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Alfa Romeo Montreal

Canada Dry Published: 20th May 2011 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Fast Facts

  • Best model: RHD model
  • Worst model: Anything ropey
  • Budget buy: Half completed restos
  • OK for unleaded?: Needs additive
  • Will it fit in the garage? (mm): (mm) L4220 x W1672
  • Spares situation: Indifferent
  • DIY ease?: Not bad at all
  • Club support: Dedicated
  • Appreciating asset?: Started already
  • Good buy or good-bye?: Depends how you like Alfas
Race bred V8 is robust and quite rapid. Should run on EFI but some converted to carbs (above) for reliability Race bred V8 is robust and quite rapid. Should run on EFI but some converted to carbs (above) for reliability
Interior is good but the Alfa is quite useless as a 2+2 coupe Interior is good but the Alfa is quite useless as a 2+2 coupe
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Or does this underrated, often criticised Alfa with a race-bred V8 whet your whistle?

Pros & Cons

Lambo looks, V8 lineage, value for money, rarity
Incredibly thirsty, average handling, useless rear seats, dear to run and repair
£7000-£21,000

Take one prestigious Italian carmaker with a track record for making great cars. Create a 2+2 coupe from a concept car that looks a bit like a Lamborghini Miura, shove in a race proven V8 that actually found it’s way into F1 and mix it with proven mechanicals… and what do you get? The answer is the Alfa Romeo Montreal, perhaps the one of the most misunderstood and underrated Alfas ever. Montreal was Alfa’s attempt at making a proper budget supercar and in the seven years in production less than 4000 were made. For decades they were largely ignored by enthusiasts and fans of all things Alfa Romeo, but are now being seen for what they are; that is a cut price Ferrari with even more exclusivity and pedigree. Here’s how to buy a good one.

History

Stocks took two years to clearout

The Alfa Romeo Montreal was fi rst shown to the public back in 1967 as a concept car to mark the sensational Expo ’67 exhibition held in Montreal, hence the name. It was meant to be just a concept by Bertone but interest was so strong that Alfa felt compelled to put it in production. Sadly due to various reasons the project had to wait four years later where Balocco provided the perfect backdrop for the Montreal’s delayed introduction to the eager motoring press back in 1971. Although the car looked mid-engined, not unlike the Lamborghini Miura introduced a couple of years before, the Montreal was actually based upon Alfa’s existing 1750 GTV fl oorpan although it did have a trick up its sleeve – or rather under the bonnet; a track proven V8! A 2.5 V8 (originally a 2.0) used by Jack Brabham in the Tasman Cup (1967) was supplied by Alfa Romeo. Within months Autodelta was equipping some racing Alfa T33s with a 2.5 V8, and did well at the 1968 Targa Florio. A star had been born: a 2593cc V8, all aluminium unit that boasted quad cams and dry sump lubrication. A serious piece of kit then. Although well known for using five-speed transmissions, what Alfa did not have was a gearbox strong enough to cope with the power of a V8, so a German ZF ’box was used instead. All the sudden, a practical but serious supercar was gaining shape. The max imum power produced by the engine was 200bhp @ 6500 rpm – 35bhp less than the racing tune while torque was posted at 173lbft with the spinning at just under a heady 5000rpm. Fewer than 4000 Montreals were built and only 225 were right-hand drive – although some exper ts doubt that fi gure and reckon on between 120-170, the fi rst arriving in the summer of ’72 with a fat five grand price tag to match. To put this in perspective the brilliant Ferrari Dino 246GT was a smidgen over £200 more (now a six fi gure purchase for a good one!), as was the delightful Porsche 911S while the V12 S3 E-type Jag was an incredible £1800 cheaper, leaving enough to buy a lovely two year old XJ6 for the daily duties! The Montreal’s development took place in diffi cult times, and a series of union crises blighted the birth of the Montreal, extending its gestation time too long. But it was the fuel crisis of the early 70s killed the car off, where sales fell dramatically (it‘s best year was 1972 when more than 2000 were shifted). After minimal further development and refi ning it was offi cially dropped by Alfa in 1977 although the remaining unsold cars were built some two years earlier. It was that unpopular.

Driving

Distinctive as it was, and still is, the Montreal was an odd ball. It looked like a supercar but was essentially a V8-powered GTV, live rear wheel drive axle et all. But it worked okay, most of the time. That said people weren‘t raving about the car, in complete contrast to the new entry level poverty Alfa – the Alfasud – that was launched around the same time. Topping and tailing the Alfa range, they were like chalk and cheese but the Sud gave the most fun. Naturally the Montreal’s party piece remains that characterful V8 which will be forever linked with the competition 33’s. In road tune it, gives the car its unique identity, with plenty of pulling power. As one would expect from such an engine, the race bred V8 is rev happy yet offers considerable flexibility as almost 90 per cent torque isdeveloped from 3000rpm. Fast if not furious best describes the Montreal’s stopwatch standard. 0-60mph in 7.5 secs and 134mph was respectable sure, but not supercar stuff. But of course it sounds fast and fabulous although fuel economy was and is dire, being no better than say a Jensen Interceptor at around 13-14mpg, despite advanced electronic ignition and fuel injection being fi tted. The Italian press reported, at the time of launch, that the ZF gearbox had excellent ease of use (manovrabilita’) and ‘was ideal for expert drivers, due to its short and fast engagement’. The high gear ratio makes driving the car in town and on B-roads an easy affair, especially as it is coupled to the great engine fl exibility avoids too frequent gear changes. Handling was as you’d expect from a bigengined GTV although road testers complained of the handling feeling too soft and rolly while the V8 could easily catch the unwary out in the wet. The brakes, as with most Alfa Romeos, are not the Montreal’s strongest point either but the Montreal would not be a proper Alfa if its steering ever felt dead or uncommunicative. Its precision and sharpness are up there with the best. Initial understeer in entering corners is followed by (sometimes) violent but progressive oversteer on exits if pushed. The limited slip differential is of great help in reining in all the power and the strong torque available. If you need a comparison to what the Alfa drives like then those in the know reckon a good one feels like a downmarket Dino. Ferrari that is.Yet surprisingly the press were quite lukewarm to the hottest Alfa yet. In it’s June 1972 test Motor loved the V8 and the gearbox but thought that for the price the car lackeddevelopment elsewhere. It said the car was so unsuited as a 2+2 that “the rear seats are so unusable that four adults could not travel in the car at all – and it’s more comfortable to seat three in the front (two seats and a fat transmission tunnel remember!-ed) than condemn one person to the rear”. Luggage space was similarly useless as was rear visibility. You’d have thought that card carrying Alfa fans at Car would have loved the Montreal yet felt it was half baked and cobbled together, curtly asking “What went wrong?”. That’s a harsh assessment but we are talking about the car when new; today a well kept Montreal makes for a satisfying cut price Miura with a glorious engine and predictable rear wheel drive road manners that’s at its best as a GT just for two on long journeys.

Improvements

With a strong 200bhp from new, perhaps just careful tweaking and fi ne tuning on a rolling road plus a sports aluminium exhaust will suffi ce for many. It’s the handling and brakes that can do with uprating. Owners report much improved handling by simply swapping the original shock absorbers in favour of Bilstein or Koni units. The former recommends B46-0463 gas pressure shock absorbers for the front and B46-0473 for the rear. Montreal handling kits have been manufactured which permit a more radical improvement in roadholding. A kit containing springs and a pair of anti-roll bars can be supplied by Classic Alfa. The anti-roll bars are similar to those of the excellent Harvey Bailey kit but and the ride height is about 1.3 cm lower. Suspension specialists Harvey Bailey Engineering manufactures a dedicated Montreal handling kit comprising modifi ed front and rear anti-roll bars and four new springs (plus optional Bilstein dampers). Montreals from Chassis No. 1428312 onwards were fi tted with upgraded front suspension springs (Part No. 105.41.21.505.00, GR Code 60713589) anyway and Alfa recommendsretrofitting these to earlier vehicles. In 1983 Alfa specifi ed 200/70 VR14 and 205/70 VR14 tyres as a modern substitute for the original 195/70 VR14s. As the chassis is essentially 105 Series, the existing range of performance brakes from specialists can be used.

Prices

For what they offer: race bred engine, supercar looks and that Alfa pedigree, Montreals appear dirt cheap – but for how much longer? You still see them around the £7-10,000 mark but really top ones have crept up to £20,000 and can even go beyond. And you get what you pay for as restos are expensive and diffi cult due to the scarcity of parts.

What To Look For

  • Montreals were built better than most Alfas of that era. One of the reasons for that may be that – after having been built at Caselle – the cars were then moved to Grugliasco, where Bertone had set up an advanced fi nishing plant, so that their steel bodywork would be treated to preserve it better from the ravages of time. RHD cars were built at Modena.
  • There is only one current process of paint application which comes close to the painstakingly long process which all Montreals endured, and that’s the ‘Nuvola’ and ‘Aurora’ fi nish (all seven layers of it) available in the modern Alfa 156, GTV and 166. Whether or not this ensures that the Montreal you stumble across will be spotless is debatable.
  • There aren’t that many cars around but be as picky as you can as they will vary conditionwise. If you can drive a few to set a reference point then so much the better. The V8’s thirst mean that it’s not a car that’s going to be used daily but avoid Montreals that only go out once in a blue moon as lack of regular use can lead to trouble with the running gear and the electronics. Naturally some sort of service record from a known specialist is worth its weight in gold.
  • Known rot spots are the fl oor, sills (inner and outer) and rear wings. Naturally due to the car’s exclusivity parts can be hard to obtain, so vet well. And what’s lurking under those stainless sill trims? Check thoroughly but most cars have been restored by now.
  • Apart from the floor, check the boot areas and where the battery resides. Look for past repairs, welding, fi ller etc. Inspect the mental around those air vents which is another rot prone area.
  • That race-bred V8 is fairly sturdy and unstressed in road-going tune and surprisingly long lasting; six fi gure mileages are not a problem if regularly serviced – and that’s the sticking point.
  • The special fuel injection system can be amystery – and people talk a lot of tosh about it. It’s an obscure make called Spica and although parts availability are not too bad when the system plays up, many owners chuck it in favour of Weber carbs – a retrograde step.
  • The problem is mainly setting up the systemto satisfy emission tests. You really need to take it to a specialist who really understands Montreals to have it tuned correctly. Incidentally. Spica systems were also fi tted to four-pot Alfas destined for the US.
  • The main concern is the injection pump packing up due to rust and a complete overhaul costing £1000 – oh and it has to be sent to the US for it to be done, too.
  • Water pumps can be a worry but the owners club has a worthwhile upgrade for this. The engine is fairly robust and a not unreasonable £3000 plus for a full rebuild is the going rate from a specialist.
  • The ZF transmission is tough as you’d expect – just the usual checks suffi ce. ZFs can be characteristically noisy at idle although the change should always be positive. Any repairs to the ’box or limited slip diff – or just a clutch change – is an expensive proposition.
  • The running gear is chiefl y upgraded 1750 GTV although bear in mind that LHD and RHD car used a different deign of steering box. Worn dampers and springs plus the usual wear in the steering linkages are not uncommon.
  • The electrics seem surprisingly more durable than normal Alfa volts and amps but nevertheless check that everything works okay, including the natty headlamp eyelids.
  • A car with poor trim will be diffi cult and expensive to put back to originality. Switchgear is special to the Montreal and so will be hard to track down and expensive.
  • High maintenance costs should not be underestimated. Bear in mind also that not all Alfa specialists are geared up to care for Montreals. Or like them.
  • Don’t think that it’s just a gunned up GTV; the car will be a lot costlier to run, repair and restore than other Alfas.
  • Without doubt the best course of action is to join the highly enthusiastic owners club on 01878 249285 or click on http://www.aroc-uk.com.
  • Full details on the Montreal and much, much more are contained in the brilliant Swiss-based website: http://www.alfamontreal.info.

Three Of A Kind

Ferrari Mondial
Ferrari Mondial
In many ways the 2+2 Mondial is a good alternative to the Montreal plus if you want a low cost genuine supercar that gets you noticed then this Ferrari has few rivals. Later QV and 3.2s have the performance to match the badge and there’s a cabriolet, too. Like the Alfa, the Mondial fell out of favour with lovers of the badge and into the hands of skinfl int poseurs.Yet a good one is surprisingly underrated.
Fiat Dino
Fiat Dino
In common with the Montreal, the Fiat Dino also uses a race proven engine – a gem of a Formula 2 Ferrari unit that was also used in the Dino V6, and like the Alfa it is a genuine cut price supercar. Available in coupe or roadster guise, the fastback is a true 2+2. A more cultured classic than the Alfa although it’s not particularly refi ned or spectacularly quick. All are LHD; good value but costly to restore.
Citroen SM
Citroen SM
Around the same time as the Alfa, Citroen’s supercar was even more technologically advanced, being based upon the incredible DS but with marvellous Maserati power up front. A brilliant cruiser, SMs are fast rising in stock and are no harder to keep than a DS, except for the engine which is specialist and can prove costly to rebuild. LHD only and it’s a huge car to drive – but always deeply satisfying.

Verdict

The Montreal is a Marmite car even to Alfa devotees and specialists. You either love or hate them. What you can’t argue against is the car’s exclusivity, heritage and investment potential. When we last featured this car four years ago we said that they could only increase in value and this has been the case and will remain so. By the same token a good Alfa Romeo Montreal is still cheap for what it offers.



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