I met Steve and Diana Thomas some 17 years ago at my first trip to the annual TUTTO ITALIANO held at the Larz Anderson Museum in Brookline, Massachusetts. The Thomases arrived in their beautiful red '69 Spider, replete with Cromodora wheels and highly polished engine bay. I was impressed.
Steve spared no time in introducing himself and Diana to me (me being a relatively new member to AONE), and then saying he had just remarked to Diana, "Looks like we have competition." I thought it nice for him to say that, but really didn't believe it. Turns out he was right and he was the first to congratulate me ... I was hooked. My Duetto at that time had somewhere around 220,000 miles on the clock; now I estimate the car's mileage is over 330,000 miles (two broken speedo cables and one completely broken speedo since ownership accounting for the guess).
In November of 2019 I received a call from Steve. He told me that he and Diana were moving to Maine to be closer to their daughter and grandchildren, and then added that he had a hardtop that he never used and thought of me first ... would I be interested?
Yes! I had never seen a factory hardtop for the '66-'69 in person — only a picture in one of my many Alfa books, and from that picture it looked somewhat misplaced. At one time, I had a Parrish Plastics hardtop, which I felt with its rounded shape didn't look half bad. But after I had the car restored in 1985 I discovered that the top jiggling scored my new paint job, so off it went, never to be put on again. I sold it to fellow with a green '69 Roundtail for $150.
Steve and I decided on a date that I was to pick up the top; my only thought was how to get it home. I measured my cloth top knowing that the hardtop would be slightly larger and determined that it would not fit inside my 2006 Chevy HHR , but would need to be on the roof. Fortunately, the little Chevy has roof rails, so no problem.
The trip to Steve's was uneventful although it was 170 miles door to door. Approaching the Thomases' address, I noticed that instead of the temperature getting warmer during the day it was in fact getting colder! I thought to myself, "They were moving to Maine — New Hampshire wasn't cold enough?"
After some small talk, Steve and I went about securing the top to the little red Chevy. The top now firmly atop the car, off I went to my body shop man — Joe Donato of East Coast Collision in Warwick, RI. Joe did my first restoration back in 1985 and every repair since. Joe and his crew have known my car longer than any other they repaired and are always happy to see me drop by driving the Duetto.
I arrived late in the day. Joe was all smiles when I showed him what I hoped would be a project he would take an interest in. He said, "I consider it an honor." I then outlined what I envisioned for the hardtop: repair and smooth the top, and painting it the same Graphite Gray as the body. Joe inquired, "What are you thinking for a headliner?" I said that I'd have that done by my upholstery man, Ray Tkacs in East Providence, RI, who has done all my work for over 40 years.
I told Joe that my wife and I would soon be heading for Florida, asking him to work on it when he could and that I'd be back at the end of May. In the interim, I contacted my pal in Sicily, Carmelo, owner of several award-winning Alfas, one being his beloved white-over-red Duetto. I was introduced to Carmelo through the Duetto Register, founded by Wille R. Carmelo had seen my car listed under "Duetto Colours". He was building a 1/8 scale model and wanted to do it in in my car's color scheme of Graphite Gray over Burgundy, which when completed was featured in "Sports and Exotics" (a now defunct Hemmings publication). Carmelo had said that he wanted his model to be different and that he had never seen a gray Duetto. He then added, "Italians hate gray cars". (Be sure to click on Carmelo's picture at the bottom of this page to get story of the Gary's baby Duetto.)
It was no surprise to me when I sent Carmelo a picture of my hardtop project what his comment would be: "Why would you want to spoil the lines of the lovely Duetto with that ugly hardtop?" He then added, "If you do this, you must know that all of these hardtops are the same —black." Nevertheless, I told him that this was not such a deviation from originality and it was going to done in gray.
Over the winter, I kept in touch with Joe and learned that none of the rubber gaskets were salvageable. I contacted Carmelo and he informed me that much of what I needed was available in Italy, so I ordered them and had them shipped to Joe at East Coast Collision.
When I returned at the end of May, not a lot had taken place, which was understandable due to Covid and Joe having to work with a skeleton crew. I took the stainless trim and the plastic pieces home to refurbish them in my garage. The stainless trim pieces were scratched and several of the plastic interior pieces were broken, but all there! I cleaned up the stainless the best I could and the broken pieces of interior trim I glued together with Gorilla Glue, sanded and then painted with Krylon black plastic paint. The windows were also removed and, unlike my Parrish Plastics hardtop of years ago, the windows were safety glass, not plexiglass, adding to the heft of factory top.
The top was now devoid of everything and had received a coat of light gray primer. Jimmy and Scott of East Coast secured the top to the Duetto and off I went to see Ray Tkacs to have the headliner installed. At first, Ray and I talked about gray or burgundy fabric, but then I suggested vinyl to match the pleats in the seats, which is what he did. After having the headliner installed, it was back to see Joe at East Coast Collision. Joe marveled at Ray's workmanship, saying, "How did he do that?" "Carefully," was my reply.
The final painting and fitment was next and then, as they say in the car shows, "the big reveal". The top has the same latches as the convertible for the windshield and locks into the windshield frame; the rear attaches to the chrome straps behind the convertible used for the factory boot cover.
I drove off and noticed rattling on my trip home, and discovered that one of the latches had come unlatched. I felt there was something missing on the leading edge of the top ... like a gasket, maybe? I went back to the body shop and we took off the top and, sure enough, there wasn't a gasket, but none was provided by the vendor in Italy. However, I had a pretty good idea what would work and I had that in my garage. The next day, I drove back to Joe's and showed him the gasket material. He said, "Can you come back tomorrow? I have a couple of people out sick — Covid". I said, "Joe, this won't take but a few minutes — Scotty and Jimmy can help", and they did. Within 15 minutes we had top off, gasket put in place and returned to car, and off I went with no rattling and the latches stayed firm.
The following day was Saturday and my middle daughter, Colleen, was home for the weekend. Colleen lives in Marina Bay, Quincy, Massachusetts, and drives a Verde Fiat 500 Sport, five speed, which she calls "Enzo". As I like to say, I have her trained. The Audrain Auto Museum was having one of its "Cars and Coffee" events, this time at Fort Adams, Newport. I was fortunate to have received an email and responded to a modern day version of "Beat the Clock". As only 100 are allowed, it was first come first served, and the 100-car roster was filled in 7 minutes. (The Museum is situated on Bellevue Ave, Newport — the Bellevue Ave that has all the historic mansions, the Tennis Hall of Fame, and now the Audrain Museum, whose logo is a 1939 Alfa Romeo 2900 coupe).
The Cars and Coffee event runs from 8AM - 10AM and Colleen was happy to accompany me. We drove in and were directed to continue on down where we would be informed where to park. As we started to turn in we were motioned by a gentleman in a red jacket and baseball cap to drive a little further. I parked, got out of the car, and noticed that the gentleman doing the directing was not only wearing a face mask but also a bow tie. I exclaimed, "Are you who I think you are?" He replied, "I am."
It was Donald Osborne of "Jay Leno's Garage". He engaged us in a fifteen minute conversation in which he demonstrated his knowledge of the Duetto, liked the originality and especially the hardtop. Then he said, "I would like you to be part of the Tour d'Elegance, taking place the first weekend of October." The tour would start at Scarborough Beach, RI, at 6AM and would end at Fort Adams around noon, covering about 67 miles and making several "pit stops" in scenic RI along the way. Excited? You betcha!
The start of the tour required us to leave our residence in Portsmouth at 5:15 AM in order to get there by 6. As I often say, "You cannot stay in RI for an hour; in any direction you choose you'll be in CT or MA before you realize you are no longer in the littlest state with the biggest name," so 45 minutes is a long trip for Rhode Islanders.
When we arrived, it was dark! Thank goodness for GPS. There was a double line of maybe fifty cars when we arrived. Directly ahead was a black 1948 Porsche 356 ... to our immediate left was a 1952 Jaguar FHC. All down the line, we saw no commonplace vehicles — nary a tri-five Chevy or Ford, only the rare and unusual. The lead car was the museum's centerpiece: the 1939 Alfa Romeo 2900 Coupe driven by none other than Jay Leno! We hadn't realized that initially; it wasn't until Jay stopped by my gray Duetto and remarked, "Like the hardtop". I said, "May I take a picture of you and my daughter and the car?" He said, "Your daughter ... that's what they all say ..." Then I proceeded to have trouble figuring out Colleen's camera, but we got the picture as he continued saying things like, "Come on, Dad, get with the program."
At around 7AM, the parade started and 58 cars took off — a couple on flatbeds, but most under their own power. What was amazing was the people for the entire stretch who were out on the sidewalks or pulled over in their cars to take pictures. A lot of waves and honking took place as permanent grins donned our faces.
After we arrived at our final destination, we had a better chance to look over the many varied makes, and we realized how special this day was. I think Alfa was the most prevalent marque, as there was the 2900, two gorgeous Giulia coupes, and my Duetto.
I sent Carmelo pictures of the day and he had two comments: "I don't know this guy Jay Leno — I only know Wayne Carina" and about the hardtop: "It's beautiful — why didn't Alfa think of that?"
(Click on the thumbnails below for a larger view, and then