Home » Member Rides: An Alfa Romeo GTV And A Classic Diesel Benz Are A Perfect Pairing

Member Rides: An Alfa Romeo GTV And A Classic Diesel Benz Are A Perfect Pairing

Member Ridestop

My first car was a 1978 Mercedes 300D sedan and, at least for quality of door-thunk, it tends to be the car I measure everything else I own against. I’ve never owned an Alfa, though, and that’s something I clearly need to correct. Credit to reader and Autopian member Dutcher Stiles who has both!

(Welcome to Member Rides. This is the weekly feature where we look at people who became members of the site by signing up here and parting with a little of their hard-earned dough to keep The Autopian going. Our plan is to do these every week! Today it’s Dutcher’s turn!)

Autopian: Thanks for doing this! Tell us who you are and what you’ve got.

Volvo

I live in Austin, Texas. I’m an IT Auditor for a state agency.

My cars are:

2018 Volvo S90 T5 – Recent acquisition road trip car, has a nice stereo with a big back seat.

1982 Mercedes Benz 300D – Blue-green metallic (877U) sedan I bought for my mother from my Alfa mechanic in the 90s. I inherited it after she passed away four years ago. In a state of gradual improvement, with the Sacred Heart Auto League medallion on the dash keeping mom’s memory.

1972 Alfa Romeo GTV – Owned since 1992, long-term project and source of general anxiety (I also have motorcycles – 2006 Triumph Bonneville, 2021 Zero SR/F, and 2005 Genuine Stella – a rebrand of an Indian “continuation” of the Vespa PX150). And no two engines of the same configuration – diesel, gasoline, gasoline + oil, electric; air & water cooled; 0, 1, 2, 4, and 5 cylinders.

Autopian: That’s a fun mix. How did you get into cars?

Alfagtv

My first memories of wrenching were mildly traumatic–my dad yelling instructions at me on how to synchronize an MG’s SU carbs while lounging in a lawn chain, scotch in hand. Years later, I worked with a couple of guys poaching neglected old (mostly) MOPARS from the fields and lawns of central Texas and putting Darts, Dusters, and Furys into the hands of UT coeds. Undercapitalized, the wrong ’73 Roadrunner put an end to that. I owned a sequence of Ordinary Fords With Capital Letters (SVT Contour, SHO Taurus, Focus RS). I’m currently wrenching my way up to rehabbing my Alfa – there’s some anxiety there, but I have learned to gouge less and take my time.

Autopian: So, basically, your life was “Dazed & Confused” for a few years?

Topnotch

More like Slacker, but I do live around the corner from the Top Notch!

Autopian: I feel like there’s a story with that Roadrunner…

It was a black-on-black red striped behemoth with the 400 with an anti-social cherry bomb exhaust. It was the first “muscle” car we bought, represented all the cash we had, and no one wanted it. It acquired parking tickets until we unloaded it at a loss.   Then a Ford Tempo was another loss, and we had no more cash, and felt beat down, and the partnership dissolved after two years.

Autopian: I had a ’78 300D and loved it. That’s an excellent color and a lovely tribute to your mother. What kind of improvements are you making?

Mercedes

It’s all maintenance, reliability, and cosmetics. I’ve done suspension, injectors, and I’m in the continuous pursuit of vacuum (doors got sorted, vent pods went). The next project is to pull the dash to repair the cracks and replace the vacuum-leaking HVAC pods underneath.

Autopian: Feel free to send any pics of any of those Fast Fords.

Focus Rs

Here’s the Focus RS in its native habitat. It was my “recovered from cancer” present to myself – I even took advantage of the track day in Utah that came with the RS. The Adrenaline Academy was a real gas and almost washed away my bitterness to Ford due to the head gasket. The RS was a blast when it worked. After the head gasket work was done, I had two issues with the cooling system (and my wife got cancer) so I went off to Carvana and I dailied the Mercedes for a couple of years.

Sho

The SHO Taurus was a bit of a disappointment. Great engine mated with a sluggish transmission, and too big for around town – it felt like wearing a pair of tight pants. But it was a great highway car – I had to drive out to Midland periodically to take care of my ailing parents and it was home on that stretch between Brady and Garden City. The recalls wore me down, though, and it didn’t seem well stapled together.

Autopian? What about the Contour SVT? That’s on my list.

Svt ContourP

Probably the best part was the exhaust note; even stock, it had that 2.5 V6 tenor that reminded me of my old Alfa GTV6. It handled well and had only one reliability issue (a fuel pump failure) that was covered in the last week of the warranty. Decent transmission, too. But a dark blue interior with a black exterior? Why, Ford?

Autopian: What’s the anxiety with the Alfa other than… all the completely understandable ones? Which of the many potential faults is currently weighing your mind?

Triumph

Before my son was born, I diagnosed the SPICA pump failure. I may have been wrong in retrospect, but I charged ahead with ordering the parts for a Weber conversion. I pulled the head which was in bad shape, and ordered a replacement. I waited and waited, then it finally came a week after my son was born. Other things took priority… and the newborn is now a freshman in high school and the head is still on a shelf.

Zero Motor

I have a nice dry place for it and have been acquiring the basic wrenching skills that I lacked, mostly patience and avoiding the gouge, by maintaining the Mercedes and rebuilding the scooter engine. I’ve been sorting and saving and learning. Next year I’ll make some progress, and learn to weld. I learned to manage the shame I felt for having a non-running car, especially such a nice one. Something to do with my dad? Probably. But now that he’s passed, it’s time to sort it out.

Last year I tried to write something about every vehicle I had substantial memories of – most of it is here – it made some sense to try to figure out why I was thinking when I got these vehicles and if it made any difference.

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9 Responses

  1. Interesting selection of vehicles, especially the Fords. My SVT Contour also had a fuel pump failure right around the time the warranty was expiring. Also had the ‘melting dash’ and ‘moosing’ issues, which were relatively minor annoyances. The dark blue interiors of the early SVTC’s were so dark they were damn near black in appearance, but I avoided that with a later model year (green/tan combo). You are correct about the exhaust note on those, too. It was the best sounding OEM system I have owned, to date!

  2. Great story. Better to hear you have overcome cancer twice in the family. Don’t feel guilty about letting car projects sit. Our families are our priority, cars just help facilitate that.

  3. I used to have a Mercedes 300 SDL and a Ford Contour. Both were used when I acquired them. Both were also abused with lots of lead-footed driving. The Mercedes could withstand the abuse, but the Ford could not. The Ford kept eating CV axles. The Mercedes saw more than 100 hours of use at triple-digit speeds, and it had 250k on the odometer when I acquired it.

    If you want more power, send the injector pump off to Myna performance in Finland. I never made this mod to mine, but I was able to swap in a rear end from a V8 S-class and increase my top speed as well as highway fuel economy. The 5-cylinder in the 300D should be even more stout than the 6-cylinder my 300 SDL had.

  4. The rules I learned about wrenching:

    1. If you have but one car, do as little to it as possible, since you will need to get around and can’t afford to keep it off the road if you can’t get the job done in one day.

    2. If you have two old cars, one is likely not running so don’t mess with the other one (see rule#1).

    3. If you have three or more old cars, seek help.

    1. Oh look, an edit button, cool!

      I just wanted to add, driving that Alfa must be like getting an STD from the hottest date you have ever been on.

      *Totally worth it.

    2. 4. Check in with yourself often. Stop when you’re not having fun-no matter how much you want to get X done tonight.

      That’s the long way of saying, ‘Know when to stop’

  5. “My first memories of wrenching were mildly traumatic–my dad yelling instructions at me on how to synchronize an MG’s SU carbs while lounging in a lawn chair”

    Are we related? I think we had the same Dad!

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