostatic actuator has to be replaced. That is it for maintenance.
It is true that the refurbishing of a Spica injection pump is expensive (and the moving parts do wear out with the miles), but restoring a battery of Weber carburetors is also an expensive proposition! And in North America there is only one specialist in rebuilding Spica injection pumps.
The Montreal's Spica system has one great advantage: the injection pump is prominently situated at the top front of the engine, in front of the air filter. It is therefore very accessible. On American-market 4-cylinder Alfas the injection pump is located underneath the distributor, and because of its inaccessibility, it takes four to eight hours to remove the pump from the car. Don't ask me how I know!
— Pierre André Walker
[At the end of my letter, the editor-in-chief added the following short paragraph, which very nicely makes plugs for both AONE and Thompson:]
For decades we have been reading—and writing, including in Autoretro—virulent criticisms of Spica injection. This letter from Pierre—who is none other than the treasurer of Alfa Owners of New England and whom we see at the wheel of his Spider at the Thompson track in Connecticut—has the immense merit of resetting the clocks. This letter will, no doubt, create quite a stir in the French Alfisti community!
[To purchase a copy of the Autoretro issue no. 449, with the article on the Montreal, or issue no. 452, with my letter, go to the magazine's website.
Scan of Peter's Letter to the Editor