Spider Ultimo S1 First Drive
While Roadster Salon will always be known for their faithful re-creations of original Spiders, a growing number of customers want something more. The charm and personality of the original Fiat and Pininfarina spiders are well known. The Spider’s timeless Italian design and advanced engineering has captivated the hearts of enthusiasts for a generation. But even the most ardent admirers of the Spider will grudgingly admit that the original car had some shortcomings. Although viewed as minor quibbles 30 years ago, in the context of today’s technology these quibbles have become glaring weaknesses. For traditionalists who desire a classic driving experience, updating the spider to a more contemporary standard is sacrilege. But for those who are not classic car enthusiasts in the strictest sense, but simply want a stunningly beautiful vintage convertible that drives like a newer car—a modified spider is an absolute necessity.
The challenge for Roadster Salon’s engineering team was how to build a spider that retains the spirit of the original design, while addressing the most glaring weaknesses of the car from a modernist perspective. Specifically, how do they make the car stop and go like a newer car? How can they dramatically upgrade build quality, fit and finish to today’s luxury standards? Can contemporary features like proper air conditioning/ventilation, heated seats, and other power options be integrated without radically changing the look and feel of the car?
Enter the Roadster Salon Ultimo
Earlier this year, Roadster Salon delivered their first Roadster Salon Ultimo in response to customers who demanded a more contemporary alternative to the original spider. In just a few short months, the car has already generated quite a buzz—and not just because of the audacity of its price point. The Ultimo may be fitted with one of two performance packages. Corsa, and Evoluzione. Our test car featured the 135 HP Corsa upgrade. Watch this space for a review of the upcoming Evoluzione version, in 2015. Priced at $89,995 the Ultimo is a used Fiat 500 short of $100,000. A staggering sum indeed, until you dig a little deeper.
A simple walk around the Spider Ultimo, and it is clear something special is in front of you. With a standard equipment list as long as a cross country road trip, no detail is overlooked. Convenience items like keyless entry, air conditioning, heated seats and an aluminum cup holder are immediately noticed and appreciated. The Ferrari Silverstone grey metallic exterior was over the moon beautiful, as was the custom made vintage Ferrari style fascia and chrome. But the real star here is the most beautiful interior Roadster Salon has ever created. The hand work of famed artisan Rich Pirics, virtually every surface is covered in premium, hand sewn Ferrari/Bentley leather. Carpets are the finest Wilton wool. Customers may choose between a variety of different exotic wood species, including Burled Walnut, Birdseye Maple and Sepeli Pommele veneers for their extensive real wood accents. Gages are trimmed in aircraft quality aluminum. The overall effect is highly luxurious and extremely tasteful.
While the luxurious Ultimo cosmetics were designed for a gentleman, this Spider’s personality is anything but subdued. Just turn the key, and the lusty exhaust note tells you immediately this is no ordinary spider. A blip of the throttle brings an instant smile to the driver, and knowing wink from whoever is sitting beside him.
Under the hood is a modified 2.0 fuel injected engine, with custom cold air intake, performance internals and custom made headers/exhaust. Putting out a robust 135HP, the engine is a no- nonsense throw back to the lively European version of the Spider. Interestingly, Roadster Salon chose to avoid the temptation to use dual carburetors, and retain the reliability of fuel injection. Steering feel is improved by a Maserati sourced rack and pinion unit, teamed with Abarth brakes. The result is a huge upgrade in acceleration,handling, and stopping power.
A short ride around the block speaks volumes. The Ultimo acts like a sexy blonde, who just arrived for her date plied with a few Margaritas. You know you are going to have a good time, and might misbehave before the night is over. It doesn’t feel silly putting on a pair of expensive driving gloves when you grasp the Nardi steering wheel. It feels purposeful.
The Ultimo creates excitement with its potential. When cruising, the Ultimo is classy and understated. But when pushed on your favorite curvy road, the car jumps to life, ready for adventure. It is the perfect combination of the well mannered girl you want to bring home to Mom, and the hot babe to show off to your buddies. There’s a jewel-like feel about the Ultimo that conveys the time and care taken to build it. All the smells and sounds seem just right.
Other engineering improvements are less obvious but much appreciated. A revised electrical system makes the power windows and other options work properly without complaint. Advanced HID lighting, custom fog lamps, and LED interior bulbs illuminate the night with confidence. The cabin is much quieter than the original version with custom sound dampening material installed throughout the interior. The Ultimo’s doors open and close with weighted precision, reminiscent of a Mercedes SL. Rattles and vibrations are dramatically reduced by the stiffened chassis.
No, this is not a million dollar vintage Ferrari. It is however, about as much fun as you are likely to have with a classic car you can actually drive on a daily basis. Materials, fit and finish are superb. The performance is engaging, and much more likely to entertain the driver than a stock Fiat. The thunderous exhaust note is tuned to perfection, and intoxicating. The Ultimo also stops as well as it goes. Handling is greatly improved by the lowered Corsa suspension, beefy wheels and tires.
While the Ultimo is not inexpensive by any measure, the price seems fair considering the estimated 700 man hours it takes to build one. Remember, standard horsepower versions can be had for $20K less. Still, I am anxiously awaiting what the engineers at Roadster Salon have waiting in the wings. Next year’s “Evoluzione” version is rumored to have nearly 300 hp, power assisted steering, independent rear suspension and a six-speed transmission. Now that sounds like the spiciest meatball yet! Have a glass of cold water nearby.