An Alfa Romeo concept car with a racebred, fuel-injected quad-cam V8. What could possibly be more exotic than that?
Well, as it happens, the car that went on show at 1967’s Montreal Universal and International Exposition (clearly the Canadians felt they couldn’t rule out an extra-terrestrial visit) was rather less outrageous than what eventually went on sale three years later.
In fact, what lay beneath eye-catching bodywork by Bertone was bog-standard Giulia 105-series running gear. Complete with its 1.6-litre twin-cam four. Fine in small saloons and coupés, but this was a pretender to the Miura in terms of styling – check out the vents aft of the cabin (for spotters’ points: seven on the show car, six for production), the eyelashes over the headlamps, even the suggestion of a mid-mounted engine in the proportions.
Alfa Romeo was gunning for the same market Maserati hunted out shortly afterwards with the Khamsin. And that market was ready and waiting: Alfa bowed to public pressure and put the Montreal – named after the Expo – into production. And when it did so, out went that little engine and in came a detuned version of what powered the Tipo 33 Stradale, down from 3.0 litres and 350bhp to 2.6 litres and 197bhp, but pumping out at least 90% of its peak torque all the way from 2700rpm.
Yep, this would-be supercar was really a GT – one that cost as much as two Jaguar E-types. Take one out for a drive and you’ll discover a smooth cruiser, with a cushy ride and a laid-back handling style, but there’s plenty of character in that engine, from the urgency of
its note to the way its power seems to swell as revs increase, forcing you along sweeping A-roads like the high-geared man of the future who was obviously the kind to visit an Expo. It’s even got a couple of seats in the back for future-man’s offspring. The Montreal was ahead of its time, there.
Which one to buy?
Those production plans began with the prospect of building 50, then 500 – a halo car, like the recent 8C. In the event, 3925 left the factory, only 180 of them in right-hand drive (155 of those coming to the UK). The fuel crisis killed demand, and by 1977 Alfa Romeo was concentrating on ’Suds instead.
The Montreal was mostly unchanged during its production run; low volumes and limited funding for development saw to that. The majority of changes were minor modifications to the running gear, and choosing between model years should be based on condition and maintenance history. Classic car buyers nowadays value originality, so make sure that your Montreal has not been tampered with.
Most went to America and (naturally) rust killed many. Yet they are rescuable, as running gear is plentiful, and body panels can be replaced in small sections: that chrome strip down the side disguises the joins. Bright trim is near-extinct but the financial killer is the engine. Reckon on £12,000-20,000 for a full rebuild, and regular expert attention to keep the mechanical fuel injection balanced. But, then, you never expected owning a Montreal to be easy, did you?
If you are insistent on finding a right-hand drive Montreal, then expect to pay a fair premium. One advantage of the right-hand drive vehicles is that the they are fitted with much stronger ZF steering boxes. Finding a car with working air conditioning is also difficult, but nice to have if you can.
Power steering was not an option, so low speed manoeuvring will require some effort, although you can always fit an aftermarket electric PAS system. Handling kits were also made available after production ceased, improving cornering and reducing understeering tendencies at the limit.
The complex fuelling system means that some frustrated owners have converted their cars to a carburettor setup. This might have a detrimental effect on value when you come to re-sell, so decide whether you’re happy with such a conversion before committing.
Performance and specs
Engine 2594cc 16 valve DOHC V8
Power 197bhp @ 6500 rpm
Torque 173lb ft @ 4750rpm
Top speed 138mph
Fuel consumption N/A
Gearbox Five-speed manual
Dimensions and weight
Kerb weight 1312kg
• Rust attacks the lower half of the body, and key structural areas such as the box section behind the front seats are vulnerable, as are front chassis legs, crossmember, jacking points.
• Sound insulation material on the body panels and floor pans can absorb moisture and cause rust over time. One of the main problem areas is below the C-pillar ventilation slats. Some repair panels are still available but, basically, a rusty car will cost a lot money.
• American-sourced cars often suffer sun-damaged interiors. Budget £3000 to replace cloth, more for leather. The plastic dashboard is durable, gauges less so. Sorting rev counter and speedo electrics can run into hundreds.
• The SPICA mechanical injection fuelling system is very complex and regular maintenance is essential to ensure that it functions correctly. There are a few specialists around who can carry out refurbishments to these units, however it is worth spending some time in getting familiar with this setup to ensure that you keep your car in good condition.
• Abused Montreals misfire and blow smoke. Reckon on a full service every 3000 miles – mainly to keep that fuel injection in check, or the V8 can suffer bore-wash and bearing damage – and expect to carry out a rebuild every 40,000 miles.
• Excessive play in the cam chain may also indicate a failing water pump bearing. The preventative measure of allowing the car to warm up before giving it the beans can extend the bearings life. There are 11 litres of oil to heat up so this will take a bit of time.
• Gearboxes are strong ZF units and give little trouble, unless engines have been tuned to produce more power. Minor leaks are quite common unless a large pool of oil forms under your car after every drive this should not be a concern. Regular top-ups are recommended every 4000 miles.
• Suspension bushes wear quickly; significant clonks might suggest a worn differential.
• A well-cared-for car should prove reliable, so long as you keep up the maintenance – you don’t want to fork out on an engine rebuild and a full body restoration. Look for one that somebody has spent significant money on and which wears all its brightwork.
1967: Alfa Romeo unveils a new concept car at the Montreal Universal and International Exposition.
1970: A rough and ready pre-production Montreal goes on show at the Turin motor show.
1971: The Montreal goes on general sale. After the first 100 cars, Alfa Romeo adds a small front spoiler to the car. Reinforced pistons also phased in early on.
March 1972: Air conditioning is offered as an option on the Montreal.
Late 1972: Some engines receive minor changes to improve emissions for certain markets.
May 1973: All Montreals now receive the updated engine, which includes a different camshaft, fuel injection pump and distributor. Upgraded brake servos, con rods, master cylinders and structural body changes introduced
1975: Leather interior officially offered as an option.
1977: Production ends.
Owners clubs, forums and websites
• www.aroc-uk.com – Alfa Romeo Owners Club UK, with online forum
• www.classicalfa.com – Parts and spares for classic Alfas, including the Montreal
• www.alfaworkshop.co.uk – Classic and modern Alfa specialists
• www.alfamontreal.info – Website with much information on the Alfa Montreal
Summary and prices
Happy hunting starts between £30,000 and £40,000, but the very best Montreals are commanding beyond £50,000. Expect to pay a premium for one of those rare right-hand-drive examples.
Alfa Romeo ownership is very rarely a boring experience, and these cars were built with a combination of passion and complexity that will at times both delight and frustrate you. There’s a very real chance of un-planned road-side stops, as well as mysterious electrical gremlins hiding behind the dashboard, but when the stars align and the race derived V8 is screaming through the gears, almost all is forgiven.