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Alfa Montreal

Alfa Montreal Published: 22nd Apr 2015 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Fast Facts

  • Best model: Anything restored and upgraded
  • Worst model: Standard tatty cars
  • Budget buy: RHD cars cost less than LHD
  • OK for unleaded?: No problems
  • Will it fit in the garage? (mm): L4220 x W1670mm
  • Spares situation: Better than you might think
  • DIY ease?: Only routine maintenance
  • Club support: Excellent
  • Appreciating asset?: Very much so right now
  • Good buy or good-bye?: At last the Alfa is getting the recognition it deserves – so it’s no longer the bargain it once was
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There’s been no shortage of enigmatic cars over the years, but one of the most intriguing, enchanting and left-field must be the Alfa Romeo Montreal.

It looked like nothing else, packed a 2.6-litre V8 unique to this 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.

With relatively few Montreals built, this unusual Alfa has long lived in the shadows and it still enjoys something of a low profile. But with alternative (albeit much more high-profile) Italian V8-powered supercars and grand tourers climbing ever further out of reach, it seems the Montreal’s day has come. So if you’ve always fancied one, you may already have left things too late. If your budget will stretch however, now is probably the time to buy, because while the Montreal is no longer a V8 bargain, values are going one way only.

History

1967 Bertone displays a pair of white concept cars at the Montreal Expo World Fair, based on the platform of the Alfa Romeo 1600GT Junior. There’s talk of putting them into production; the result is huge demand from buyers desperate to have their own ‘Montreal’. As a result, Alfa Romeo has no choice but to develop a road-legal version of the concept. The designer is Marcello Gandini – the same man who penned the astonishingly beautiful Lamborghini Miura.

1970 The road-ready Montreal is revealed at the Geneva motor show. It’s powered by a detuned version of the 2.0-litre quad-cam dry-sump V8 usually fitted to the T33 sports racer; the displacement is now 2593cc and with eight-valve cylinder heads plus Spica mechanical fuel injection it develops 200bhp at 6000rpm and 173lb ft of torque at 4750rpm.

1971 Production starts, with the all-steel bodyshells being built by Bertone. Things get 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 would slow to just 319 units in that year.

1972 UK imports begin in August, with the car priced at £5077. That’s just £522 less than a Ferrari Dino 246GT, over 50 per cent more than an E-type V12 and twice the price of a Triumph Stag, which also came with a 3.0-litre V8. The Alfa is £1100 cheaper than the BMW 3.0 CSi, but that’s little consolation to potential buyers, who generally stay away.

1977 The Montreal officially goes out of production, with Alfa Romeo finally removing it from its price lists. However, Bertone claims it built the last Montreal bodyshells a full two years earlier…!

DRIVING AND PRESS COMMENTS

Autocar first got behind the wheel of a Montreal on a test day in May 1971, but it would be another year before the same magazine subjected the car to a full test. The review started by putting the detuning of the V8 into context, and how that would impact on reliability – a prediction that would prove to be spot on. By reducing the peak power point for the engine from 8800rpm to 6500rpm, and cutting maximum power in the process from 235bhp to 200bhp, the V8 wasn’t remotely stressed in its new road-going application. Peak torque was also reduced, to 173lb ft at 4,750rpm; the racer’s torque peak was at a decidedly heady 7000rpm.

This detuning also endowed the Montreal with superb flexibility; it could be started off in fourth gear, which would then take the car all the way to 120mph; maximum speed was 140mph in fifth.

The review continued: “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 diff 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” it enthused.

The magazine continued with the plaudits: “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”.

Car – usually a staunch Alfa fan back then – couldn’t disagree about the Montreal, complaining about too much understeer along with disappointing roadholding and performance. “What went wrong” it asked back in late 1973!

IMPROVEMENTS

In period the Montreal was criticised by some for having a poorly set up chassis, with suspension that was too soft and brakes that could have been stronger. As a result, there’s an array of companies that’ll upgrade a Montreal chassis for you, but owners have been known to modify their cars, then revert to the original set-up. Many Montreal buyers value originality highly; as with all modifications, it comes down to personal taste.

If you think the original set-up is a bit soft, it’s possible to fit revised springs and dampers along with tweaked anti-roll bars. There are various handling packages available off the shelf. One is offered by Alfaholics, which also offers brake upgrades that consist of four-pot callipers with larger ventilated discs. Classic Alfa also offers handling upgrade kits (two anti-roll bars and four springs) for £480. These stiffen the suspension and lower the car by 30mm; Koni Sport shock absorbers can be fitted to complement the kit, but the preference appears to be Bilstein.

Prices

A couple of years ago you could pick up a mangy Montreal for a few thousand pounds, while good cars were available for less than £20,000. Sadly that’s not the case now; you’ll pay at least £12,000 for a Montreal that needs a complete restoration, while something that won’t need significant expenditure any time soon will set you back at least £40,000 – expect to pay £60,000 for something really nice. The best cars are touching £100,000; in one of the recent Retromobile auctions, a Montreal was sold for 109,000 Euros, and it wasn’t even one of the best of the breed.

Meanwhile, a really good left-hand drive Montreal was sold for just £55,000 on eBay in December; those in the know reckoned the car could have gone for significantly more. Unsurprisingly, these two transactions illustrate all too well that who is selling a car – or where it’s being sold – can make a big difference to a Montreal’s value.

Incidentally, somewhere between 20 and 30 Montreals are sold throughout Europe each year, with no discernible difference in values between left and right-hand drive cars. As with many specialist cars, a lot of the Montreals sold don’t change hands on the open market; they’re never advertised as such.

It’s over the past six months that we’ve seen the biggest increases in value. Chris Slade has run the Montreal Register for more than 25 years. Part of the Alfa Romeo Owners’ Club, it’s a register that features cars from around the world, with about 120 UK cars on the list. Says Chris: “As other Italian cars have increased in value, out of reach of the enthusiast, the Montreal seems to have taken the place of some of the junior Ferrari, Maserati and Lamborghini models. Interest in the model has grown massively to the point where there’s a real shortage of available cars. The good news is that people are still prepared to buy project cars and restore them. Over the last quarter of a century or so I’ve broken half a dozen Montreals that were beyond saving, but nobody is breaking these cars now because the values are too high”.

Many of the Montreals changing hands are being bought as an investment; some are going into collections never to be driven, while others are used sparingly. Predictably, most buyers want mint cars – and certainly the very best examples they can lay their hands on. But there aren’t that many minters to go round, and they rarely come onto the market. While there are lots of Alfa specialists in the UK, Montreal experts are fewer and further between. Says Slade: “There are perhaps 10 or 12 Montreals that have been restored to perfection by people who really know what they’re doing. If a Montreal has been revived by Robert Thompson, Nescliffe of Shrewsbury or Swadlincote-based Butlin & Son, you know it’ll be a good one. The thing is, owners restore to keep, not to sell, so these cars rarely change hands”.

Slade continues: “There’s a vast amount of information, contacts, knowledge and parts available through the Register, but it’s amazing how many people don’t use it. It’s not at all unusual for someone to have their car worked on by somebody who doesn’t know what they’re doing, or to pay over the odds for parts, only to find that we could have helped them find the same parts or a higher standard of workmanship, for much less money”.

Chris cites the recent example of a clutch plate being advertised for £328 when he can supply them for £120; even a three-piece kit is available for just over £200 through the Register, while they’re advertised for as much as £450 elsewhere. So while purchase costs are necessarily high, you can slash the running costs of any potential purchase by joining the Register and picking Chris Slade’s brains at every opportunity.

What To Look For

General

  • Officially the Montreal needs to be serviced every 3000 miles and you’ll be fine to do much of the work yourself. Changing fluids, replacing spark plugs and keeping on top of the coolant is straightforward enough. However, a pit stop every couple of years is as much as most Montreals get, and that’s plenty as long as the oil and filter are renewed.
  • When it comes to maintenance rather than merely servicing, much of the work needs to be farmed out to a professional with the right equipment to set everything up properly. Perhaps the best example of this is the fuel injection; easy to set up incorrectly.
  • Most of the brightwork is stainless steel, so it lasts really well. But if anything is missing you’ll struggle to find replacement parts because most of it disappeared years ago.
  • Many of the interior parts were shared with the Giulia range so they’re that bit easier to track down. The seats were bespoke however and the velour trim doesn’t last that well.
  • The windows are electric, but demonstrating the faith Alfa had in its cars, an emergency crank handle was supplied if they failed. It should be stored in the glovebox; without it, your windows are stuck because there’s nothing else that will do the job…

Running Gear

  • The ZF S 5-18/3 five-speed manual gearbox fitted to all Montreals was also fitted to an array of other 1970’s classics, such as the Aston Martin DBS. It’s a strong transmission that only really gives trouble if the engine has been tuned to produce significantly more than the standard 200bhp and taxes it.
  • Expect minor oil leaks from the gearbox and don’t worry; it’s normal to have to top it up every 4000 miles. The limited-slip diff should have its oil changed every 12,000 miles to keep it sweet, so check the service history. Both the gearbox and the LSD have a magnetic drain plug to collect filings and swarf, which needs to be cleaned each service.
  • Much of the Montreal’s steering and suspension system is borrowed from the 105-series Giulia, so it’s generally available (standard or uprated) and parts aren’t especially costly.
  • However, the Montreal features a unique steering box which in left-hand drive form can struggle to turn the wheels under the weight of that less than lightweight V8, so its casing cracks over time (check for this). New casings are available, but they cost over £600 plus fitting. Right-hand drive cars don’t suffer from the same problem thankfully.

Body & Chasis

  • There are no new panels left, but it’s possible to fabricate a lot of what’s needed, or some parts are available on a used basis, from donor cars.
  • Checks with the sills, especially where they meet the lower edges of the wings. The sills themselves are the same as those fitted to the 105-series, so they consist of three parts. These are the outer, middle and inner, the latter section being the floorpan.
  • Those vents in the rear pillars have a tendency to scoop water up and channel it behind the wings, where it then gets trapped and eats its way through the metal. Rippled metal betrays poor repairs; bubbling metal suggests repairs will soon be needed.

Engine

 

  • Quad-cam V8 is complicated but generally reliable. You’ll need a load of special tools to maintain it properly though, and why specialist help is essential.
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  • The Spica fuel injection system has a poor reputation which isn’t entirely deserved. It generally keeps working fine, but the mechanical pump can wear out or need to be recalibrated. Once this happens, the best thing to do is send it to Wes Ingram in Seattle (wesingram.com), hand over $1975 and get him to rebuild it and recalibrate it.
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  • Fuelling issues are more likely to be down to the filters not having been replaced frequently enough; at £85 per set, they’re often overlooked.
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  • Fuel starvation can also be caused by one of the two electric pumps failing. Look for the Alimento warning light to the left of the rev counter. If this stays lit for more than a couple of seconds when the ignition is switched on, but with the engine not running, it’s because the fuel pressure has dropped. New pumps are available from Bosch but they’re expensive, which is why a rebuild is usually preferable – or modern alternatives can be fitted instead.
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  • The seal for the water pump shaft can fail, leading to the oil and coolant mixing. It’ll be given away by a white mayonnaise-like substance in the oil reservoir or on the dipstick. The seal gets damaged when the engine’s front cover bearing fails; this supports the water pump shaft. A modified cover can be fitted which removes the problem.
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  • Head gaskets can also fail; checking cylinder compressions is the easiest way of checking. Expect 140-200psi for each cylinder; if two adjacent combustion chambers are showing significantly lower than this, the gasket is kaput.
  • Three Of A Kind

    ASTON MARTIN DBS
    ASTON MARTIN DBS
    After the DB6, William Towns’ DB6-based DBS was a radical departure, and as with the Montreal, this was something of a bargain option until recently, especially in straight-six form. But fast-rising values have put the Aston out of reach for many – really good cars are now well into six figures.
    BMW 3.0 CSI
    BMW 3.0 CSI
    Values for these understated coupés trail those of the V8 Alfa, with good cars starting at around £18,000 with something really good available for half as much again. As you’d expect it’s well screwed together and it’s a great cruiser – but you’ll have to search to find a good rust-free one.
    CITROËN SM
    CITROËN SM
    If you crave something left-field but the Alfa is just that little bit too obscure, this bonkers collaboration between Citroën and Maserati might just fit the bill. Ratty cars start below £10,000, good ones are closer to £15,000 but something amazing can cost up to £40,000. Complex and quirky to run, too.

    Verdict

    There were just 3917 Montreals made, of which a mere 180 featured right-hand drive, all made between 1973 and 1975 and of which just 155 were officially imported to the UK. It’s estimated there are around 120 Montreals now in the UK, split fairly evenly between left and righthand drive. If you’re tempted your first stop must be to contact the Montreal Register. Contact Chris on 0121 742 5420, or via email (.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)). Chris keeps a record of people keen to track down a Montreal, and by joining this you might get your hands on one that’s never advertised but be prepared to wait for the right car to come along.



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