A Dream Car Comes True


Story By Alan Cesar

Expo 67, Montreal’s World’s Fair, coincided with Canada’s centennial in 1967. During its one-year run, more than 50 million people visited the exposition’s 90-odd pavilions, where they enjoyed everything from futuristic architecture and fine-art exhibits to carnival-type entertainment.

Alfa Romeo decided this international event would be an ideal showcase for their latest dream car, appropriately named Montreal. The motoring public knew little about the car’s exact specifications, but from the shape and central position of the stacked air vents on each side of the body, many thought it was to be a mid-engine V8.

Bound for Production

When it was unveiled, however, the Bertone-designed 2+2 was powered by a 1570cc Giulia engine and sat on a modified Giulia chassis. In general, the car’s swoopy shape drew enthusiastic reviews, and Alfa’s marketers saw potential commercial appeal. So after the show, the company assigned an engineering development team to start the production process.

This development took much longer than expected, however, and the first production Montreal was finally shown in Geneva in 1970. Then labor problems in Milan delayed the project even further. Actual deliveries didn’t start until late 1971. Trying to capitalize on the Montreal’s show car appeal, an early print advertisement hyped it as “a dream car come true.”

Although production Montreals retained the show car’s overall design, they were powered by a sophisticated 2593cc V8 engine derived from Alfa’s Tipo 33 Sports Prototype racer. The heads and block are aluminum, while the block is fitted with pressed-in, cast-iron wet sleeves. This oversquare (80mm bore and 64.5mm stroke) engine features four overhead camshafts and dry-sump lubrication.

Spica, one of Alfa’s subsidiaries, built the cam-driven mechanical fuel-injection system, which uses engine oil for lubrication. The water pump is also cam driven and uses a chain rather than a belt. The engine was rated at 230 SAE gross horsepower at 6500 rpm and made 199 lb.-ft. of torque at 4750 rpm.

Power reaches the rear wheels through a single-plate, hydraulic clutch and a five-speed ZF transmission with a gated shifter. Fifth gear is a 0.87:1 overdrive.

The Montreal sits on a modified 105-series chassis, the same one used for the late-’60s GTVs, Spiders and Giulias. The car uses coil springs and telescopic shock absorbers on each corner with anti-roll bars front and rear. The independent front suspension features transverse upper and lower A-arms. The live axle, limited-slip rear end is located by two lower trailing arms as well as an A-arm above the differential.

Ventilated, servo-assisted ATE disc brakes provide the stopping power on each corner and have a front/rear proportioning regulator. The handbrake mechanism, curious by today’s design standards, operates on two small drums cast within the rear disc brake assemblies. Despite its small proportions, the Montreal was no lightweight, weighing in at a little more than 2800 pounds.

The chassis and engines were manufactured at Alfa and then shipped to Bertone for final assembly. The Montreal’s price—about $11,000 U.S.—placed it squarely in competition with Porsche, Jaguar, Pantera and BMW’s 3.0CS, making it tough for a low-volume manufacturer such as Alfa to compete.

From 1972 to 1977, a little more than 3900 Montreals were built, although some sources say production actually ended in 1975, with the later models titled in the year they were sold.

Buyers had their choice of a dozen bright colors, including a peculiar pumpkin orange and a metallic gold. Alfa made few changes to the car during its production run, and almost all the cars were sold overseas.

Autocar tested a Montreal in 1972 and pronounced that it “deserves a high place in our list of desirable machines.” They liked the car’s shape, build quality and supple ride, along with the V8’s power and flexibility. They complained about the seating position, so-so brakes and lack of rear visibility. In performance, the Montreal couldn’t match a Jaguar E-Type or Porsche 911, although it cost more than either.

Still, it was no slouch. In their tests, Autocar recorded zero-to-60 times of 7.6 seconds, a standing quarter mile of 15.4 seconds at 89 mph and a top speed of 137 mph. In June 1971, Road & Track lauded the car’s handling qualities, rating them especially high for a car without independent rear suspension.

Living With a Montreal

The Alfa Romeo Montreal overflows with unique styling elements, from the headlight treatment and dramatically sculpted front end to the large vents flanking the rear window hatch.

The Alfa Romeo Montreal overflows with unique styling elements, from the headlight treatment and dramatically sculpted front end to the large vents flanking the rear window hatch.

Enthusiasts Bob and Jane Bartel have always been drawn to Alfas. Bob used to own a full-service Beck/Arnley store in the Midwest, so he’s long been involved with “foreign” cars.

He bought his first Alfa—a 1750 boat-tail Spider—in 1973 and has owned various examples ever since. Even now, his daily driver is a Milano 3.0 and Jane’s is a 1991 164; they are restoring a 1956 Giulietta Spider. They became interested in the Montreal because of its rarity and visual appeal.

“We looked at Montreals because we liked the lines and the fact that it had a V8,” Bob says, “and we had a couple of friends who owned them.” At the Alfa national convention in 1986, they chanced upon an opportunity to buy one. Over drinks with another Alfa enthusiast, they learned that he owned two Montreals and was considering selling one. A deal was struck, although it took the seller nearly a year to replace the radiator and get the car roadworthy.

So in May 1987 Jane received the 1972 Montreal as her birthday present. The Bartels then lived in Indiana, and they traveled to Pennsylvania and drove the Montreal back. Then it took them a year to get the title from the previous owner: “It wasn’t that big a deal; he only had half the money,” Bob recalls.

Since Montreals were never officially federalized to U.S. standards, each car had to be individually certified, and the depth of the upgrades to U.S. specs depended on the zeal of the local authorities. “At the time,” Bob recalls, “you had to do something with the bumpers, install seat belts and a few other things. This car had a title, so I’m assuming it was taken care of.” Of course, the fact that the first owner worked for the CIA and had dealings with the DOT may have helped with the certification. When they attempted to get the car titled in Florida, their current home, the Bartels were required to get two sheriff’s deputies to verify in person the vehicle’s numbers.

For the Bartels, the Montreal’s appeal lies in the total package—the styling and the power—and it represents the Holy Grail for these Alfa enthusiasts. “It’s the only production V8 Alfa ever made,” Bob says. “It was technologically advanced for its time, and it’s pretty.”

Bob does his own mechanical work and says the biggest problem is the lack of working space, since most components are packed in tightly. “Alfa engines are straightforward in design,” he says. “If you read the book and follow the specs, you’ll be all right. In the Montreal, however, you have to take half the car apart to get at something.”

He reports that he can still locate most mechanical parts, although a distributor cap and rotor can cost $500. On the other hand, the brake calipers are almost identical to later 105- and 115-series cars and are readily available, along with many other suspension parts.

Trim parts—especially plastic ones—are nearly impossible to find. Over time, the Bartels have built a network with other owners and suppliers to find what they need. These days, the Internet helps a lot, and some parts are being reproduced. The owner’s network has also discovered that some parts from other marques can be modified to fit.

In the years the Bartels have owned this car, it’s been relatively reliable, but driving any exotic poses repair risks. Bob has had to replace two camshafts—known to be notoriously soft—because of wiped lobes. “Unfortunately, they’re all different,” he says. “Not in profile, but the way the ends drive things, like the distributor and fuel-injection pump. The only ones that are straightforward are the intake cam on the right side and the exhaust cam on the left side. They don’t drive anything.”

The tank-mounted, twin Bosch fuel pumps sometimes present another problem, since one of the fuel lines runs over the exhaust. Fuel can heat up and vaporize, bringing the car to a halt. Some owners have eliminated this problem by installing a single high-pressure pump and rerouting the lines. Another item prone to failure is the ball bearing in the front engine cover that supports the idler shaft that drives the water pump.

Nice Camaro

Although they have a covered trailer, the Bartels drive their Montreal often. As Jane puts it, “It doesn’t concern me to get in it and go anywhere.” One drawback: The Montreal gets only about 15 mpg, and with a 14-gallon tank, they must stop often for fuel.

Still, they like the way this Autostrada cruiser hugs the road at speed. “The faster you go, the happier it is,” Jane explains. “I drive a ’91 164 all the time, and between the two of them, the brakes are better on the 164, but other than that, the Montreal is just as comfortable. Taller drivers have a legroom problem, but I fit perfectly. It’s a lot of fun to drive.”

Bob agrees. “It gets down the road,” he says, “and the redline is at 7000 rpm. When it was made, that was unheard of for a V8.”

And its passengers ride in relative comfort. This Montreal has the optional factory air conditioning, but according to the Bartels, it doesn’t work well unless the car is moving at speed. “The fan motor is too puny to move much air at idle,” Jane says. Even without the air on, they say air moves well through the cabin, exiting through the six horizontal vents set into the bodywork behind each door.

The optional wire-spooled power window mechanisms still haul the windows up and down, but very slowly by today’s standards. A radio rounds out the accessory package. The very occasional rear seats are suitable for packages only, but the hatchback area offers plenty of luggage space.

What’s a Montreal worth today? As with any collector car, price depends on condition, and these cars in good condition range from $15,000 to $22,000. Bob reports that a “perfect” one recently went for $28,000. He estimates that only 50 to 100 cars reside in the U.S., so they don’t come on the market that often.

Still, most people have no idea what it is, since the only place “Montreal” is displayed is inside on the ashtray cover.

In fact, Jane says people often ask her about her Camaro.

Montreal’s International Following

These days, the Montreal provides a rare opportunity to own the only production Alfa ever powered by a V8—a race-bred V8 at that—and it gets big bonus points for starting life as a show car. For a few lucky collectors, that represents a winning combination.

Although the Montreal is not widely known in the U.S., the car has an enthusiastic following worldwide. Bruce Taylor, a Montreal owner and enthusiast who lives in Geneva, Switzerland, saw the first production prototype at the Geneva Salon in 1970 but waited 25 years before he bought one. “Owning a Montreal in Europe has always been substantially easier than in the U.S., where demand for Montreals tends to exceed supply,” he says.

“Usually more than 30 Montreals attend the annual European Meeting, whereas four or five of these cars is a good turnout at an AROC event in the U.S.,” he continues. “The greater popularity of the car over here has meant that European owners could more easily swap information and tips about restoration, maintenance, modifications and spare parts sources. U.S. owners had to get along pretty much on their own.”

To make life easier for Montreal owners around the world, Taylor has created The Alfa Romeo Montreal Home Page: www.alfamontreal.info. It’s one of the most comprehensive and informative car sites available, with everything from technical drawings to upgrades and sources of interchangeable parts.

It’s difficult to estimate the labor that went into developing and maintaining the treasure trove of Montreal minutiae found on Taylor’s site. “The Italians say that in his lifetime, a man should find time to make a child, plant a tree and write a book,” Taylor says. “I’ve done the first two—more than once—and the Montreal Web site is, in a way, my last book. But I’m not really its author, only its custodian. It’s a living book, constantly updated and expanded by contributions from Montreal enthusiasts everywhere, a reflection of the spirit of friendly cooperation that unites classic car devotees around the world.”

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Comments
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TR8owner
TR8owner HalfDork
3/18/11 2:49 p.m.

$500 for a cap and rotor as well as 15 mpg? One of those classic cars you can afford to buy but can't afford to drive. :-) Cool looks however.

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