Amateur palaeontologist, Andrew Miles unearths a rare fossil.
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.
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.
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.