Category Archives: SPICA Today

SPICA Today – Part 2

by Jon Inge

In last month’s introduction, Wes mentioned that the SPICA fuel injection pumps “were far better than anyone ever realized when they were presented to America in 1969.”

   As a precision-built, positive displacement piston pump, its fuel delivery is strong and full at all engine speeds.  In contrast to one-dimensional race systems of the time such as Hilborn and Lucas, SPICA’s three-dimensional cam with temperature and altitude adjusters allowed for advanced and accurate fuel delivery management for everyday street driving.

   Wes has remarked that the quality of design and manufacture in these pumps are so high that, if properly maintained and used, they just don’t break.  “Proper use” means making sure that engine oil and filters are changed at the recommended intervals, and that the engine is regularly brought up to full operating temperature to drive off any accumulated moisture and condensation in the oil.  As with the main car engine, you don’t want sludge and potential rust forming in a SPICA pump.

   But there is one problem that virtually all SPICA units suffered from in the early 1970s, when lead additives began to be phased out of our fuel.  The plungers and barrels (P&Bs) in the SPICA pump are like miniature pistons and cylinders, but without sealing rings.  All that keeps the fuel in the top separate from the oil in the bottom is the incredibly fine clearance between the plungers and barrels; it has to be less than the size of a gasoline molecule.

   Made from very high quality materials, the P&Bs were designed to outlast the engine, and protected with high pressure engine oil and from additives in the fuel, they can.  But when lead and sulfide additives were banned from fuel from 1970 on, the P&Bs began to wear and allow fuel to seep through into the oil and back into the engine.  Today’s unleaded fuels contain additives that are equal to or better than lead and sulfides, but the damage has already been done.  You can smell it if you take an oil sample from the pump, or you can have the oil analyzed to make sure, but if you don’t take action your engine will wear prematurely.

   Wes’ partner Herb Sanborn meticulously laps worn P&Bs until they’re straight and true, then hand-selects them to get matching pairs with just the right clearance, something that can only be done by hand.  It’s incredibly painstaking and a real art, but once done, you should never have a problem again.  More next month.

SPICA Today – Part 1

by Jon Inge – NW Alfa Romeo Club Communications Director (published with permission)

One of the more intriguing aspects of our classic Alfas has, to me, always been their SPICA mechanical fuel injection system.

   Introduced in 1969 to comply with the USA’s latest emissions regulations, it was fitted only to Alfas, and almost exclusively only to Alfas sent to the USA.

   Fuel injection wasn’t a new concept; it was first patented in 1872,  Rudolf Diesel adapted it for his diesel engine in 1894 and most aero engines during WW2 were injected.  All these were mechanical systems and their potential for generating higher performance through better fuel atomization and more precise delivery also led to their use in racing cars (Mercedes-Benz, Corvettes, Alfas) and high-end road cars (MB again, Maserati, high-end BMW 2002s and Porsche 911s).

   Introducing them to a full range of road cars, however, meant also exposing them to the full range of auto technicians across the country.  It wasn’t that the SPICA system was complex – so are carburetors – but that it was different.  It developed a reputation for being finicky and unreliable, but that was almost entirely due to it being maladjusted by well-meaning but inexperienced technicians.

   Its principal drawback was that, as a precision device made of very high-quality materials and built to very exacting standards, it was expensive to manufacture, and when electrically-controlled systems became available at lower cost, Alfa quickly adopted them.

   So when I came across Harry White’s 1975 Spider at the AROC Winter Retreat in February, I was intrigued to see that it had a much more modern Alfa Twin Spark engine fitted, but with a SPICA system replacing its standard electronic injection!  Could it be that SPICA still had advantages today?

   This of course led me to talk to Wes Ingram, who’d done the conversion, and I began to learn more about these fascinating devices.  I’ll cover our discussions in future articles, but for now I’ll just quote Wes: “After restoring over 4,000 Spica pumps we have learned so much, and we now find that they are far better than anyone ever realized when they were presented to America in 1969.”  More next month.