The two unnamed Alfa Romeos displayed in the Italian pavilion of Montreal’s Universal and International Exposition of 1967 (more commonly known as Expo ’67) dazzled visitors from around the world. They accurately reflected the theme of the exhibit in which they were displayed – Man’s Highest Aspiration in the Automotive Field. Their beauty, created by Marcello Gandini of Italian design house Bertone, was indisputable, and their V8 engines were direct descendants of the Alfa Romeo Tipo 33 racing sports car. When Alfa Romeo announced its production of the car, naming it the Montreal, excited enthusiasts called it “The dream car that came true.”
The most desirable Alfa Romeo ever
The Montreal seemingly had all of the ingredients for success – it had stunning good looks, a jewel of an all-aluminum, 2.6 liter V8 engine that produced 200 horsepower, giving the 2800 lb. Montreal a 0 to 60 mph time of about 7.2 seconds, and it was the only production Alfa Romeo powered by an Alfa-designed V8 engine. Car and Driver magazine said in February of 1972, “It’s the fastest, smoothest, quietest Alfa Romeo ever made, the current Supercar of the species.”
Years later, Road & Track magazine would select it as one of the ten best Bertone designs ever and Motor Trend Classic would call it “One of the most desirable Alfa Romeos ever made”. But only 3,917 were sold, the last coming in 1977, and over the years, values of the Montreal have languished almost as if it had been completely forgotten.
The Montreal encounters turbulent times
The Alfa Romeo Montreal had the misfortune to be created in the turbulent times of the late 1960s, a period of ever-changing emission restrictions and increasing safety requirements in the U.S. To make matters worse, labor disruptions at both Alfa Romeo and Bertone delayed the production debut of the Montreal until 1971, four years after its debut at Expo ‘67.
Prior to its introduction, it became obvious to Alfa Romeo that without major redesign, the Montreal would not meet the then-current U.S. safety and emission standards. Rather than undertake the needed changes, Alfa Romeo made the fateful decision to keep the car as it was. They would avoid the more stringent safety and emission requirements simply by not offering it for sale in North America, essentially robbing the desirable car of its most promising market.
Few Montreals remaining in North America
In the absence of any official sales in North America, it is estimated that there are currently only about 100 Montreals in the U.S. and about a dozen in Canada. As you might imagine, upkeep and maintenance on a sophisticated vehicle that is now at least forty years old can be problematic. Since no service organization was ever established in North America, independent garages must be relied upon to service what was, even forty years ago, a complex engine.
The 2.6 liter Montreal V8 has few parts in common with other Alfa Romeo engines, making replacement parts hard to find, and very expensive when they can be found. Also, the Montreal has a SPICA mechanical fuel injection system that, like many older mechanical fuel injection systems, is frustratingly complex and must have everything correctly adjusted in order for the engine to run properly – a difficult task for backyard mechanics.
Owning a Montreal is an emotional experience
Like many older Italian cars, the Montreal gives its owner an emotional high when it’s running well. In 2013, Motor Trend conducted a classic road test of a 1972 Montreal owned by Mr. Gene Brown of Hidden Valley, California. How does it drive? Mr. Brown summed it up best with, “The thing that gets me about driving this car is the pain in my jaw, because I can’t stop smiling.” We’ll take that as an “OK.”
Brown also touched on the emotions of Italian cars. “Look,” he said, “There’s no rational justification for this car. My decision to buy it was purely an emotional one.” In the first month he had the car, Mr. Brown drove it more than 5,000 miles to Portland via Denver from California and back. Said Mr. Brown, “I’d happily do it again tomorrow.”
The Alfa Romeo Montreal inextricably linked to Expo ’67
The Alfa Romeo Montreal and Montreal Expo ’67 are inextricably linked, both by their names and how they were treated by history. On the 40th anniversary of the opening of Expo ’67, designer Francois Dallegret said of the Expo, “It was a great era, it was fantastic. That spirit went through the whole city. There were great hopes; hopes that didn’t materialize.”
Monsieur Dallegret’s comments apply equally to the Alfa Romeo Montreal – its stunning looks and superb performance raised great hopes, but they were hopes that did not materialize.
Alfa Romeo Montreal Website: http://www.alfamontreal.info/