Obsessions #4 – Alfa Romeo Montreal

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Author: James ElliottPublished:

This one goes way back, too. Yup, there does seem to be a slight theme of big-engined 2+2s developing here, but who can blame anyone for being seduced by such a beguiling, out of type creation?

By "out of type" I mean that the Montreal is the most unAlfa of all the Alfas ever. And that perhaps is what appeals more than anything when you measure it against the marque's consistently brilliant, but slightly "obvious choice" output. Even without the intoxicating yet fragile V8, the Bertone styling sets it apart from the GTVs that we all lust after so much, enjoy driving so much, but somehow don't get around to buying because, even if they are not quite on every corner, in inverted snobbery terms they rank with an MGB or an E-type.

Nothing wrong with any of those cars, of course, and I would have any in a heartbeat, but if part of the joy of your car is standing out (not in a spivvy, overly flash way), or owning something that sets you apart from the herd, then very little will do that better than a Montreal.

This is a car that through those futuristic, still youthful Gandini lines will entrance even non-enthusiasts who, thanks to the slender sub-4000 production run of from the start of the 1970s to 1977, will have absolutely no idea what it is. I genuinely think that if this shape was launched today, not one would bat an eyelid or dare to utter the word "retro".

I will admit to being a bit cheeky in the past (well evil might be a better word) scorning its looks and comparing it to a Celica GT when a former colleague raved about them. Evil and childish, as it turns out, because I did this solely to try and put him off so he would leave them all to me. Sorry Rich.

Mind you, everyone knew my caustic dismissals were hogwash because my computer screensaver in those days was a massively crossed up Montreal on the Classic Adelaide rally in Australia. Writing this piece prompted me to look it out, but, several computers, a few buildings and probably 10 different desks further on in life, I was devastated to discover I couldn't find it anymore.

A couple of years after I passed up a car (pre-auction, for which it was carrying a £10k guide price) for a mere £7 grand. I was younger, poorer (not than now, but than I was a few years after this incident) and a conversation with Tom Hardiment, then of Garage on the Green in London, somehow put me off. I think it centred around engine bills. Back then, you could have had a minter for £15k. Better to hold out for that I reckoned.

Having £15k and finding the right car never did coincide, but even now, these cars are astonishing good value, and well under £30k will secure you something very special indeed – still with all the cognoscenti cachet and, the uppermost and downermost side of Montreal ownership: respect from the classic community for being brave enough to own one.

In that sense you can file it with the Citroën SM (another obsession of mine and one that is a natural bedfellow for the Alfa) and for a similar reason: the engine. The Alfa's Spica fuel-injected 2593cc unit – driving through a ZF five-speeder – has a monumental Achilles' Heel.

It may offer tantalising tunes bludgeoning its way from 0-60mph in seven seconds before topping out at a theoretical 140mph, but those stats are as of nothing if you are stranded by the roadside thanks to a small ball-bearing letting go and eventually lunching the engine.

The little problem with the Montreal you see is this ball bearing supports the shaft that drives the water pump impeller. In fact that is not the problem, the problem is that all too often it doesn't support it. This is in part due to the fact that the idler shaft in question – chain-driven off the crank – also carries the sprockets that drive the camshaft chains. You can see where this is going, so I will stop before its gets too gory. Suffice to say, one small ball bearing giving out, as it rather too regularly did, led to frequent and costly engine dilemmas that plagued the Montreal throughout its life.

Despite that, this car (served by an excellent website here http://www.alfamontreal.info/ if you want to know more, Bruce Taylor in print and on-line being the guru of these cars and from whom I have paraphrased the techie bit above) is as close to a Tipo 33 Stradale that any of us mere mortals will every  get.

I know also that I share this obsession with a couple of senior figures in the car world, which I consider a sort of peer validation for my own wonky thinking. One of these people is none other than Joanne Marshall, senior PR bod at Ferrari. In Maranello.

In fact, when I visited last year, this incurable classic fiend (originally from the west country, but who basically camped out in Italy until they gave her a job) had just finally bought her own Montreal after decades of promising herself one. She enthused and I enthused, in fact we enthused together - boring all and sundry around us - on the subject of Montreals for the best part of a day.

Hers was just having a couple of final little things sorted in Milan before she took delivery. I was sorry to have missed it, but asked about it every time I had occasion to contact her thereafter. And every time it was the same story, until I stopped asking for the sake of her sanity and my own.

For all I know, Joanne probably still hasn't got her hands on her Montreal, and maybe that means it's a good thing that I never got one either.

Comments

Golfboy

now that is a very sexy car!

Valve Bounce

31k at Bonhams the other day for this lovely looking car that's got the Alfa forums twitching recently.

http://www.bonhams.com/eur/auction/19286/lot/495/

It had this intriguing saleroom notice on it.

"We are pleased to inform bidders that contrary to rumours within the Alfa Romeo fraternity about this car due to its celebrity history it has not been crushed or involved in a fire. The vendor advises “whilst in Yasmin le Bon’s ownership she hit the end of her garage wall braking the grill, 1 headlight and 1 eye lid. The car was drivable and not badly damaged. The car was written off due to no new parts being available at the time to fix the damage. .."

GreaseMonkey (not verified)

Always admired the Montreal, still do, but I did not know the details of it's weakness. Is this something that some Alfa expert somewhere could engineer a fix for? Maybe a bit of machining work on the block and stronger bearings? It is a shame if that is all that stops them being as useable as any other Alfa. I too have a leaning to front-engined, preferably V8, 2+2s and the Montreal, Interceptor, Porsche 928s all have that seventies 'Grunt-With-Class' GT character, but unfortunately I have to own up to being chicken and playing safe with a Mercedes 450SLC for now. It has the go, and the quality build, but is neither rare nor flash, but at least I do not have to worry whether it is going to fail on me. Chris Martin

Speedangel

great car, I can really see myself in one of those. I love the shape, especially at the back.

Zagato

Another great choice from Mr Elliott. I went to buy one of these a few years ago when you could still get a good one for £12k. I loved the engine - especially the demonic howl at high revs - but the handing was nothing special, to put it kindly. Although they have an undeniable glamour I still find the styling just a little too fussy, I hate the cheesey alloys and those overhangs are well over the top - Jeremy Clarkson with his belt too tight. Even so, I would love to have one in my (theoretical) collection, ideally parked next to my fantastically ugly-in-a-good-way Alfa SZ...

Zagato

rob3375

The Montreal featured is actually mine. I do not agree with the comment that the V8 engine is fragile. I have had no problems with my car to date which is now forty years old. I have travelled throughout Europe attending several international meetings completing thousands of trouble free miles including several laps of various European race tracks, during what I would describe as spirited driving. I have most recently just completed 2000 miles traveling to Finland and back.

The main problem with the Montreal is that too many have been laid up for long periods. When prices rise they are released onto the market for a quick buck having not been prepared properly. You are always better to find a car which has been used frequently and forget a car with low miles. I know of cars on the original engine with in excess of 250,000 kilometers and still going strong. The key is regular servicing and frequent use. If it is tuned properly 20 mpg is the norm. If I drive my car at a steady 50 mph (not often) I can get 25 mpg plus... but why would you. If you are concerned about mpg the Montreal is not for you.

Rob3375

Tinker

Nice read ... I happen to have one of each if you aver want to do a road test of course!

Oh the SM is rather special one as it's a Regembeau ....

James Elliott

Rob, you're not making it any easier for me! At least leave me one spurious reason not to sell everything and buy one. Just the pictures of your car (and the feedback from Russ Smith) make it tough enough for me to resist. James

Group Editor, C&SC

James Elliott

Tinker, I am assuming you mean an uprated/rebuilt Regembeau petrol engine and not his diesel conversion! 

James

Group Editor, C&SC

Tinker

Yes petrol ... I hate diesel !

Pics if you want https://picasaweb.google.com/jpsstubbs/SMRG?authuser=0&authkey=Gv1sRgCPGWo9PE2teZhwE&feat=directlink

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