The Alfa Romeo Montreal was revealed to the world at Canada’s Expo ‘67, held in Montreal and often mistakenly referred to as the Montreal World’s Fair. The Italian firm had been asked to develop a car to represent the automobile industry, and rose to the occasion in magnificent fashion, albeit with the design help of Carrozzeria Bertone.
Named Montreal in honor of its venue, the show car was based on the 105-series Alfa Romeo Giulia chassis, but Bertone’s fastback coupe body featured a column of large air slots behind each door that suggested a mid-engine configuration. It was reported at the show that while the display car was a one-of-a-kind prototype, it had been designed with possible production in mind.
A production version was eventually shown, though not until 1970. Appearance was little altered, but a major change had occurred in the motive power. Nestled under the hood up front was a new 2593-cc four-cam, aluminum-block V-8 with Spica mechanical fuel injection. Producing 200 DIN (230 SAE) horsepower at 6500 rpm, it was, in fact, nothing less than a detuned version of Alfa’s T33 racing engine. At 2830 pounds, the Alfa Romeo Montreal weighed about 470 pounds more than the Giulia 2000 GTV, its closest stablemate. That gave it a power-to-weight ratio of just 12.1 lbs/bhp (SAE) while the lighter Giulia 2000 came in at about 20 lbs/bhp.
Like the show car, the production Alfa Romeo Montreal used the Giulia suspension, which meant lower A-arms and upper transverse and trailing links at the front, and a live rear axle with lower trailing arms and an upper T-bar from chassis to differential case for lateral location. Wheelbase was the same as that of the Giugiaro-designed 105/115-series Sprint coupe, while overall length was some four inches less.
Despite its conventional front-engine/rear-drive layout, the production Alfa Romeo Montreal retained the show car’s distinctive C-pillar slots for cockpit ventilation. These conferred a unique if somewhat busy look, as did the front, which had three separate openings: a central one shaped like the traditional Alfa Romeo shield, and one on each side that surrounded the quad headlights. The lights themselves were partly hidden behind slatted grilles reaching up into the nose.
Any Alfa Romeo owner, particularly one familiar with the Giulias, would feel right at home in the Montreal, noting how many items were the same in both cars. Unfortunately, minor instruments are difficult to read quickly, clustered under the large speedometer and tach in twin pods. In typical Italian fashion, the steering wheel is raked forward more than most American or British drivers are used to and want. This had led to nasty comments from automotive journalists over the years about Italians being built like apes, with long arms and short legs.
This misconception reflects a lack of knowledge about the Italian driving style. One of this book’s authors was fortunate in being able to take a ride around Alfa’s test track in an Alfa Romeo Montreal with one of the company’s best drivers at the wheel. He sat, with the seat well back, in a relaxed position, gripping the lower rim of the wheel gently. Shuffling the wheel between right and left hand as we went round the track at a blistering pace, he never once raised either hand above the lower third of the wheel, so there was no need for the wheel to be in a more vertical position.
By contrast, American, British, and German drivers typically hold the wheel with hands at the nine-and-three-o’clock or ten-and-two positions, so a near-vertical wheel is almost mandatory for best control. Judging by our ride with the Alfa tester, Italian enthusiasts do it differently, and the wheel position of their cars suits them perfectly.
Another thing we learned during that drive was the high degree to which Alfa Romeo had developed its live-rear-axle setup. A car with the Alfa Romeo Montreal’s performance potential -- 130+ mph -- would seem to demand independent rear suspension or, at the very least, De Dion linkage, but at no time during our spirited run did we sense the need for anything more than this well-controlled live axle. Of course, that was in early 1971. There’s been a lot of engineering progress since then, and all-independent suspension is now more or less the sports-car norm.
As for the Alfa Romeo Montreal, it’s difficult to figure why Alfa even bothered. It received virtually no promotion or advertising and little development (the car was never certified for U.S. sale), so demand was meager and the car short-lived. There wasn’t even a direct replacement. Alfa’s financial and managerial problems of the day largely account for all this, but it’s still sad.
In the end, the Alfa Romeo Montreal was nothing more than a sideline -- a high-buck GT aimed at the likes of Porsche’s 911 and the Mercedes SL, quickly discarded as unprofitable. Today it stands as a rare and singular Alfa Romeo, and something to celebrate.