Berlina Register Newsletter No. 7 (November 1998)

Notes and Comments

My Giulia Super continues to chug along, with a rebuilt dashboard, and soon to have a new headliner, window and door seals, and carpets. My Berlina chugs along too, though I'm not using it as much, as I am mostly driving the Super. The Berlina is for sale; see ad section. I will continue to run the Register even after the Berlina goes. My parts Berlina finally was carted away, and has already been cut up to provide a front clip for a Register member's car that got crunched. I recently bought, on a whim, a 1959 Giulietta Sprint while in Los Angeles. It's cosmetically so-so, but mechanically solid and complete. With a stock 750 series 1300 Normale motor, it's not fast, but it may be the most enjoyable Alfa I've ever driven.

In this issue there is a technical piece I wrote on a few problems related to Spica fuel systems. I apologize for boring the owners of carbureted cars, but some of the information might be of value to them too. Also I reprint an article by Dana Loomis from the St. Louis Alfa Romeo Club on tires for Berlinas and other old Alfas. Thanks to the club for the permission to use it. In other news, the Berlina Register webpage is now at

Robin Bell of New Zealand reports that E.B. Spares (The Italian Connection) at 31 Link Road, Westbury Trading Estate, Westbury, Wiltshire BA13 2JB England; phone (01373) 823856; fax (01373) 858327 appears to be a good source of hard-to-find parts for older Alfas. They regularly advertise in the Thoroughbred and Classic Cars and Classic and Sports Cars (British classic car magazines) and list all kinds of interesting stuff.

Howard Stein sent me an ad from Lilliput Motor Company for a 1:23 scale cast metal Berlina by Togi, for $169.50. Quantity is described as "very limited." They also have a Giulietta Sprint Speciale and other Alfas. Lulliput can be reached at (800) 846-8697.

The keeper of the Berlina Register is Andrew Watry, 1284 Monterey Ave., Berkeley, CA 94707 USA. Phone (510) 526-0391. Email: Send me any corrections or additions to your register information, or any other Berlina-related facts, rumors, tips, or needs. Free Berlinas and parts gladly accepted.

Fuel System Issues

I've had a number of things come up about fuel systems lately, and thought I'd do a general article on fuel system problems.

For US-market (and other Spica-injected) cars, fuel filters are an important part of the fuel system. The Spica fuel system is circular; that is, a large amount of fuel is sent by the fuel pump to the injection pump, and whatever excess fuel is not used immediately is sent back to the fuel tank, to be repumped again. The system is designed this way to ensure there is always sufficient fuel at the injection pump, and to cool the fuel. With all this fuel moving around and around, filters are important. There are two filters per car, a rear ("tank") filter between the fuel tank and the fuel pump, and a large canister filter in the engine compartment near the starter. The tank filter is a disposable steel canister, and should be changed every 12,000 miles. Original Alfa filters were difficult to obtain for awhile, but seem to be available again. They are, however, expensive, compared to plastic in-line filters. I understand that they have far more filtering surface area, and will flow a much higher volume of fuel than other filters, so using an aftermarket type is not recommended. Some people seem to have good luck with alternative filters, but I plan to stick with the Alfa type.

Related to the long interval between filter changes, I have seen the tank filters silt up with crud when the system was let run dry. I had this happen on my Alfetta, which ran fine until I replaced all the rear fuel lines. Then on restarting, the engine stumbled a lot, and the low fuel pressure light stayed lit. It turned out (I guess) that when the filter (very old) was full of fuel, the dirt inside remained suspended, but when I removed the fuel lines and drained all the fuel, the filter dried out and the dirt caked onto the filter element, blocking most of the fuel flow through the filter. I replaced the filter and all was well. So if your fuel pressure light stays lit, and you either have a very old tank filter or have recently messed with it or its hoses, you may need to install a new filter.

Also, there was a batch of tank filters in 1996 or so that leaked at the crimped seam because they were made wrong; if you have a leak at your rear filter, this could be the solution.

The front filter has a disposable paper element in a canister bolted to the engine compartment wall near the starter. These elements should be replaced every 6,000 miles. Rather than trying to replace the element with the canister bolted in the car, it's usually easier to remove the four fuel hoses and pressure-switch wire and unbolt the whole canister, cleaning it and changing the filter on the bench. Make sure to disconnect the battery before working in this area, because hot starter wires are nearby, and you will certainly spill gasoline in the process. I've had small leaks from the front canister that were tough to solve. The leaks have mostly come from the through-bolt that holds the canister together. Whether I used old or new, soft or hard, big or small sealing washers, snugged down tight or loose, I still had leaks. I'm not sure what the cause was, but Roger's Autoworks finally applied the correct torque to the bolt, and the leak stopped. The washers on the banjo fitting for the return line can also leak, as can the fuel light pressure switch, and I suppose the large rubber O-ring gasket that seals the canister, though I personally haven't seen a leak there on my cars.

Related to all these fuel leaks are leaky hoses. This discussion applies mostly to cars in California, where we have oxygenated RFG (reformulated gasoline) with unusual additives in it (MTBE currently, though that may be phased out). I don't know if other states or countries have similar fuel. But anectodally, RFG seems to attack certain kinds of rubber and plastic much quicker than other types of fuel. I've had several fuel hoses on my Spica cars (and my VW van) begin to leak very soon after they were new, which I can only attribute to the new fuel. And European-type braided hose seems more susceptible to this destruction than standard fuel US hose, for reasons I don't understand. But as an example, a couple months ago I noticed that the fuel hose on my Berlina between the tank and the tank filter, which was not more than six months old, was dripping. The hose was totally saturated; fuel was coming right through the material and not leaking from a poor connection or loose hose clamps. So I now use standard US hose, available at any auto parts store. 7/16" hose seems to match pretty well the metric size for the rear hoses. BMW now makes RFG-compatible hose in various metric sizes that are sure to fit Alfas, but it costs about $10 per foot.

There is a lot of talk about whether fuel additives are needed for Spica cars to (1) cushion the valve seats in the absence of leaded fuel, and (2) lubricate the injection pump in the absence of leaded fuel. As to valve seats, the machinists at Norman Racing Group in Berkeley, California, who build lots of Alfa, Lotus, Ferrari, Norton, etc., heads, tell me that have seen no evidence of valve seat damage due to unleaded gasoline. And unleaded has been the standard now in California for many years. So you probably don't need to worry about your valve seats.

As to the Spica pump, this is less certain. Truck companies report increased injection pump wear on their diesel trucks with the reformulated diesel fuel that is now being sold in California. Whether that fuel is similar to RFG I cannot say. But the Spica pump is essentially a diesel injection pump, so there might be cause for concern. The Spica experts seem divided. Some say the pump will do just fine on unleaded and RFG, others say the RFG and unleaded have less "lubricating" qualities, and that this can lead to scoring in the bores of the pump where the plungers move up and down. There is no seal in this area to keep the gasoline (above) and lubricating oil (below) apart; the very close tolerances in the pump are the only seal. So wear of these plunger bores can be serious. Again, this is all anecdotal, and you will probably want to believe the particular guru that you consult. Wes Ingram of Seattle is the most respected Spica rebuilder and tuner, but there are others, and I mostly swear by what Tom Sahines of Milpitas, Californa says. He doesn't rebuild pumps himself (he sends his to Wes), but he builds engines, and knows carburetor and injection systems inside out. His view is that the Spica pumps seem to be holding up fine with the various oddball types of gasoline available now. For those who are nonetheless nervous, Marvel Mystery Oil, added to the gasoline, supposedly provides some additional lubrication to the pump (and protection to the valve seats). It's cheap insurance.

Also, don't forget to change the injection pump oil filter every 6,000 miles (every other oil change), now that these filters are available again. This is an item that gets easily forgotten.

Advice on Tires to Fit Your Berlina

Reprinted from i Saluti, St. Louis Alfa Romeo Club (January 1997)

Tires for Older Alfas

by Dana Loomis

The definition of good handling is subjective and personal, so one person's preferences are as good as another's. But it's important to recognize that there is a spectrum of opinion, and not everyone accepts the "bigger is better" approach to tires for Alfas. Also, there are a couple of technical problems with fitting large tires that should be pointed out.

In the 70s, the stock tires for 105/115 series Alfas were 165/80-14s. I made a long search for tires in this size and learned that they are essentially unavailable in the US now. Coker tire in Tennessee has Michelin XZXs in the proper size for about $100, and has been saying for six months that they will eventually have XAS, too. I like the way the GTV handled with the XASs, which were a factory tire for it, but did not wait to wait for them or pay the price Coker is asking ($155 each).

Nowadays, 185/70-14 seems to have become the new default size for original equipment-type tires for 105/115 Alfas. I believe this was also the size originally fitted to later spiders at the factory. The overall diameter is the same as stock, and they fit on the standard 5.5"-wide wheels of earlier cars, as well as on the 6" wheels of late spiders. Quite a few manufacturers make tires in this size, so there are a number of choices and price options. However, they tend to be garden-variety passenger car stuff. Performance tires have moved on to lower aspect ratios.

The next larger tire that preserves the stock rolling diameter is 195/65-14. These will still fit on 5.5" or 6" wheels without problems. Unfortunately, there aren't many choices in this size. I'm using 195/65-14 Yokohama AVS intermediates on my GTV. They are wider than I had wanted initially, but they are excellent tires, and I have not seen any adverse effects of the 30mm of added width relative to stock. Dunlop D60 A2s are also available in the 195/65-14 size.

Some people have resorted to 195/60-14, a size which offers many more choices in performance tires. One tire that gives excellent performance for the money is the Yokohama A509. However, be aware that this size does reduce rolling diameter substantially, which will throw off the speedometer and odometer, and change ride height. It also changes appearance, if that's important. Going up to 205/60-14 the diameter is about 3/4" less than stock, and on an unmodified street car with 5.5" wheels, sidewall flex and clearance are real concerns (spacers are required behind the rear wheels for clearance with the bodywork). Personally, I would not use such a wide tire on a stock, street-driven spider.

In a street car, the usual approach is to preserve the original diameter of the tire/wheel combination so the gear ratios and ride height are maintained and the speedometer remains accurate.

With 195/70-14 tires the overall diameter would be about 0.50" larger than stock, with 195/60-14s, it would be about 0.75" less, and with 195/50-15s 1.2" less.

Fitting a tire that increases overall diameter effectively makes the final drive ratio longer, while reducing the diameter makes the ratio shorter. A sequence of tires sizes that more or less preserves the original diameter is:

185/70-14, 195/65-14, 205/55-15

These are the only sizes I would consider, unless I had well defined reasons that dictated doing something else.

Perhaps by modern standards, the tires originally fitted to the 60s and 70s cars were too small. But by the standards in effect when these cars were built, something close to the original tire size would provide the "correct" handling. Evolving technology has changed not only the behavior of cars at speed and the techniques used to drive them (when was the last time you saw a four-wheel drift in an F1 race?), but also our perceptions of what is good. Big, sticky tires that stay planted to the road may be faster on the track, but on the street, less capable tires that run at greater slip angles can give a lot of fun at much lower speeds. If you want a classic driving experience to go with your classic Alfa, the original size tires are the ones to use.

Berlina Classified Ads

1969 1750 Berlina for sale. Metallic olive with tan interior. Very original, complete, and great driver. All needed mechanical work done, interior excellent, very minor rust. $3150 or open to offers. Andrew Watry (510) 526-0391

Wanted: 1750 or (pre-large bumper) 2000 Berlina. Excellent condition. I'll travel in the US for the right car. Email at or call 804-979-5289

1973 2000 Berlina for sale. White with black interior. Great condition, two owners from new. No cracks in dash. Recent SPICA injection pump and fuel pump replacement. Everything works. $3500. Michael Williams (916) 452-3399; email: Webpage:

Alfa Romeo literature and memorabilia, some specific to Berlinas, collected over 25-year association with Alfa Romeo and ARI. Send self-addressed two-stamp envelope for list. Bob Little, P.O. Box 332, Scarborough, NY 10510; email