My good friend Enzo (“EC” to his buddies) bought his first collector car, a 1991 Alfa Romeo spider, last autumn. This was not Enzo’s first Italian car, as he had Fiats as daily drivers, albeit 30 years ago. But upon retirement, he decided to treat himself, and found this pristine low mileage beauty locally. Like any other 25-year-old vehicle, it needed attention to some small details, but EC has been fastidious about staying on top of needed repairs.
When I had had the chance to go over the car with him late last year, we found that one of the tie rod end boots was torn. It didn’t require immediate replacement, but over the winter he ordered parts, then invited me to his home for a day to be spent swapping out tie rod ends.
Upon arriving one day last week, I saw that he had ordered ALL SIX tie rod ends. I was under the now-mistaken impression that we were replacing only the two outer. (All 4-cylinder Alfas on the 750-, 101-, and 105 platforms use recirculating ball steering, with a center link and two tie rods. Each rod has two ball joints, one with right-hand thread, and one with left-hand thread, to allow for toe adjustment.)
We got to work. First order of business was to pull out the cotter pins, but these pins were so thin and rusted that half of them broke before we could retract them. We ended up forcing the socket over the castle nuts and using an impact wrench to remove all six nuts.
A trick I had remembered from doing the same repair on my Alfa was to rotate the steering wheel to bring the center nuts to an exposed position from within the engine compartment. Then, using a long extension, we could gun the nuts loose from up top, which was much easier than trying it while on our backs.
Next came out the pickle fork. Persuasion from a two-pound hammer was all it took to get the links to drop.
With the three links off the car, we counted threads AND measured overall length, as our best attempt to reassemble the car without changing the alignment too much. We matched up old and new parts (with EC marking part numbers on each component using a Sharpie), and had all six tie rod ends installed into their respective links within minutes.
This may have been the point when we took a lunch break. Prosciutto, Parmesan, salami, olives, and wine (!) were on the menu. Lunch concluded with a nice cup of coffee (to wake me up after the wine), and we were back to the garage.
The new parts, bought from Classic Alfa in the UK (the author’s favorite Alfa parts supplier) used castle nuts and cotter pins for the four outer ends, and locking nuts for the two inner. We did not have the correct-sized cotter pins on hand, so the ever-resourceful EC made his own from coat hanger wire. The temporary pins will be replaced with authentic pins once he gets to the store.
Much to my surprise and satisfaction, all six nuts tightened right up without giving us any trouble. I had concerns that the ball joints might spin and prevent us from reaching the proper torque, but that didn’t happen. With everything buttoned up, Enzo took the car for a test drive, and came back to report that the only issue was a steering wheel which was slightly off center. The car will need an alignment after this work anyway.
At the rate my friend EC is moving, there is very little else that needs attention on this gorgeous drop-top. It’s running great, and he’s got the summer to enjoy it! I know that we’ll see him and his Alfa out with us on our weekend jaunts.
All photographs copyright © 2016 Richard A. Reina. Photos may not be copied or reproduced without express written permission.