Alex Payne’s Alfa Romeo Spider is one of the very first right-hand-drive examples to be sold in the UK, registered in October 1996 – Payne thinks it’s either number six or seven.
A keen Alfista, he quickly points out the launch colour, Proteo Red, the special-order, colour-coded sill panels and the fact that it’s a Lusso – meaning standard air-conditioning and Momo leather.
“My wife purchased the car for my 60th birthday in November 2012, from its original owner,” says Payne.
The poly-elliptic headlights appear to have been punched into the Alfa Romeo’s clamshell bonnet
“It was a company car from 1996 to 2000 and accumulated 80,000 miles over that period.”
It’s done more than 140,000 now, but thanks to a pampered life as a company car and a healthy mixture of servicing and use by Payne, it hardly wears a tenth of them: “We’ve enjoyed the car over the years, and it has been to many shows and events.
“The highlight for us was taking part in the Dutch Alfa club’s Coppa Spettacolo Sportivo in 2016 – a fantastic week of driving with fellow Alfisti that culminated in a few laps around the legendary Zandvoort track.
“We have also been fortunate to drive around Silverstone and up Prescott hillclimb.”
The Alfa Romeo Spider (front) and Fiat Barchetta are best enjoyed with the soft-tops folded away
Appropriately dainty for a car that is just as titchy on the inside as without, the Barchetta’s doorhandles are a vintage delight and open with a satisfying, positive click.
It’s not uncomfortably cramped, though – the seats hug you in just the right way, and the controls are harmonious enough to forgive the usual Italian short-leg, long-arm driving position.
Immediately it feels peppy and eager to tear up the road, its supple suspension and light controls offering nothing but playful encouragement.
On the road, the Alfa’s long-throw gearbox disappoints next to the Fiat’s slick shift
You can quickly forget about driving it quickly, such is the basic charm of watching the countryside blur over its curved bonnet and away from its relatively wide haunches in the rear-view mirror, but the rich tone of this car’s stainless-steel exhaust has to be explored.
The sweetness of its controls continues at higher speeds and there are hints of the Barchetta’s short wheelbase pivoting around corners.
Body roll is noticeable, but the soft springs and an impressively taut structure see it over rough Tarmac, even vicious potholes, without upsetting the fluidity with which the little Fiat zips along the road.
The dramatic lines on the Pininfarina-styled Alfa Romeo Spider are certainly attention-grabbing
The Alfa Romeo is much more car than the Barchetta: bigger doors, larger interior, wider windscreen, and a sense that there’s more going on behind its controls than in the Fiat.
It rides more firmly, in part as a result of having to control its extra weight, and the engine has considerably more inertia in response to a blip of the throttle.
But a downchange into second and a foot into the carpet reveals a tantalising bark behind the smoothness of this balanced 2-litre ‘four’.
The Fiat Barchetta’s (right) 'smiley' face contrasts with the Alfa Romeo Spider’s dramatic wedge shape