Michele Muller, like most people in California, grew up immersed in the car culture, but it was her mother, not her father, who instilled in her an appreciation for a fine automobile.
"Dad always appreciated a sharp car, but mom really loved the mechanics," says Muller. "She's in her 80s now, but she's still crazy enough to look under a car."
The Muller family admired foreign cars, and as a teenager Michele found herself ogling E-type Jags, Alfa Duettos and Porsches. By 1985, however, she was still driving an old Honda Civic and realized it was time for a change. Initially she thought about buying a used British sports car, but a friend advised against that.
"He said, Why buy a used car when you could have a brand new Alfa Romeo.' He even called up a dealer and told me to go there after work."
Her new 1986 Spider Graduate started her love affair with Alfas - and spawned another love affair in the process. She met her husband at an Alfa club event, and they had their first date in his Giulietta TI.
"The rumor was that he bought it to impress me," she said. "I guess it worked."
After a dinner at a French restaurant in San Francisco, they returned to the car only to find the battery dead. She told him to give it a push. "They always start in second gear."
A year later, they decided to get married. Michele was the first bridal registry member of the Alfa Ricambi store in northern California.
In the years since, she's picked up a '74 GTV 2000 and a '59 Giulietta Sprint.
Muller, a self-described "died-in-the-wool Alfisti," likes to do some of her own work on the cars - she primps them for concours, installs trim and does her own electrical work. She's even tackled some body repairs.
"The older I get, the less stringent I get about the absolute cleanliness. Now I just enjoy driving the car," she said. "They're great cars for just getting around, and getting around in a certain spirit."
Her GTV picked up "Best of Tipo 115" at the Concorso Italiano, and she's used it in the California Melee. But it's the Spider she still most identifies with. A whopping 220,000 miles later, she still drives it to work on occasion.
"If you take care of a car, it takes care of you," she said. "When I go back to it after a day of work, I see it and it makes me smile."