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Retro Road Test: Alfa Romeo Montreal - Reader Review

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CarAdvice reader Adam Davis was the recent winner of the limited edition book from Capricorn Link Australia, entitled Alfa Romeo Montreal - The dream car that came true. Here is his review on the car.

Without resorting to rose-tinted glasses, one can safely reflect upon the sixties as a wonderful decade for the automobile. In North America, excess was everything as the muscle car concept was developed to its zenith - all 7 litre V8’s and tortured tyres as the baby boomers reached driving age. Australian manufacturers, as ever taking the lead from their US parent companies, followed with their own locally developed V8 rockets.

Over in Europe, the introduction of soon-to-be icons such as the Jaguar E Type showed that, as ever, style remained as important as substance. Porsche was also busy, releasing the car by which they are still defined today in the Porsche 911.

But as if by right, it was the Italians that stole the show. Ferrari were on top of their game as their legendary 250 series V12’s gave way to ever larger units, but ironically it was a disgruntled former Ferrari client that provided the inspiration for the world’s first supercar. Ferruccio Lamborghini, a successful Italian industrialist then most famous for producing tractors, had become fed up with Ferrari unreliability and the diabolical service he received. Whether his debut 350GT of 1963 was made purely out of spite towards Ferrari as opposed to making sound business sense remains a controversial issue even today.

Regardless, the timeless Bertone designed Lamborghini Miura that debuted in 1966 is considered the original supercar with its mid-mounted, hyperactive V12 and swooping, stealthy bodywork.

This high-end battle for European supremacy rubbed off on other Italian manufacturers. Fiat did a deal that gave them access to the musical ‘Dino’ Ferrari V6 which was seen in their Dino coupe and Spider series- worldwide image boosters for the Fiat reputation. Alfa Romeo, that other giant of the Italian automotive industry, was also seeking a flagship to bring the company in line with their vision for the next generation of sports cars.

The result was the emphatic Montreal. The first two prototypes debuted at the centenary of the confederation of Canada, held in Montreal in 1967. Designed at Bertone’s studio under the pen of Marcello Gandini (whose hand most famously directed the Miura’s curves) these concepts were mechanically based on the contemporary Alfa 105 series coupe and appeared on the stands sans identifying badge work. Reaction from the public was impressive, and people began referring to the cars as ‘Montreals’.

Buoyed by the response, Alfa Romeo pressed ahead for a production run. Unlike many concepts that become watered down when productionised, the Montreal instead grew into a true exotic, housing a street tuned derivation of Carlo Chiti’s Alfa 33 V8 sports car engine- though with few interchangeable parts. Front-mounted, this all aluminium 2593cc masterpiece was dry-sumped and utilised 4 camshafts and mechanical fuel injection to produce 147kw @ 6500rpm with a torque peak of 235nm at 4750rpm. These outputs were sent to the rear wheels via a 5-speed ZF gearbox with dog-leg first gear and a limited slip differential. Its chassis and suspension were still based on the 105 series but suitably modified to handle the increased power- to keep costs down but also to make good use of the 105 chassis’ inherently sporting nature.

The production Montreal was shown to the world at the Geneva show in 1970, some 3 years after the initial prototype display. Little was changed externally and some cynics argued that it was too far delayed to still be relevant and saleable in a seventies market. 3925 were eventually produced to 1977, but were never released into the North American market from where it got its name- a legacy of more stringent North American emissions standards.

The Montreal today

Our feature Montreal has for the last 2 years been owned by Gary Pearce. It is an original Australian delivered car with a genuine 55,000 miles recorded over a 35 year lifespan. Its freshly polished green paintwork gleams Emerald in the sun as Gary gently warms the car through. The jewel like V8 smoothly whirs at idle, legacy of many hours carefully tuning the original Spica fuel injection system.

Initially, it is the looks that captivate. Gandini’s flamboyant interpretation of a futuristic design includes flourishes such as the non-functional bonnet scoop (a nod to the US market?), eyelash headlight covers and cut-out strakes behind the doors. Inside, it feels like you are dropping into a cockpit with the low yet comfortable seat that overlooks a curvaceous instrument binnacle. It still impresses today with its uniqueness.

Gary himself is no stranger to Alfas, having first owned a 1600 GT Veloce as a teenager. Now, his shrine (well, it can’t be called a garage) to Alfa Romeo is filled with another GT Veloce, a very rare Giulia GTC convertible (both concours winning vehicles) and his ‘toy’, a Group S-specification 2000GTV in addition to the flagship Montreal.

How does the Montreal feel in comparison to a sorted GTV? “I think the Giulia’s are more dynamic, they always feel more eager to be driven hard. Their focal points are handling and interactivity through gearbox and steering. In the Montreal, the engine is the primary entertainer- it’s so smooth, so it can cruise around at low revs comfortable and loves highway touring, but it also really comes alive at higher revs,” says Gary as we ease onto the coastal roads surrounding his home.

A squeeze of the throttle alters the engine’s smooth whir into a gradually developing, prickly, hollow bark that transports you straight to a scene from the Targa Florio and racing 33’s. In previous Montreal experiences I know that this is normally accompanied with a slight squat in the tail and a nose lift, but Gary has developed his car’s handling to make more assured progress.

“The recipe for handling is similar to the Giulia’s. Lower it slightly, stiffen the front, fit adjustable shocks, but keep the rear soft for traction,” he explains.

It’s a definite improvement, the car turning in with minimal roll and a surfeit of confidence-inspiring grip, especially when driven to the car’s strengths by braking in a straight line, and floating towards the apex under gradually increasing power to maximise traction at the exit.

Throughout our drive, people stop and stare, many no doubt wondering just what this sparkling green machine with alien looks and a barking exhaust is. Driving it is a source of real pleasure for Gary, as is educating the curious as to the Montreal’s history. “This car was bought to be driven, not to be a museum piece,” he says with clear pride. “The previous owner said it hasn’t been rained on since 1988, but with the drives I plan on doing in the coming years that might change...”- and that is the way it really should be.