Berlina Register Newsletter No. 9 (November 1999)

Notes and Comments

Here is the second 1999 issue of the Berlina newsletter. I've been very busy with work, family, and Alfa projects, so this newsletter is a bit late. My Giulia Super continues without change, though I have bought two 1750s for it (please don't ask why), one of which I will install next year. My GTV is in the paint shop now, and is stripped to bare metal. It should look nice when it's done in its original maroon. I recently bought a 1967 Fiat 850 Spider. This takes me back to my high school days, when I had a 1968 850 Coupe and 1968 850 Spider, and bought a 1973 850 Spider at a Fiat dealer lien sale, but the car was smashed by a house trailer dropped by a waterspout before I could retrieve it from the dealer.

I got an email from Alfa Stop in England the other day: "Alfa Stop, run by Tony Stevens in England, whilst specialising primarily in brake parts for the earlier models, also has brake parts for "our cars" (Berlinas, that is--ed.) and welcomes enquiries from any owner anywhere. Parts stocked include caliper & master cylinder kits, servos & kits, caliper pistons, road & competition hoses, and discs. Alfa Stop can be contacted by phone on 011 44 177 382 2000, fax 011 44 177 382 1900,, PO Box 50, Belper DE56 1AS, England."

The first piece below is a Berlina Personal History from Fred Zimmerman in Santa Barbara, California. The second piece I wrote for my local Alfa club newsletter that they never published. Always seeking Berlina anecdotes, histories, tech tips, or queries from Register members to publish. The Register now has 160 cars on it. The Berlina Register is run by Andrew Watry, 1284 Monterey Ave., Berkeley, CA 94707 USA. Phone (510) 526-0391. Email: Send me corrections to your register information, or any other Berlina-related facts, rumors, or needs. The website is at

Berlina Personal Histories

by Fred Zimmerman

I bought a runner (barely) from one of our club members who was moving and didn't have room. I was in the same boat, as far as room for another car, but she begged that I take the car, for the club, if nothing else. Several years ago, I bought a parts car and parked it in our driveway. During the stripping process (which lasted about 6 months or so) the shell became such an eyesore that one of our neighbors bought a car cover for it, so they wouldn't have to look at it, when they drove past our house. So, you can understand my reluctance in getting another Berlina. This one actually looks worse, complete, that the other one did stripped. So against my better judgment, we bought the old rusty brown devil for $1.00, complete with a hand scribbled Bill of Sale and everything and I drove the car some 20 miles home. Well it sat for almost a year (under a cover most of the time) until about 2 months ago. That's when I discovered that I had the wrong dipstick in my Berlina! It was not an original Alfa dipstick. It evidently was made by Kraft Foods or Best Foods, because it had mayonnaise all over the tip! Turns out it wasn't the head gasket, as you might think. It was electrolysis between the # 4 sleeve and the block. At the bottom, where the O-ring lives. So, I swapped engines. Kept the Webers and Euro cams in my car and put the unused parts in the old brown one. The FI pump was leaking gas into the oil, so it does have core value.

Next, I swapped the rear end, out of ole Brownie, with the rear end in the Duetto. When I first bought the Duetto, some 13 years ago, it had a whine in the rear end. Pinion gears that were not matched, I suspect. So, I just swapped them and the Duetto runs great and quiet now. So far, the one dollar investment, has been a pretty good one.

Well, old ugly Brownie is providing one more service. While there are plenty on dings, bangs, crushed fenders and all, it has good rocker panels ( my drivers side rocker is shot), doors (my drivers side rear door is rusted through) and rear passenger side metal under the rear bumper (mine is almost rusted through). After a royal ride with the AAA flat bed hauler, some 40 miles to Ventura, it now sits at our club and Berlina Register member, Jay Niederst's shop, Sports Imports of Ventura. Jay is a really good Alfa Technician and has painted several of his cars. Most recently, his wife's Berlina and it really turned out beautiful! As I followed the AAA truck to Ventura, with ole Brownie, faced backwards, sitting proud and greeting the overtaking traffic, I had to admit that it actually looked good, even with all of its faults. It bore its Italian tradition well and looked strong and sassy on its high perch ! So, this week, sometime, whenever Jay has time to remove the soon to be, cannibalized parts, I'll take our 69 Berlina, down to Jay's shop.

Tips on Selling an Alfa

by Andrew Watry

Many articles have been written about how to buy a car, giving useful advice on inspection, negotiation, and the like. But I haven't seen many articles on how to sell a car, and having recently sold two of my Alfas, I thought I'd list a few tips I learned. Most of this is common sense, but it's easy to forget. Most of my experience is in 60s and 70s Alfas, particularly Giulias, Berlinas, and GTVs, so some of this advice may be inapplicable to cars at the higher end of the scale such as mint condition 164s.

1. Get the car in shape before you advertise it. Before you even place the ad, make sure the car is in a condition to sell. If the car is a complete, running, usable car, make sure it's washed, waxed, cleaned out, and as presentable as possible. It's probably a good idea to deal with minor tuneup items that can be an annoyance or embarrassment, such as pitted points or fouled spark plugs, before the first buyer comes to look. You don't want to have to make a lot of excuses for little failings on the car.

Stand back and be objective about your car, which can be difficult. It may be helpful to ask a third party to give a frank assessment to you of your cart. The Berlina I just sold had a persistent backfire on deceleration, that I frankly hadn't noticed, because I was so used to it from years of owning the car. But the first two serious lookers both mentioned it. The Giulietta Sprint I just sold needed a new set of spark plugs, for easier starting; I should have changed them.

Project cars or cars with disclosed problems are the exception. If you are selling a car with an obvious blown head gasket, you probably don't want to go to the trouble of fixing it.

2. Write a comprehensible, truthful ad. Be straightforward and brief in your ad, mentioning at least the model, year, condition, and price. More information is helpful, but can get expensive in classified ads you have to pay for. On most older Alfas, there is no need to say "4-cylinder" or "5-speed," as that will be true for all cars. Saying "or best offer" or "price reduced" generally indicates to buyers that you really want to sell the car. Peter Egan had a good column on deciphering the language of auto classified ads in the May 1999 Road & Track.

3. Be realistic about the price. Setting a price is the hardest part of selling a car. Especially with unusual cars such as Alfas, it is hard to get a sense of what the market value, if any, of a particular model is, because there may be no other recent sales of comparable cars in the United States to compare to. Some people think an old Alfa has a high value just because it's old and because it's an Alfa, but that's not necessarily so. There are sources for figuring a price, including Hemming's Motor News ads, Alfa club newsletter ads, and local newspaper ads, but there are lots of variables in all this, plus these ads only tell you what people are asking, not what they are actually getting, for their cars. I first asked $4,000 for my Berlina, but ultimately sold it for $2,500 six months later; I first asked $5,000 for my Giulietta, but sold it for $2,950. The week my Berlina's ad was in the San Francisco Chronicle, there was a Duetto advertised for $22,000. I bet that seller probably didn't receive even one phone call at that price.

Unless you got real lucky (such as buying that former Trans Am GTA in 1974 for $1,500) or got your Alfa for free and didn't have to spend any money on it, you are probably not going to "make money" out of your Alfa. And basing the price of your car on "what you have in it" is probably a poor measure.

If you need to sell the car, your price expectation will diminish over time. If your price is too high or your car is in poor condition for its price, you are likely to become frustrated and emotional about the whole thing. And there often comes a point where you have some type of "watershed" experience with the car (especially a car in so-so condition) when you suddenly give up hope and just want to sell the damn thing for basically whatever you can get. The thing that alienated me enough from a 1979 Sport Sedan to get really serious about selling it was when someone tried, but failed, to steal the radio one night. I repaired the radio and the dash, but my emotional connection to the car had been severed, and after that I just wanted it out of there. As we all know, buying and selling cars is not a rational exercise.

I think there are some cars, especially old Alfas, that have no value at all (or a negative value), and cannot even be given away. I once looked at an Alfetta GT that had faded paint, rust, broken windows, ruined dash, ruined seats, expired license, and hadn't been driven in years. The car was advertised for a few hundred dollars, and it may have been worth that much to the right person as a parts car, but as a whole car, I think it had a negative value. It would have to be dragged out a backyard and towed home, couldn't easily be registered, and every system probably needed major repairs. The seller eventually offered it to me for free, but I didn't want it. Sadly, cars like this should probably be parted out or go to Alfa Parts Exchange.

Similarly, unloved Alfa models such as Berlinas, Alfettas, and late 70's Spiders may have a hard time moving out of your driveway and into someone else's. If there is no one who wants a particular model, there isn't going to be a buyer, no matter how low the price. And even for a desirable car, if the condition is too poor or the project too daunting, no one may want it, even for free. This was almost the case with my Giulietta, which was a complete driveable car, but needed exterior and interior work; nobody wanted to commit to that much of a project. And even for modern Alfas, the fact that there are no Alfa dealers in the US, and new Alfas are not sold here any longer, means the average car buyer is not going to take a chance on an orphan car. In my experience, Alfas are sold almost exclusively to Alfa nuts.

4. Be realistic and candid about the condition of the car. Nothing is more disappointing than showing up to look at a car and finding its condition not as described. Be candid; you'll be happier in the long run. Most faults will become apparent to a buyer, regardless of how you try to hide them, especially if the buyer has the car inspected by an Alfa mechanic. Granted, everyone has their own standard to measure a car's condition; what is "terminal rust" to you might be "surface rust" to me. Try to be objective and honest, and have a friend give you an opinion of your car.

There are some fine distinctions to be made here. A private party seller doesn't really have any obligation to disclose anything about a car, though affirmative fraud is illegal. The time-honored rule of caveat emptor prevails. At the same time, I personally feel some obligation to reveal significant problems that may not be obvious (especially if safety-related) like impending brake failure. And with oddball cars like Alfas, a lot of common perceived "problems" are going to fall into the "they all do that" category. More subjective problems, like old accident damage competently repaired, may be up to the buyer to discover. This is why buyers have pre-purchase inspections, though realistically, the seller knows a lot more about the car than a mechanic is going to discover in 45 minutes. How much you reveal in this area is a function of your moral predisposition.

5. Remain flexible and be patient about showing the car to prospective buyers. In my experience, you'll never know what to expect in advertising a car. People will call, commit to come see the car, and then you'll never hear from them again. People will call and schedule an appointment, then reschedule, then reschedule again. People will ask you to bring the car to their location, often hundreds of miles away. Stay cool and go with the flow. People who flake, or cannot be bothered to come to your house to look at the car, are not serious buyers. Those who are really interested will show up.

6. Know whether you're firm or flexible on price and terms. Have your price and negotiation strategy worked out ahead of time. If you are firm on your price, that probably means you don't particularly need to sell the car. That's fine, but be mindful of it. If you have a starting price, and a lower price below which you will not go, figure that all out ahead of time, so that if a buyer makes an offer, you don't have to decide on the spot what your position is. There are many negotiation techniques, none of which I'm good at, so I won't go into any of them.

7. Don't make informal commitments. Unless you're selling to a friend or family member whom you trust completely, don't commit to any deal without getting it in writing and getting some form of monetary commitment. Up-front money tells you the buyer is serious, and gives you some recourse if the buyer backs out. If someone wants to buy the car, but can't pay the full price in cash right then, I personally think it's best to get some significant amount of cash (maybe 10 percent) as a downpayment at that time, which holds the car til they show up with the rest of the money in an acceptable form (cash, money order, personal check, whatever). It may be worthwhile to make the downpayment nonrefundable, just to make sure they don't try to back out later. And on your side of it, once you've committed to a particular buyer and agreed to specific terms, it's not OK to back out of that deal and go with another if someone comes along later with a better offer. A contract is a contract.

Long distance deals, especially with people who have not seen the car in person, present the greatest risk. Photos, oral descriptions, and videos cannot adequately convey all there is to know about a car. I had a firm commitment for my Berlina from a guy in Portland. He had seen photos of the car and we had talked many times by phone about it, and I believe I had been candid about its strengths and weaknesses. We agreed on a price, and he flew down the next week to pick up the car. Once he saw the car, he didn't like it and backed out. He didn't have a specific objection, just a general dissatisfaction that the car was not as nice as he expected. So he went home. It was certainly his right to feel that way, but we had already agreed that he was going to buy the car for a fixed price. Not having gotten some kind of financial commitment out of him ahead of time, there was nothing I could do; I couldn't make him take the car and give me my money. In the time between our agreement and when he picked up the car, I had turned away two other buyers, who bought other cars in the interim. I realized that this arrangement was a bad idea, and I won't do it again. I probably won't sell an Alfa other than to a local buyer again.

8. There is a buyer for every car. As in Item 5 above, it's important to remain patient while selling a specialty car. You may have any number of lookers, but you need only one buyer. My wife thinks I'm too impatient in these things, and thinks that if you set the right price and just wait, eventually you'll find that one buyer who is looking for your car. And experience has proven her pretty much to be right. I had 25 phone calls for my project Giulietta, and about 10 people actually looked at the car. Of those 10, not one in the first two weeks of looking made even an insultingly low offer; none wanted the car at any price. But out of the blue, someone I had talked to months before found that the similar project Sprint he'd previously bought was too rusty to restore, and we worked out a deal in a matter of hours. Anything can happen.

Berlina Classified Ads

1750 dash, excellent condition, no cracks or blemishes $150/BO; NOS outer right rocker panel pn $60/BO; Two NOS front wheel well inner liners for rear $40/BO. Also gauges, lights, script, bumper, etc. reasonably priced. Prices are US. Corey Abbinett, Burnaby, BC, Canada (604) 299-0129

Various Berlina pieces for sale: perfect 2000 front bumper with turn signals, 2000 center grill, door handles, big gas tank, lights, others (510) 526-0391;

Antonio Rubio has a like-new 1968 1750 Berlina for sale in Madrid, Spain for 2350 Pounds Sterling. Contact him at