Cars That Time Forgot

Cars That Time Forgot: Alfa Romeo Montreal

by Richard Dredge
11 January 2024 4 min read
Cars That Time Forgot: Alfa Romeo Montreal

There’s been no shortage of enigmatic cars over the years, but one of the most intriguing, enchanting, and left-field examples must be the Alfa Romeo Montreal. It looked like nothing else, packed a 2.6-litre V8 unique to the model, and it looked little changed from the Bertone concept that sired it. In the early 1970s, it really was what dreams were made of.

The Montreal story began in 1967, when Bertone displayed a pair of concept cars at Expo 67, the World’s Fair hosted in Montreal, Quebec, that year. The car was based on the platform of the Alfa Romeo 1600GT Junior and styled by ace designer Marcello Gandini. Alfa Romeo claimed that huge demand from buyers desperate to have their own Montreal resulted in a road-legal version of the concept being developed. In reality, it’s highly likely that Alfa expected to come up with a production car from the outset.

By early 1970, the road-ready Montreal was revealed at the Geneva Salon, and in place of the 1.6-litre four-cylinder engine was a much more appealing detuned version of the Carlo Chiti-designed 2.0-litre quad-cam dry-sump V8, which was usually fitted to the T33 sports racer. The displacement was now 2593cc, and with Spica mechanical fuel injection it developed an easy 200bhp at 6000rpm.

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This detuning was essential to the V8’s long-term health; by reducing the peak power point for the engine from 8800rpm to 6500rpm, and cutting maximum power in the process from as much as 350bhp to 200bhp, the V8 wasn’t remotely stressed in its new road-going application. Peak torque was also reduced, to 173lb ft at 4750rpm; the racer’s maximum came at a heady 7000rpm. Although 200bhp might not sound much now, it was enough to take the Montreal all the way to 135mph, having despatched the 0–60mph sprint along the way in 7.5 seconds. Heady stuff for 1970.

Alfa Romeo Montreal front 3/4
1972 Alfa Romeo Montreal engine
(Mecum Auctions)

When Autocar tested the Montreal in 1972, its V8 was found to be supremely flexible. The car could be launched from a standing start in fourth gear, which would then take it all the way to 120mph. The maximum speed was 140mph in fifth. Autocar noted: “On the road the most impressive thing is the way the noise level does not seem to increase at all with either revs or speed. Much of the time it is impossible to detect which gear is engaged or how hard the engine is revving. This coupled to the amazing flexibility means that initially the driver changes gear too much and it takes a while to get used to the idea that this Alfa can do most things in fourth.”

Considering the Montreal’s exotic engine specification, the suspension left something to be desired. While up front it was independent with coil springs, wishbones, dampers, and an anti-roll bar, at the rear there was a live axle with coil springs and dampers and an A-bracket. It was just as well there was a limited-slip differential, or getting the power down in challenging conditions would have been pretty much impossible. As it was, Autocar wrote: “Although there was never a trace of axle tramp on smooth roads, bumps or broken patches in the surface on corners set the live rear axle pattering about, but never to an alarming or disturbing degree. For a high-performance car without the benefits of independent rear suspension, the Montreal is deserving of high praise, especially in regard to its ride qualities and excellent handling.”

Alfa Romeo Montreal driving front 3/4

The magazine continued: “For a high-performance car the ride is really quite soft and much less harsh than, for example that of a BMW 3-litre. There is quite a lot of body roll on corners in consequence, despite anti-roll bars front and rear, and a noticeable excess of front-end dive under heavy braking. Driven with verve and not much finesse on twisty roads, the Montreal will disturb most passengers by the frequent attitude changes. With a sympathetic driver behind the wheel it can be hurried just as fast on a much more even keel. It is the kind of car which grows to fit you, not the sort one takes to immediately.”

Montreal production started in 1971, with the all-steel bodyshells being built by Bertone. Things got off to a reasonable start, with sales the following year peaking at 2377, but it would be all downhill from there. With the fuel crisis hitting in 1973, Montreal production slowed to just 319 units in that year.

Alfa Romeo Montreal woman

Once European sales had been established, in August 1972 UK imports began, with the Montreal priced at £5077. That was just £522 less than a Ferrari Dino 246 GT, 50 per cent more than a Jaguar E-Type V12, and twice the price of the V8-powered Triumph Stag. The Alfa was £1100 cheaper than the BMW 3.0 CSi, but that was little consolation to potential buyers, who generally stayed away. Matters were not helped by a lukewarm reception from the press.

Despite room for improvement in many areas, not least of all its suspension, the Montreal wasn’t developed at all during its production run, which officially came to an end in 1977, with Alfa Romeo finally removing the car from its price lists. However, Bertone would later claim that it had built the last Montreal body shells a full two years earlier, after 3917 examples had been completed; just 180 of those were right-hand drive. Survivors are rare thanks to low values for decades, and while good Montreals are now worth significant money, with so many other classics also vying for your attention, this is one car that’s likely to maintain a low profile for the foreseeable future.

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  • Chris Marsden says:

    Once saw one in the bronze colour depicted, in a showroom in Leeds when a student, for sale at £5k, around 1980. A little later whilst living in north Lincolnshire, followed a black coloured one that had been damaged and was being towed by a tow truck. Even later my former boss owned a bronze coloured example. Don’t know if he still has it. Nice cars, always loved the shape.

  • Jonathan West says:

    I bought my Montreal after seeing one on display at Haynes Motor Museum a few years back. It was the styling that caught my eye first, those hooded headlamps and sleek lines. Since then I have seen a few at shows but the only colour that really works for me is orange. Pure 70s. The 2.6l V8 is a flexible engine with low down throb. Just don’t mention the pitch/roll handling in corners, although mine has the thicker anti-roll bars at the back. Would be loathed to ever part with her. If it’s good enough for Jay Leno…

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