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.

 

1993: Visiting the Arizona Auto Salvage Yards

In 1993, with seven years at Volvo Corporate under my belt, I had done my share of domestic and international business travel. Volvo generously allowed employees to keep and use their own earned frequent flyer points. In April of that year, with some of my points about to expire, I burned a bunch of them by taking a long weekend trip to Phoenix AZ.

Now, Phoenix was not exactly my first choice as a vacation hot spot. Of course, there was an ulterior motive: I had heard about the auto salvage yards in the area, mainly filled with ‘50s-‘60s Detroit iron (as rust was not an issue in the Southwest). My 1967 Dodge Dart was in need of a few components not available in the aftermarket. Telling this to my buddy John M, who owned a 1963 Buick, resulted in being given a shopping list for his car. (I sold the Dart several years after this trip was taken; John still owns that ’63 Wildcat convertible today.)

Packing little more than a weekend bag, my camera, and some cash, I was off to Phoenix. Expecting warm weather, I didn’t bother with sweaters or coats. Good thing, too, because Phoenix was having a heat wave. Temperatures reached 114 degrees F during my stay, making me very glad that my hotel’s swimming pool was open.

Finding the salvage yards was easy. I brought the Yellow Pages from my hotel room with me, and armed with a map I picked up in the airport, off I went in the rental car. While I did find my parts, the real treat was being able to stroll through these yards at my leisure. The staff was more than willing to let me wander, scrounging for parts, admiring the cars, taking photos, and generally acting like the East Coast tourist I was.

I’ve long forgotten what I purchased for the Dart and Wildcat (John, do you recall?). However, the sights of the 4 or 5 yards I visited were captured on color film, and looking at them brings me back to that busy (if blazing hot) weekend. Here is a small selection of those photographs.

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A stack of ’60s Buicks
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Another stack of Buicks, with a ’63 on top

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The evolution of the Cadillac tail fin

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1962 Chrysler 300- that’s a good quarter panel!
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Junkyard dog admires Imperial styling
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A pair of ’61-’63 ‘Jet Age’ T-Birds
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What a great instrument cluster; does anyone know the year and make of this MoPar?
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More Buicks! Was this a Buick-only yard?
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These Nash Metropolitans were among the few imports I saw
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1957 Buick with AZ mountains as backdrop
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2nd gen Plymouth Barracuda; pebbles & weeds indicate she’s been under water
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Not much left to pick off this ’58 Caddy carcass
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’65 Chevy Impala looks like it could be brought back
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Let’s not forget we’re in the (former/still) Wild West

Photos were taken with my Nikon EM camera; film info not recorded, but likely Kodak Gold, either 100 or 200 ISO. Prints scanned with Epson V500 photo scanner.

All photographs copyright © 2016 Richard A. Reina. Photos may not be copied or reproduced without express written permission.