As you drive westwards towards the English Welsh border on the A44 the roads become quieter, straighter, longer, faster.

And in the highly desirable Alfa Romeo Spider two-litre twin-spark, roof down, what could be better?

Beyond Rhayader, a little town in the heart of the Principality, known to followers of the annual RAC Rally, there's a twisting, often single-tracked mountain road. And it is there that the gorgeously styled Spider comes into its own, ducking through the deep valley where the River Yystwyth runs between the hillside and an abandoned lead mine, its multi-link rear suspension digging in to provide extra grip.

The 1970cc, twin spark, 16-valve engine turns out 150bhp to the front wheels. That's good enough to get it to a top speed of 130mph and give it a 0 to 62mph time of 8.4 seconds. Accompanying that is a deep-chested engine note which adds aural pleasure to the joys this car brings.

The roof lowers and raises with electrical assistance. It's part of a luxury pack which also includes leather upholstery and air conditioning and pushes the price near as damn it to £26,000. The hood lowers at the touch of a button after two retaining arms are released.

This takes about 30 seconds before it sits in its own compartment, hidden by a composite cover. But that does make the boot very small and awkwardly shaped. To help there is a locker behind the two seats.

Quick steering and prodigious performance help on the mountain road. And the Alfa's aggressive frontal styling means that slower cars immediately move out of the way.

The five-speed gearbox is firm, precise and quick, and the ride mostly firm but not harsh. But the lack of a roof does show at times: this car can shimmy and shake.

Twin airbags are part of the package, as are anti-lock brakes. Alloy wheels add to the car's looks, and of course there is central locking and electric windows and mirrors.

Yes, it's noisier than most cars, but that is to be expected. This is a car bought by the heart and not by the head.

And in 900 miles I didn't see another, so exclusivity is guaranteed.

But it is also suprisingly economical, with consumption figures ranging from 30mpg to 33mpg.

Partly that was because of moving traffic keeping progress down to a steady fifth-gear, low-rev cruise. But the long open roads going south west from Mid Wales show the Alfa at its best.

That and listening to the echo of exhaust off walls with the sun trying to beat down. After all, this is Britain.

Converted for the new archive on 30 June 2000.Some images and formatting may have been lost in the conversion.