The Alfa Romeo Montreal has enjoyed a surge in popularity among collectors and fans over the last few years, and for excellent reasons: a coachbuilt body to die for, fitted with a unique V8 engine that sounds like heaven, and exclusivity in spades, with less than 4000 cars made between 1971 and '77.
The Alfa Romeo Montreal owes its name to the Canadian city that hosted the very successful world's fair of 1967.
Visitors of the pavilion dedicated to mankind's technical prowess were treated, among other things, to the sight of two identical Alfa Romeo coupés, resplendent in pearlescent white paint.
Among all carmakers, Alfa Romeo had been invited by the Expo's organizers to showcase no less than "the highest aspiration of man in terms of cars."
It was no mean feat, given the high profile of the occasion, the rather daunting brief, and the fact the Expo was just nine months away!
the production model needed a powerplant whose performance and characteristics matched the car's bold aesthetics.
The short timeframe led to choose the existing Giulia GT platform as a starting point, with the design and construction of the two prototypes in the hands of Alfa's trusted partner Carrozzeria Bertone.
Bertone's designer, Marcello Gandini, adapted the Lamborghini Miura's design language to the Giulia's front-engine configuration, concealed the headlights for dramatic effect, and topped it all off with the now-iconic side slots. Interestingly, that design element came from a previous Bertone creation, the Canguro, from 1964.
Although the show cars had to make do with Giulia Ti 1600cc engines, it was clear the production model needed a powerplant whose performance and characteristics matched the car's bold aesthetics.
Alfa Romeo's racing arm Autodelta had such an engine in-house: the two liters four-cam V8 used on the low-production 33 Stradale supercar. That engine delivered plenty of power, but it was a highly-strung screamer designed with racing in mind, and making it into the smooth, flexible GT car engine Montreal owners know and love took considerable re-engineering.
Perhaps the least inspiring aspect of the Montreal is its basic chassis design.
The compact, light aluminum engine block with iron bores saw its displacement increase to roughly 2.6 liters thanks to a wider bore and longer stroke. The crankshaft was redesigned entirely, switching from the 33's flat-plane design to a more traditional 90° cross-plane, resulting in the Montreal's pleasant burbly noise.
To keep the bonnet line as low as possible, the Montreal V8 retained the 33's dry-sump lubrication system, a solution that's even today hardly ever used on production engines due to its additional costs.
The Lucas fuel-injection system of the 33 Stradale was replaced by a Spica mechanical pump driven by the engine via a rubber belt, fed by two electric pumps located in the fuel tank. The system, quite advanced for the era, contributed to the Montreal's smooth, flexible demeanor in all driving conditions.
The resulting engine's torque output was far more than what the Giulia's gearbox could handle, forcing Alfa Romeo to buy the ZF S5/18 five-speeder, which sent power to the rear wheels via a limited-slip differential.
Perhaps the least inspiring aspect of the Montreal is its basic chassis design. Due to costs and time constraints, the Montreal's platform and suspensions remained a close derivative of the 1750 GTV, albeit with widened front and rear tracks, uprated brakes with ventilated discs all around, and wide-for-the-era Michelin 195/70 tires on Campagnolo 14" alloy wheels.
Nowadays the Montreal's exterior design garners almost universal admiration wherever it goes, but contemporary critics were somewhat less impressed when the car finally launched in 1971.
During the four years passed between the show-cars' presentation and production reality, the Montreal became taller and chunkier to accommodate the V8 engine and larger wheels while providing enough interior space, access, and visibility to its driver and passenger.
envisaged in a moment of prosperity and optimism, it was out of place in the era of high fuel costs, speed limits, and double-digit inflation
Moreover, as what was considered the cutting edge of automotive design had moved on, the Montreal's voluptuous curves by 1971 seemed old-fashioned against the sharp wedge designs that Bertone itself was introducing at the time.
The bodyshell of the Montreal was manufactured by Bertone near Turin. Montreal bodies were mostly handcrafted, starting from the floorpan and firewall pressings supplied by Alfa's Arese plant, where the bodies, once fully dressed, were sent back to receive their engines and running gear.
Turmoil at the Arese plant delayed production, with the first few hundred cars built reserved for the domestic market.
Shortly after the model's introduction, a plastic spoiler was introduced to reduce aerodynamic lift at high speed, with the added bonus of a slightly increased top speed. Nowadays, it's impossible to find a Montreal without it, as Alfa Romeo had them dealer-installed on the cars already sold as well.
The lion's share of Montreals was made in 1972, before the Oil Crisis dealt a killer blow to the performance car market in late '73.
By then, the Montreal had become a dinosaur, an anachronism: envisaged in a moment of prosperity and optimism, it was out of place in the era of high fuel costs, speed limits, and double-digit inflation.
Alfa Romeo itself had other priorities, dealing with labor unrest and the disastrous start of Alfasud production in the new Naples factory.
The Montreal's production fell down to a trickle, and the last 27 cars were completed in 1977.
The two original prototypes from the 1967 Expo came back to Italy once the exhibition closed. Thankfully, both survive to this day, stored in the Alfa Romeo Museum's vault, together with hundreds of other priceless classics.