Building a business around Alfa lustFri, 23 Jul 2010
In a low-key industrial complex just north of Detroit sits a trove of 1960s and '70s Alfa Romeos. To describe it as a “treasure” trove doesn't quiet fit, because in the words of owner Richard Davisson, the Italian icons are “everything from pathetic to just about done.”
Several of the dozen or so cars are gorgeous. Most are interesting. A few probably will never run again, and to call them parts cars is probably a bit generous. They form the foundation of a small but potentially growing business of Alfa Romeo restorations born out of the owner's need to diversify his day job--running a rubber car-parts company--and his love for all things Alfa.
The operation has a working title of Bradco Restorations (named for the owner's son), and the crew numbers five or more, depending on the project. They want to deliver a car every other month and perhaps do six restorations this year.
The first one, a 1969 Alfa Spider “Duetto,” is newer but almost identical to the drop-top Dustin Hoffman famously drove in The Graduate. It will be delivered to an Atlanta customer in early August. From there, Davisson said he hopes his business will expand amid the renewed interest in Alfa and prospects of its return to the United States in the near future.
The spider may be the singular Alfa icon in the collective minds of many Americans, but Davission's favorites are the race-bred GTVs, or Veloces. Just legal enough to drive on the road--and in competition on the circuits of Europe--these boxy racers with rounded fenders had considerable success. “These were the race cars,” Davisson says. “These were the ones the factory really concentrated on.”
Davisson's collection forms the foundation for his business in Alfa Romeo restoration.
His collection is impressive and includes two 1969 GTVs, a '71 Berlina, a '73 GTV racer, a '76 Spider, a '80 Spider and another '73 GTV used as a test mule for parts and fits.
Still, the spotlight car so far remains the '69 Spider. When we visited, it was nearly complete and a decent driver during our short stint around suburban Detroit. The chassis and steering were tight, and the 165-hp output was more than ample for the lithe 2,200-pound weight.
“You get in it, it feels like 1969,” Davisson says.
The goateed, 55-year-old Detroit native caught the Alfa bug at a young age. He's owned them, driven them and now hopes to make money off them. His restoration shop is definitely a working business. When we visited it on a sweltering July afternoon, work was under way on a number of projects, with a car body on a hoist, an engine off to the side and parts throughout. The shop's process to bring an Alfa back to life is quiet thorough, Davission explains. The engine, transmission and suspension are all rebuilt, and the body--at least on his one creation for delivery--shines. “Everything is touched,” he says.
If all of his projects come out like the first one, Davisson's business should be in good shape. And for Alfisti in the Motor City, that should be fun.
Greg Migliore on a Alfa Romeo Tour
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By Greg Migliore