(Gandini) Late Cretaceous

Amateur palaeontologist, Andrew Miles unearths a rare fossil. 

(c) Christopher Butt

79 to 75 million years ago (not that we’re counting), dinosaurs walked the Earth. Known as the Late Cretaceous period, one example to roam the area we now recognise as Canada was the Panoplosaurus or the “fully armoured lizard.” A herbivore growing to some seven metres in length; although vegetarian, that suit provided protection from the king himself, Tyrannosaurus Rex. A survivor of its time – akin to a car shown to the world, itself now a quinquagenarian.

1967, Montreal, Canada. The Universal Exposition is held over a six month period with millions of people witnessing the fruits of man’s labours alongside celebrating world nations days. In the pavilion named “Man The Producer,” the Expo’s stipulations called for the very pinnacle of automotive endeavour at that time. A request was made to Alfa Romeo (such a fillip): provide to us an example. The given timeframe – just nine months. From such a brief, Arese, in collaboration with Stile Bertone brought forth the car with no name.

Two hundred and seventy (or so) days is but a grain of sand in history but more than enough for Marcello Gandini both to sketch and then have built this depiction of man’s automotive ingenuity. With little time, the contemporary Giulia GT platform was considered the best baseline. Then aged just twenty nine, Gandini created a low slung coupé with elegance and élan, ideal for such a worldly stage.

Those louvred eyelid headlamps, low radiator grille and seven distinctive vents on its C-pillars (another Bertone continuation from the Canguro concept of ‘64), the car with no name looked, for all the world, the car of the moment – a beautiful exterior. Aerodynamic with its sloping windscreen, (virtually) horizontal rear screen, and a Kamm-tail end imbued this automobile with delightful proportions. Should this nameless car be a lizard, it carried armour.

The Giulia’s standard 1600 Ti engine powered the car from airport to pavilion. Two specimens were made, both in pearl white, though one wonders why no second hue was chosen. Mirrors surrounding the brace of bolides led to the then fashionable infinite reflections, whilst a Norton motorcycle hovered overhead. Public reaction to the cars, (commonly referred to as Montreal) once installed in the great halls was positive enough to make Arese management consider production.

(c) alfamontreal.info

With the Montreal Expo’s (as they were known) back on Italian soil, the luce verde gave rise to significant changes from the Canadian show twins. Prepared in time for a 1970 Geneva reveal, purchasing the now officially named Montreal entailed a two year wait. Gone was the 1600 Ti engine, replaced by a racing derivative – the Tipo 33’s four-cam V8. Redesigning the crankshaft, widening bores and a lengthier stroke altered the screaming race mill into something altogether more street friendly.

The 1971 launch Montreal offered two hundred bhp, a five speed ZF gearbox, rear wheel drive, 1270Kgs and 55:45 weight distribution; just the ticket for this debonair seventies coupé. In order for that Autodelta breathed-upon V8 to fit, body change became necessary. From the city that gave the cars their name, those forty eight months from wowing the world, the Montreal grew taller, upped a dress size, grew a little more armour but retained the headlight blinds. The C-pillar vents had become six, the bonnet losing the twelve vents for one (mechanically purposeless) NACA duct, purely a power bulge cover.

Building the car was a typically complicated Italian affair. The Arese plant handled the mechanical and chassis side before shipping off to Bertone’s two plants; Casselle where the bodywork was applied, before moving on to Grugliasco for a thorough degreasing, zinc anti-rust treatment then hand finished paint. And what hues were available; metallic gold, verde termico, lobster orange along with a romantic sounding shade that over the years caused arguments within Alfisti circles – Marrone Luci de Bosco. “Incorrectly described from olive to silver, the correct shade is a dark metallic brown” according the Montreal guru, Bruce Taylor.

The production Montreal. Image: dreamgarage.nl

Darker arguments burst any form of poetic bubble; Italy of the early 1970s witnessing its own highly charged and troubled affairs with industrial relations breaking down in Arese leading to delays. Once production had resumed, an under-chin plastic spoiler became standard fitment. There to reduce lift at high speeds actually increased top speed by some 8-kmh to 224.

SPICA fuel injection (often swapped by owners for Weber carburettors) and electronic ignition, mid-teen fuel figures alongside 3,000 mile service intervals, little improved the Montreal’s demeanour. Civil unrest followed by the Oil Crisis hampered sales significantly. From early highs of three thousand supplied within the first two years of production, the cliff face became vertical. High inflation and fuel costs combined with yet more unrest saw the Montreal’s death knell. Approximately 900 produced in the intervening years up to its demise in 1977.

Rightly revered on looks alone, the Montreal stirs emotions down many avenues. Arguments will swing the Expo’s way, that the production car lost that nuanced balance, a shining beacon of prosperity brought down to bloated pup that cost the manufacturer dearly. For others, the Gandini coupé (with instruments accredited to Paolo Martin) remains a dream ticket, to see in the metal never mind own. Embodying a masterclass to these eyes, although due to world events, one in which became a dinosaur of sorts.

Author: Andrew Miles

Beyond hope there lie dreams; after those, custard creams?

36 thoughts on “(Gandini) Late Cretaceous”

  1. Hi everybody! Great post. I’m lucky to have seen in the metal both the Montreal show car and the production version. The show car is certainly the sleeker of the two, but even if the production car looks like it’s a bit uncomfortable in its sports clothes, its front end has more character to me. For one thing, I rather prefer the single light louvers instead of the double oval ones on the show car, but also the chin spoiler and NACA duct help. But I think what pushes me the most toward the production Montreal is its glorious V8!

  2. Good morning Andrew. Ah, yes, the Alfa Romeo Montreal, a car about which I could never quite make up my mind. The design, which I like a lot, would have been perfect for, say, a two-litre sports coupé, but seems insufficiently well ‘planted’ for a would-be supercar:

    In the photo above, the Montreal looks to be sitting rather high on its wheels. Look at the gap between the top of the tyres and the wheel arches, and the ground clearance. I wonder if this was a result of taking a car that had originally been powered by a 1.6 litre engine and shoving in a 2.6 litre V8 instead?

  3. Someone living down the road from me has a bright orange Montral in his garage (next to an open top W111 and a W113, n0 less). Driving past his house with the garage door open is always a pleasure for the eyes. The man is quite happy with the Montreal and has found someone who’s able to properly service it, particularly the Spica injection. His car also has had some upgrades to the brake system in form of four piston front calipers, eliminating the weakest point of the original.

    Here’s a picture of the show car seen from the rear which at least to my eyes shows some similarity to the Miura and generally is much slimmer than the production version

    The rear got higher because Alfa insisted on a bigger boot and the front had to accomodate the V8 which as a typical Chiti engine is quite tall despite of its dry sump system. These changes took away some (or a lot of) the elegance of the show cars. The decision to use the V8 was made because the car would have been too heavy for the four cylinder and Alfa had no other engine available.

    I remember a comparison test from the Seventies with a Montreal, 911 early G-series, Benz 350 SLC and BMW E9. The Alfa easily had the best engine except for its enormous thirst but the rest was thrown in for free and not up to the standards of the others.

  4. Great piece!
    I should add that the Giulia chassis was never designed to handle such a tall and heavy engine up front, nor the Simi built, Porsche designed 5-speed gearbox could handle the torque (hence the dogleg ZF).
    When ALFA briefed Bertone that they had to reengineer the whole car in order to fit and withstand the new V8, Gandini and Bertone protested, arguing that the torque could twist the engine mounts on the subframe, let alone tearing apart the spot welds on the chassis legs. Therefore, the weight was substantially increased with reinforcements. The one thing they couldn’t/wouldn’t replace was the rear axle setup, carried over from the 105/115 series production, due to cost. Basic geometry was altered though, using different pickup points and T-bar location. Suspension bushings were also uprated, along with stiffer shocks and dampers.
    The Chiti designed racing engine was detuned and bored out to limit high end power and increase torque in mid-range rpm. The dual SPICA mechanical injection, along with the dual capacitive discharge Bosch distributors was (and still is) a nightmare to set and tune correctly. Basically, everything depends on proper vacuum on the intake, and since the system is self-adjusted in air-fuel mix, it’s really complex and difficult to run properly, and requires special tools and years of experience. The contemporary equivalent from Kugelfischer was much more user-friendly. AutoDelta used the SPICA system for racing, as they could tune it to run on high rpm without fuel starvation, and develop up to 210hp on the 1750 GTAm (~240hp on the later 2000 GTAm), although they switched to Lucas injection at some point, eventually settling to the good and truster dual Weber 48DCO/SP.
    All in all, the Montreal never made any money back to Arese, and helped in the brand’s rapid decline during the seventies. It was heavy, cumbersome, and in no way as poised, balanced and athletic as its main competitor, the 911, or even the BMW E9. It should be marketed more as a long distance GT, rather than a sportier version of the GTV.
    ALFA oversaturated its lineup during the end of the sixties, with too many sportier models, overlapping each other in sales. There were GT Juniors, GTVs, Junior Zs, and the (way more expensive) Montreal, along with the racing-ready GTAs. With the Alfetta and AlfaSud in 1972, came the beginning of the end.

  5. I hadn’t realised the original duo were so different from the production cars. I’d be more than happy with a six-vent model in “lobster orange” – it needn’t even be a runner, I’d be eternally happy just to gaze at it.

  6. A splendid article, thank you.

    If you listen carefully to what ‘The Master’ says in the rather recent interview that D.Cironi made,

    (link here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BZJtMmMhj0Q
    N.B. translation is somewhat compromised, having a good command
    of Italian is essential)

    it becomes apparent that Gandini was actually struggling with the lack of proper, square-profile tyres at the era, which he identifies as the single most challenging aspect in the process of designing the Miura. Now, with this in sight, if you take a look at the production ‘Montreal’ ‘s weird, almost clumsy ‘stance’, it becomes clearer that its flanks & wing are styled in a fashion/curvature that’s not much dissimilar to the Miura’s – which, in turn, he admits had to have specifically sculpted flanks so as to visually accomodate the narrow, unsightly tyres that were available at the time, and try to make
    the narrow track ‘work for him’ (in which he succeeded)

    Having in mind that the Expo-version’s solution of the narrow-track
    challenge is a pure academic level ‘lecture’ in how to make a narrow-track car look appealing from the rear 3/4 angle, it should not come
    as a surprise that perhaps the heaviest visual ‘burden’ on the production ‘Montreal’ styling is exactly its wider-track stance,
    which inevitably (especially in this case) creates an impression
    of a way too elevated ride height.

    I would even say that this single flaw prevents us from being able
    to analyse whether the production ‘Montreal’ ‘s slightly enlarged bodywork brings indeed a certain debilitation, or it could even
    be a (heavily disguised) virtue?

    1. That’s a very perceptive explanation, Alex. Thanks for sharing.

    2. I’d also like to recommend Davide Cironi and his YouTube channel, a most inspired auto journalist. Most of his videos, or at least most of what he thinks an outside of Italy audience is interested of do have English subtitles, though sometimes there’s a slight delay of about a few months before the video is released and until they’ve provided English subs.

  7. Time was when I thought the Montreal was a unicorn car, until I saw one parked- incongruously- in the window of a vacant shop in Hellifield, alongside an equally gorgeous Laverda 750S. I can’t help wondering how many of the thousands of road users that ground passed every day on the A65 aiming for the Lake District bothered to notice.

    Incidentally how do we “Read” the Montreal? The fake side vents imply a mid engine configuration, whilst it’s stance and front grill reveal it’s front engined format; to me the vents look like footholds and so my brain tells me that you are meant to climb onto the roof!

    1. Oh dear, Richard, I fear for that Montreal. Its MOT expired in September 2009, so it’s probably in the great scrapyard in the sky.

  8. Hi Daniel, the DVLA checker says it is taxed until August this year. The lack of MOT (Britain’s annual car safety test) status may be related to it’s classic status as there is an opt out for cars registered over 40 years ago; a concession I think is ridiculous, as it presumes owners if such cars are more likely to keep on top of maintenance than their modern car driving bretheren. To “Benefit” the car has to have been registered more than 40 years ago, RYY 271K was first registered in 1989, suggesting it was imported from abroad, although the record does acknowledge that it was built in 1972 and the registration that it carries is right for the year (K= August 1972, July 1973). So I am assuming it’s opt out privileges were backdated to 1972.

    1. Ah, yes, I’d forgotten about the exemption. Well remembered, Richard, and good to hear it’s still roadworthy enough to be worth taxing, even if it’s not subject to an annual MOT.

    2. In Ireland cars don’t have to be tested until they are 4 years old, which id pretty silly as they can be in a dangerous condition after twelve months of Irish roads and Irish maintenance.
      We once NCT’d a Laguna at 12 months because of ambiguity about its’ use ( technically it might have been construed as a taxi ) and it failed on a front suspension joint. After the Renault dealer had repaired it, it failed on the ABS….

  9. As with the Diablo; the final result differs from Gandini’s intention. Per the interview Alex has linked, he neglects to discuss either car specifically, but is firm that he doesn’t care for his designs being diluted.

  10. Thanks for reminding me of this car. It loomed larger in my consciousness in the 1990s than it does now. It ought to have been to Alfa what the XJ-S was to Jaguar. I suppose it was something of a miracle it even got as far is it did.
    I am impressed at the level of attention paid by the commentariat here to the ride height and plantedness. Despite my self-image as a knowledgeable critic, I realise I missed that important point. Yes, the car as built is a wee bit too high.
    Alex makes some good points which are at a level of connoisseurship that trumps mine. Humbling.
    Looking at the yellow car in the photos above I see a vehicle is perhaps to be seen as on the same level as a Datsun 240Z or Celica or maybe Camaro rather than the the 928/GTO/Miura league. The body says supercar and the stance/height says GT. Now I have seen it I won´t unsee it. Still and all, it´s a lovely object and seemingly tended towards obscurity now.

    1. Richard,
      thank you for the exceptionally kind words. My input was just inspired by the depth of thought that obviously went into
      the background of Andrew’s fascinating article.

    1. I see the Classic Driver page has an ad for driving essentials: gloves for 200 monetary units and suede shoes. I don´t think I need these for any of the driving I have ever done though I must admit I have no driven a sports car flat out. What I tend to prefer is a comfortable pair of jeans and a polo neck and some squishy shoes. The ensemble used by McQueen in Bullett (I forget the name of the character he played) is still very relevant to comfortable driving in most conditions. The Canguro is more round – the Montreal has those sharp creases on the wings. The oblongs were moved rearward, I notice.

  11. There’s also the question of the blacked out sill panel, a trick most used by the Italians to visually lenghten a car to disguise it’s girth. But it’s also a trick that makes the car sit visually higher. What IF someone made a Photoshop side view of the car with the sill painted body colour, would that make a difference?

    1. Good point, Ingvar. I might give it a go later in the day if I have time.

    2. Here we go. Original Montreal with black sills, vs Photoshopped body-coloured sills:

      Better planted?

    3. May I say that I prefrr the original with black sills because the painted sills make the car look blocky and too tall?

    4. I have to go with Gandini on this one, it’s a cheap trick but it works. In the conflict between girth and length, longer/lower/wider always makes the better looking car. But these form experiments are extremally interesting, because they prove the point for all to see.

      The Miura has a similar visual trickery, with the exception of a small air intake on the trailing edge of the sill. I saw a photo of a Miura where the sill had a contrasting colour, a red car with gold accents. The Miura usually had gray painted sills but these were gold painted on a red car with gold coloured rims, it looked absolutely stunning!

  12. Great article Andrew. I’ve only ever seen 1 Montreal and that was at Essen several years ago I think. I know this is a little sad, but to me, the instrument cluster is a work of art, wonderful.

  13. I remember having seen a white example on a regular basis when the Montreal was available new.
    An orange one is regular guest at the Alfa/Lancia corner of yearly ‘Lufthansa Classic Days’ near Frankfurt -see 3:20 in this video

    And then there’s the one in my current neighbourhood.
    I got an incurable infection with Alfa virus…

  14. Spent many many days at Expo 67, which was the real name of the show. You needed 10 days to two weeks to get around it all, and many people did just that, including my family. Just a massive exhibition, exciting what with a giant 3D video helicopter ride, a huge Buckminster Fuller US geodesic dome and a monorail that went through it on its way around the site. Just an amazing upbeat air to the whole thing — even the Brit pavilion was a tour-de-force. Must have missed the Italian pavilion, though, because I have no recollection of the Alfa Montreal. One hell of a good time was had by all and then the island site became the F1 race track as the temporary structures wilted. Some are still preserved.

    The car? Not bad, a bit of an in-betweener in size, sort of Dino or Merak class, but with a front engine chassis a little longer and more old fashioned and upright. From Daniel’s photoshop, it looks as though a small investment by an owner in spray paint of the correct body colour and some masking tape, true beauty is only a few hand waves along the sills away! Well, that and a two inch lowering kit. The way it sits towering up in the stratosphere, even a new BMW X5 or a Cayenne has less ground clearance. The contemporary Bullitt Mustang is however, just as lofty, as an image search will show.

    1. The original concept of Expo 67 was not based on pavillions for nations but for ones showing achievements of mankind in certain areas. There was to be a pavillions called ‘Man the artist’, ‘Man the inventor’ and one ‘Man the producer’.
      Of course potential exhibitors didn’t like this approach and on very short notice the whole concept was changed to the usual to the usual nation-centred pavillions with only ‘Man the producer’ remaining from the original approach. Here the pinnacle industrial production was to be shown and it was there that the Alfas where shown because someone had decided that the best cars were made in Arese. Therefore the Alfas didn’t so much show Italy or Alfa Romeo but cars as such as an achievement of man. (If man can make Alfas he can make anything…)

  15. Good morning all. I’m actually pretty ambivalent about the sill colour but agree that a 50mm (2″) lower ride height should do wonders for the Montreal’s stance. I’ll see if I can find time later to Photoshop that.

  16. Here we go, original vs a 50mm (2″) reduction in ride height:

    A better solution?

    1. I think that’s much better. The original looks like the ‘Alltrack’ version.

      I wonder if the ride height was anything to do with US regulations, and whether the Montreal was given a quick fix, like the MGs were.

  17. Very interesting thread. The photo above with ‘original’ ride height seems wrong to me. A quick google images or Montreal’s for sale search will show the majority sitting at Daniel’s ‘lowered’ height. I find it hard to believe they’ve all been lowered.

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