My Secret Visit to a Shuttered Alfa Romeo Dealership

The “Alfa Bulletin Board” website at www.alfabb.com is a treasure trove of all things Alfa Romeo. I have frequented and contributed to the board in the past, and I’ve also gone months without checking in; such is life.

In January of 2017, having not visited the site in months, I was perusing the website’s classifieds. There was a post regarding an auction that had been held in November of 2016. Obviously, it was over, but I read in fascination about a former Alfa dealer in southern Jersey who liquidated his large collection of cars and parts. With deep regret that I had missed the auction, this was also my opportunity to reveal a secret I had kept for over a year.

http://www.alfabb.com/bb/forums/alfa-romeo-cars-sale-wanted/541033-alfa-romeo-auction-new-jersey.html

It was the summer of 2015 when my good friend EC informed me that he had been given “permission” to visit a stash of Alfas. At that time, EC was on the hunt for an Alfa Romeo of his own, and he believed that he might find the car of his dreams at this location. He invited me along to help with the evaluation, on the strict condition that I tell NO ONE.

EC picked me up at my home, and did the driving to Vineland, a one-way trip of almost two hours. The lengthy ride gave him the chance to fill me in on the backstory.

Decades ago, through a job connection, EC had befriended someone who worked for Alfa’s corporate headquarters. He remained in contact with this person all these years, which led him to obtain the phone number for Peter D’Amico. Peter was the dealer principal of the Alfa Romeo dealership in Vineland NJ. In the early 1990s, Alfa pulled out of the U.S. market. There may have been no more new Alfas to sell, but Peter continued the business as an independent parts and service center.

EC had learned that Peter might be willing to sell one (or more) of his Alfas. We knew nothing of years, models, or most importantly, condition. It had also been indicated to EC that Peter was rather secretive about his possessions, and allowed few people into the building. At this point, the best news was that Peter was expecting us, and that we could at least have a conversation.

We arrived at the expected time, and Peter came out to greet us. Looking younger and more spry than I was expecting, I was also struck by something EC has warned me about: Peter was beginning to have health issues, specifically mental health, as in, possible early dementia. The situation was made even sadder because Peter was aware of his own condition. Yet he was chatty and gracious, and granted us immediate entry into the building.

 

Our host for the day, Peter D'Amico
Our host for the day, Peter D’Amico

It may sound like a cliché, but walking into this former dealership was like going through the time tunnel. THIS is what many car dealerships looked like in the 1960s and ‘70s: service bays in the front, taking up almost all the forward real estate, with a dark wood-paneled room off to the corner serving as a one- or two-car showroom. There was one desk, piled so high with catalogs, manuals, and other paper that it appeared ready to collapse. Behind this afterthought of a new car display area was a combination kitchen and special tool/service literature storage area.

The view of the main portion of the service area
The view of the main portion of the service area

Entering the main part of the service department required navigating a short flight of stairs. The bays, arranged side-by- side, were jammed full. Cars were parked in front of each other. Off to one side, on the floor, were dozens of Alfa engines and transmissions.

 

Engines and trannys by the dozens took up floor space
Engines and transmissions by the dozens took up floor space

From here, we headed down a full flight of stairs into the basement, which was the parts department. Shelves were crammed full of boxes and bags in the familiar orange and black Alfa colors. But nothing was organized. It was anybody’s guess onto which Alfas these new parts would fit. Even if you could figure that out, there was a good chance the parts were, as the euphemism goes, “shelf worn”.

 

A sample of the wares in the basement parts department
A sample of the wares in the basement parts department

Back upstairs, we entered the rear part of the building. The ceiling had a hole in it large enough for an eagle, much less birds of smaller wingspans. More cars and parts were strewn everywhere, including a row of Spider convertible hardtops. A brand-new Alfa Romeo dealer neon sign was still secured in its wooden crate.

EC negotiates for a hardtop for the Spider he doesn't own yet
EC negotiates for a hardtop for the Spider he doesn’t own yet

 

Brand new dealer sign still in its crate
Brand new dealer sign still in its crate

As we followed Peter on this tour, he walked and talked almost non-stop. If he stopped, it would be to write something down, so that, as he explained to us, he could remember by referring to his notes. (One of the first things he wrote down was our names and phone numbers.) He never let go of the clutch of paperwork in his hands. As EC and I attempted to engage him, we found dialogue difficult. Questions would simply be unanswered, or the answer did not make sense.

We left the main building and followed Peter to a second building about a half block away. This storage area, he said, was where he kept the better cars. In here was a silver Alfa Spider Quadrifoglio, mid-1980s, which EC found attractive. It was dusty, and had not moved in a while, but appeared otherwise whole. We pored over the car, all the while peppering Peter with questions about it. When EC tried to get Peter to indicate some kind of asking price, the question was never answered. We both were getting more and more frustrated.

 

The Alfa Spider, keeping company with a Lancia Scorpion and Fiat 124 Spider
The Alfa Spider, keeping company with a Lancia Scorpion and Fiat 124 Spider

Finally, it was time to go. We had seen everything there was to see. We gave profuse thanks to our host, and wished him all the best. EC and I stopped for lunch in town. We couldn’t stop talking about what we had just seen. Unsure of what to make of it all, our biggest wonder (worry?) was what would eventually happen to the building, its contents, and to Peter.

As the weeks and months went by, EC tried several times to follow up with Peter on the phone. He did speak to him, but again, there was no headway regarding a price for the silver Spider. Eventually, EC realized that this was not going to happen, and ended up buying a nice Alfa Spider elsewhere.

We don’t know what motivated Peter to auction off all the goods. Perhaps it was a family decision. Maybe, during a moment of clarity, he concluded that it was in everyone’s best interest to let it go. I hope some of the nicer cars found good homes. I’m glad I got to see all of it while it was there.

 

EC wonders if this is his future Spider
EC wonders if this is his future Spider

 

These must be worth something to someone
These must be worth something to someone

 

Another view of the service area
Another view of the service area

 

 

The scene out back was most heartbreaking, as cars were exposed to the elements
The scene out back was most heartbreaking, as cars were exposed to the elements

 

All photographs copyright © 2017 Richard A. Reina. Photos may not be copied or reproduced without express written permission.

 

32 thoughts on “My Secret Visit to a Shuttered Alfa Romeo Dealership

  1. Ciao Doc. Reina, As usually great story and read. BTW, the guy who owned the dealership could be Enzo’s brother, almost twin. I did a double take. And wow, you put this on Facebook and LinkedIn, I guess you are really going public!

    So, a couple of questions; 1. How long ago was this? 2. How is this guy? Is he still around?

    Ciao baby,

    Giovanni

    Sent from my iPad

    >

    Like

    • Hi John, thanks for the comments. EC and I were there in September of 2015. The auction to sell off all the goods was in November of 2016. We just learned of the auction a few weeks ago. From what I’ve read, Peter, the owner, sold everything.
      Richard

      Like

  2. Hi, OMAHM, thanks for the comment! Yes, it was like a barn find, or, like I said in the story, like entering a time machine. I tried to buy the dealer sign while I was there, but Peter would not hear of it.

    BTW, you are really going to like the post I will be putting up this coming weekend. Stay tuned!

    Richard

    Like

  3. Hi Richard, Really cool. Still “playing ” with my GTV6 here in Sweden. Just bought a spare V6 engine for it. Always something to do 🙂 Take care, Brian.

    Like

    • Hi Brian, long time no see, but really great to hear from you. Where are you these days, back in Sweden? I would gather so from your email address. Glad to hear you’re still playing with Alfas. Keep in touch!
      Best regards,
      Richard

      Like

  4. I worked for Peter back in the late 80’s and early 90’s

    He was a wonderful guy, but frustrating to deal with- he had a VERY SHORT attention span (apparently he still does), and wouldn’t sell anything- hard to believe he was a car dealer!

    The shop was a disorganized mess, and was difficult to work in- that’s why I ultimately left.

    The mess became too much for my patience

    I’d REALLY be surprised if he sold anything- he was a pack rat!!

    Like

    • Hi Tom,
      Thanks much for your comments. It’s pretty neat to hear from someone who worked for Peter. I shouldn’t be surprised to learn that the place was a mess 25 years ago!
      He did eventually sell, but it took a push from his family (we think) plus an auction house to come in and clear out the piles of stuff.
      Thanks again,
      Richard

      Like

  5. Yeah, that’s the dichotomy of Peter.

    He’s a great guy (REALLY!), and has a big heart.

    He lives and breathes Alfa, and it would kill him to part with one of his babies!

    I wouldn’t be surprised if those 164 models out front were new, untitled and never sold.

    Many people would stop by looking to purchase, but would leave totally frustrated.

    We serviced far more vehicles than we ever sold.

    I know he carried on the service business as “Fast Company” after Alfa pulled the plug.

    I hope Peter at least got a decent cash return for his babies, because it had to be tough for him to watch!

    Like

    • Hi again Tom,
      Believe me, we were so frustrated to learn of the auction AFTER it had occurred. All I know about the sale is what I read on the Alfa BB (link in article). I would presume that he got some good prices for at least some of his cars. And I did hear that he was on the premises during the auction.
      Thanks again,
      Richard

      Like

  6. It’s surprising the auction wasn’t better advertised- there were some true “barn finds” in his collection.

    I know there’s a guy in Pottstown, PA that has a huge (200+) collection of Italian cars (running) in his garage -Alfa, Fiat, Maserati, Bertone, etc- wonder if he was there ??

    You wonder how many people over the years were looking for parts for an Alfa, especially when Peter had brand new parts-still in plastic- rotting away on the shelves in his basement.

    Did he sell the shop/real estate as well ??

    Like

  7. Hi Tom,
    Looking back at the link that was from the Alfa BB, the auction included “real estate”, including the garage and “4 rental homes”. So it appears that everything was sold.
    Richard

    Like

  8. Me and my brother worked for Peter in 95 i remember whole place some of those car’s been there since it was old then I remembered sign in crate was old then and there thanks for pics I always wondered why so many car’s sitting around all them car’s out back ran he was a real nice guy new his car’s

    Like

    • Hi Ted, thanks for your comment. Peter’s a good guy; I only wish I had known about the auction before it occurred. Please check out my blog for the reports about this year’s Alfa Owners Club meet which was held in Montreal.
      Regards, Richard

      Like

  9. Hello Richard,
    I was one of Peter’s many customers. One of the 164s out front was mine (the red one).
    Please email me when you have time.

    Like

    • Hi there,
      Thanks for following my blog. Interesting that you found this. I didn’t really know Peter; met him only once, the one time I visited his place. Are you a member of AROC, and if so, are you also a member of the NJ chapter? Would be fun to catch up at a club meeting.
      Regards, Richard

      Like

  10. I purchased many parts from Peter in the mid 1990’s. I was young and did all the work myself. Peter was always difficult and frustrating to deal with. However when I was looking to go back to college and a bit cash strapped I told him I wanted to sell my Alfa. He asked me how much and he purchased it sight unseen, no haggling. He literally gave me a check at Fast Company and told me someone would be over to pick up the car. I really to this day feel he knew he was helping me and didn’t really care about the car….. Overall I agree, I think he had a good heart….. Hope he is doing ok…..

    Like

    • Hi Barry, thanks for reading the blog, and thanks for your comments. I’ve had no dealings with Peter since meeting him, so I don’t have an update on him for you. I know that his heart was really into the Alfa brand.
      Best regards,
      Richard

      Like

  11. The 1992 Black 164L was mine. I am devastated. My favorite car auctioned off without my knowledge that I own and have title. My husband and I lost a LOT of money with Peter, a wheeler, dealer, stealer.

    Like

  12. Hi, i have a few questions about this article !!!
    I have one of those cars…..without title and I’m trying to fill in some story gaps.
    Paul
    908.319.1322

    Like

  13. Thanks for the article. I can smell that sweet oily garage smell when I look at these photos. Great memories of that place.

    I bought my second Spider, a 1986 champagne Spider Veloce, from Peter in 1993 (1st was a 1976). I asked him if it came with any warranty. He said it came with a “pavement warranty”. As soon as I got it onto the pavement, the warranty was over! My friend still laughs about that to this day.

    I brought that same car back to him to fix when the head gasket failed months later. He joked with me once that head gaskets are how they stayed in business. While he was in there, I had him put in high performance cams and a header. He also did a 3-angle valve job on the head. He was so proud of that motor and it did run great.

    Unfortunately the car got totaled in SC on my way back from Florida the next spring (hit from the rear). I came into his shop when I got home with bandages still on my face. His mouth dropped when I told him what happened and he said “First of all, are you ok?” I said yes. Next he says “Where’s the car??” Peter wanted that engine back to put in whatever Spider he could. He bought the wreck and had it shipped back to NJ. I never owned another Alfa and I always wondered what happened to that engine.

    Peter used to talk to me about his ambitions to create a tube-frame Alfa spider that he would sell at his shop. He planned to use a V6 in it if I remember right or possibly a modified 2.0 like mine. I assume it never happened.

    As much as I hated spending money at his store, I used to enjoy talking to Peter. We would have conversations about things Alfa and personal. He used to love riding his bicycle long distances and would tell me how I needed to start exercising more before I get older and other life advice. He may have been running a business but it was also a passion and seemed like his social center.

    The last time I saw Peter was years ago when he was driving either an Alfa 146 or 156 diesel around Vineland. He told me he got some type of license to drive it under the guise of a manufacturer’s testing permit since he wanted to possibly build and sell a hybrid or something based on it. Always so ambitious.

    I always hoped to catch up with Peter someday when I got back to Vineland. I wish him and his family all the best.

    Like

    • Hi John,
      Wow! What a thoughtful, well-worded response to this blog post. I truly enjoyed reading about your escapades with Peter, a man I met only once in my life. It certainly sounds like he was a needed lifeline to Alfa owners whose cars required attention.

      You mentioned his idea of building a “tube frame Alfa spider” which never came to pass. I saw it! It was in his shop the day we visited, and unfortunately, I did not take photographs of it. But when prompted, Peter spoke very excitedly and vividly about his dream to do just what you stated.

      Every time I reread my own post, or when someone like yourself chimes in with personal recollections, I’m disappointed all over again to be reminded that EVERYTHING in his shop was sold at auction, and we missed it.

      Thank you again, John, for sharing your reminiscences with us.

      Best, Richard

      Like

      • Richard, thanks I appreciate that. I really enjoyed his company and his enthusiasm was infectious!

        I’m so glad he completed that car. Do you know what engine it had in it? Any other details?

        One more memory I forgot to capture in there was that Peter had a medium-sized fish tank in his office with a large fish that he said was part oscar and part pirahna. One day I was in his office and he told me he had to feed his fish. Peter was eating leftover pasta with chicken himself. He spoon-fed both pasta and chicken to the fish like a baby! It was the craziest thing I’d ever seen!

        Yes, the cars were interesting and amazing, but the man deserves his own recognition.

        Like

  14. HI again John,

    My memory of the tube-frame Alfa is somewhat sketchy, but I’m fairly certain that it was far from complete. There was no body mounted to it, which is how I saw the framing. There may have been a suspension, because I think it was sitting on 4 wheels and tires, but my best guess is that there wasn’t even an engine in it.

    The little I spoke to Peter about it that day (and remember, sadly, he had somewhat advanced dementia by this time), he went on about going into “series production” with this lightweight Alfa frame, for which he planned to produce fiberglass body shells. The question I’d like answered is, who bought the frame and what are they doing with it?

    There was NO aquarium or fish tank that we saw. That story about feeding pasta and chicken to a fish is crazy!

    Thanks again, Richard

    Like

  15. WOW! Richard, thank you for this.

    I had a dream last night that I was at Peter’s shop; I woke up and googled him, and I made my way to this blog post. I literally haven’t thought of Peter in about a decade, and your post made the memories come flooding back. I spent about a half hour telling my kids about the Alfa Romeo I had before they were born and the eccentric guy named Peter that worked on it.

    To make a very long story short, fresh out of college, 2002-ish, I purchased a 1978 Spider Veloce that wasn’t running, and based on the recommendation of someone on FerrariChat, I gave Peter a call and shipped it down to him. That began a 2-year period of my life where I had this amazing car that Peter was “working on” but never actually finished. More importantly, it began the start of a beautiful friendship. I would call him weekly and we’d talk on the phone. I went down there every couple months and the trips were AMAZING. He had so much knowledge and energy and so much… LIFE.

    I would spend hours down there just talking to him. He’d make me some espresso and we’d bounce around his shop and he would talk non-stop.

    Ultimately, I traded him. He gave me credit for what I paid for the 78 Spider along with what he had done in labor and parts (he DID get it running btw) towards a 1987 Spider Quadrifoglio that he had at his house. We drove to his house, I met his wife, and I bought the car from him. He didn’t give me a price – he asked me what I thought it was worth, I told him, and that was what he sold it to me for. He did say that at that price, he wasn’t including the hard top lol.

    Re: the tube frame Alfa, I *do* remember that he had an engine in it – he had it running once while I was down there. He was going to put the fiberglass Duetto body on it.

    I have so so so many Peter stories. I think I might start an AlfaBB thread (I haven’t been on there in forever!).

    Like

    • Hi Mike, well, that is an amazing story! It’s nice for me to hear from folks who had dealings with Peter. As I stated in my blog, I met him only that one time, and that was through a mutual friend. So thanks for reading and sharing your comments! Best, Richard PS – do you still have the ’87 Quad?

      Like

      • Richard, I drove (and loved) the 87 quad for a few years. I, unfortunately, didn’t have a garage at that time, and it started to develop problem after problem – first electrical, then engine work. My brother in law ran a vo-tech school, and I let them work on it… when they put it up on the lift, the frame was so rusted that it wasn’t even really safe anymore. I donated it to the school to play with and lost track of it. I’d love to get another one of these days. I should probably get back into the Ferrari and Alfa community to see what events are coming up!

        Like

  16. Hey Mike, thanks for answering my question with your follow-up. Yes, all Alfas are subject to potentially life-threatening rust. For those of us who live in the rust belt, it’s an issue.

    Not to try to talk you into anything (!), but there are (or were before the pandemic) loads of Alfa Spiders for sale. The number of cars on the market is driven in large part by the fact that the Spider continued to be a relatively good seller for the brand right up until 1994, its final model year.

    Check out the Alfa Romeo Owners Club (AROC), both at the national level and at the regional level. What state do you live in? I belong to both the NJ and Delaware Valley Chapters, and up until the quarantine took effect, both Chapters had events planned, all cancelled for now of course.

    Thanks again, Richard

    Like

    • I’m in NJ (Ocean County), and I would definitely consider one once things open up again – my wife is the tough customer! 🙂 I guess I’ll never shake the true meaning of ALFA – Always Looking For Another. I will keep an eye out for the AROC events and hope to talk in person one of these days.

      Like

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