Towards the end of the Sixties, Bertone was in a position of great importance, both from the profile of stylistic achievements and that of production.
During this period the Torinese carozzeria, due to new and imminent production commitments with Alfa Romeo and Lamborghini, faced large investments. The most important was the placing in operation [mettere in funzione] of a new, impressive paint plant. This was accompanied by other works to adapt the company infrastructure to new requirements, determined by the increase in production and by the necessity to improve further the quality aspect.
At the end of the '60's Bertone produced, in fact, both cars of large production (numbers), like the Fiat 850 Spider and the Simca 1200S, and prestigious cars like the Fiat Dino coupe, the Iso Grifo and the Lamborghini Muira and Espada.
During 1970 the construction of the bodies for the Alfa Romeo Montreal was begun. The production of a model of great prestige for the Milanese company was for Bertone the re-launch [rilancio] of a traditional relationship of collaboration with Alfa Romeo, not limited to design but extending even to series production, as occurred with the 2600 Sprint.
The bodywork of the Montreal was assembled in the Bertone factory at Caselle (a factory in support of the principal (one) at Grugliasco, situated near Turin), in accordance with the methods required [richiesta] to produce medium quantity but to the highest quality. The process for manufacture decided on [definito] was semi-manual [semiartigianale]. In this way the needs of construction of the car were perfectly met.
"Given the low volume of production", maintains Gian Beppe Panicco of Bertone, "and the times, the first years of the Seventies, when we still had the availability of highly skilled labour, it was not particularly necessary to set up fixed plant [attrezzature fisse] to produce cars such as those produced in parallel with the Montreal, such as [vedi] the Lamborghini Muira or the Iso Grifo, cars built as single examples even if in a repeated way."
"The means of having at our disposal highly capable [capace] manpower", continues Panicco, "and the necessity to contain the costs of equipment, such as a new assembly line, implies [portarono] the production of a product of high manual content [qualita], using a much simplified assembly line."
The production of the body began with the preparation of the floorpan, for which Alfa Romeo arranged to send to Caselle the individual components, by the way almost identical to those of the Giulia GT, apart from the bulkheads of the dashboard [paratia del cruscotto], already identified by chassis number. At the same time in a special preparation area the main sub-assemblies [sottogruppi] were prepared: the framework [ossature] of the sides, the structure of the roof and the panels of the front and rear ends.
In sequence, as the first operation on the assembly line, the framework of the door openings and the roof was provided for assembly on the floorpan (by hand with spot welders [saldatrici a pinze]), by means of the principle jig [mascherone] .(Equipment had the task of holding in position, during the welding, the individual pressings. It was made up of controls for holding [organi di bloccaggio] the sheet components [elementi in lamiera], operated manually. In the case of production in large quantity there were automatic controls). Continuing on the assembly line, the second phase was made up of the assembly of the front and rear body panels, by means of other, more simplified, jigs. Then came the completion of the welding. It used the oxy-acetylene torch [cannello ossiacetilenico] with flame at low temperatures to perform operations of braze-welding [salso trasatura] (a welding technique for aesthetic finishing with the task of covering the joints between the panels of the external skin) and to build the watertight joints [tenuta stagna] between the wheel arches and the structure [ossatura] of the floorpan.
In the next phase, the hinges were mounted with the help of appropriate checks. The mounting of the doors was then carried out.
The final work on the assembly line (was) the checking and finishing of the body. This phase was carried out in a particularly thorough manner, with disk polishers to correct the superficial scratches necessarily [eventualmente] produced during the preceding work.
Once assembled, the body of the Montreal was sent to be painted and trimmed [abbigliate], to the principle factory at Grugliasco, where in October 1970 there was in operation a most modern plant for electrophoretic coating. Here the body of the Montreal was first sent along the line for preparation for painting. The operations began with grease removal and the etching/cleaning [decappagio]. The last is a chemical procedure for cleaning and preparation of the body for painting, acting to eliminate from the surface whatever impurities could compromise the adhesion of the coat of paint to the panel. During this phase the body was completely immersed in a tank containing a special solution.
It then proceeded to the phosphatising [fosfatazione] of the panels to protect them from corrosion: on the body was sprayed a compound based on zinc which allowed, among other things [tra l'altro], an optimum adhesion of the ensuing paint.
The body was then immersed in an electrophoretic tank. During this procedure the protective base paint was applied, by means of electrodepositing of resins [resine] disolved in water. This method provided a uniform application of paint even in the least accessible areas. One other phase which preceeded the final painting was the application of sound-proofing [antirombo] material on the internal surfaces of the floorpan. This treatment was necessary to reduce vibrations of the panels and the transmission of tyre noise; moreover, it protected the lower parts of the body from abrasion and corrosion.
The last phase of the preparation of the body was spraying the final coats of paint by hand. The body then left the painting plant completely painted and dried. From this it was sent to final assembly [selleria e abbigliamento].
In this phase proceeded the mounting of all the external details of the bodywork. Next the cabin was fitted out, begun by the application on the floorpan of insulating panels.
Once the preparation of all the car was completed, the Montreal was sent to Alfa Romeo at Arese for the mounting of the mechanical components.
Unfortunately, the evolution hoped for by Quattoroute never came (about). Only on the mechanical parts were improvements brought about, but not such as to be thought of as a new version of the model.
But we proceed in order. With respect to the pre-series examples the definitive [regolarmente] Montreal produced had, in fact, only small detail modifications. Standing out were the exhaust pipes, now curved towards the ground. This solution, adopted later on in almost all the production of Alfa-Nord, was in order to avoid the entry of exhaust gases into the cabin when releasing the accelerator.
The fabric of the front seats, in brown cloth and dark stripes [righe], presented on some of the pre-series cars, was substituted in production by fabrics in matching [unita] colours.
Other minor details: the various Bertone nameplates (not just the name of the carrozzeria, but with the script "Torino" on a background of red, white and sky blue) and the new door handles, almost identical to those preceeding but with more refined metallic parts. Finally, the external rear-view mirror. Even though it appeared on several pre-series cars, it was not supplied in production. It was able to be bought as an option [ricambio].
After the first approximately 100 cars were produced a front spoiler in plastic material was adopted. This aerodynamic appendage was rendered necessary to reduce the lifting of the front end at high speed. Besides achieving this aim, the spoiler augmented the maximum speed of the car by over eight kilometres per hour. Moreover, this modified the flow of air under the car, allowing a considerable reduction in the temperature of oil in the differential.
Today it is nevertheless difficult to find a Montreal without the front spoiler. Alfa in fact rendered it immediately available through its after-sales network for updating all the cars.
Regarding [Per quanto riguarda] the interior, it should be emphasised [va sottolineato] that, during the first year of production, the headrests were equipped with adjustment [regolazione] by means of a special knob.
Subsequently, to improve the functioning of the lubrication system, from engine number 01536 the layout of the tubing for sending and recovering oil was modified.
On the examples produced towards the end of 1971 the small mouldings in stainless steel at the sides of the number plate disappeared.
In 1972, as with all the other Alfas, the Alfa Romeo coat of arms without the inscription Milano was adopted: the opening of the Alfasud factory at Pomigliano d'Arco had in fact made [resa] necessary the revision of the badge [marchio].
Without contradicting what has been said earlier, the cars produced from September 1973 belong to a sort of second series. They underwent, in fact, some small revisions, both to the mechanicals and the bodywork. The modifications affected many components of the car. Let us list the most important.
For the mechanicals they concerned the details of the crankshaft [manovellismo], the induction and exhaust systems [alimentazione] and the transmission. Moreover, for the braking system the servo/master cylinder assembly was modified.
The modifications to the bodywork were instead [invece] of functional character and did not give rise to aesthetic differences with respect to the earlier cars. Finally the body structure in the central part of the floorpan and the structure of the front and sides was modified.
Naturally four or five years is not (a) short (period). At the end [scadere] of the period, given the the political situation internal and international, the economic stability and the capacity of the market to absorb (cars), what would the competition have produced meanwhile?
The success of a new model depended more on the accuracy of these predictions than on its technical success [dalla sua riuscita tecnica].
The Montreal, for example, was besieged in [si accingeva] making its appearance on a more and more difficult national market, caught [stretto] between union and economic crises. In 1968 the first union conflicts had begun which, especially in Alfa, would be prolonged at length.
The Milanese company from 5-6,000 workers in the '50's had gone, in 1963, to 10,700 which, in 1971, with the full entry into operation of the new factory at Arese, climbed to 22,700.
Work on the assembly line, the introduction of always more specialised machines, the change in the composition of labour (the professional workers [operai professionali], the core supporting the company, were reorganised by the entry to the factory of a strong component of communist workers [operai comuni], coming for the greater part from the South) rendered very problematic the adaption to mass production [grande fabbrica]. This coincided, not by chance, with the cycle of intense union crises that distinguished the period 1968-1972.
Because of this, in 1970, the year of the debut of the Montreal at various international motor shows, Alfa Romeo production registered a loss of 20,000 units. The production of the Montreal was difficult to start up; to technical causes were added the union problems of the company. To see the first car out of the production line had in fact to wait a year.
Also in 1971 the production activities of the company were strongly damaged by the serious union unrest.
In this year the Montreal was finally presented to the market: it constituted an economic alternative to Ferrari and Maserati. Its sale price was fixed at 5,200,000 lire; to this was able to be added the price of options: metallic paint 140,000 lire, electric windows 100,000 lire, air conditioning 290,000 lire.
The long-awaited debut of the Montreal was accompanied by at times contrasting opinions. We hear on this matter [a questo proposito] the judgements expressed at the time by the Italian and foreign press.
We begin with "Quattroroute". "Excellent engine, excellent performance and notable ease of driving; well equipped [dotazione di accessori completa]. Shortage of boot (space), rear seats unusable, bodywork very gaudy, side visibility open to criticism, high fuel consumption."
Now to [Segue] the influential English weekly "Motor": "Engine very powerful [generosa], with excellent torque over a wide [discreta] range of revs, good driving position with a lovely [bel] five speed gearbox. Poor, however, are the accommodation of the passengers on the rear seats and small luggage compartment, the not particularly efficient ventilation system and very high fuel consumption."
The Swiss weekly "Revue Automobile": "Even though the bodywork was presented by Bertone in 1967, the form of the car still remains seductive; poor in visibility and boot (space). Engine very powerful and docile, good performance [utilizzazione] at all revs with reasonable fuel consumption. Good stability, perfect brakes, sporting suspension, sensitive at all times to gusts [colpi] of wind at high speed."
The weekly "Autosprint": "Undoubtably the styling of this coupe has itself aged [invecchiato da solo]. If these lines were effective [valido] in 1967 now they appear a little old-fashioned [invecchiata]. Nothing (critical) to say for the engine, very balanced at all revs, the gearbox is good and the roadholding satisfactory. Perhaps for the class of car certain details could have been designed and carried out in a better way."
The American "Road and Track": "It is a pity [peccato] to have waited this long for this fast grand tourer. As well as adopting very elaborate bodywork it is equipped with avant-garde mechanicals. Excellent engine and gearbox, surprising manoeuvrability. Traditional suspension with all its merits and defects. In normal and difficult conditions, nevertheless, one notices the presence of the live rear axle."
The debut of the Montreal was welcomed on the market with little enthusiasm: the long wait softened the interest of the public towards the car. The first Montreals produced were destined for the Italian market. In 1971 668 of them were built.
The group [rosa] of competitive cars was particularly fierce. The potential buyer of the Montreal had some attractive alternatives: Dino 246 GT (5,500,000 lire; maximum power 195 hp DIN, maximum speed 240 km/hr), Porsche 911S 2.2 (5,300,000 lire, 180 hp DIN, 230 km/hr), Jaguar E-Type 2+2 coupe (5,350,000 lire, 265 hp DIN, 240 km/hr).
But the Montreal was designed to compete with more calm and comfortable GTs: "In its category it did not have many rivals", maintains Bonini,"as far as being a true and comfortable GT arranged with a superior road engine [motorizzazione]. More than a competitor to the Porsche 911 or the Dino 246, it was seen as a rival to the large BMW coupes."
In fact the Dino and Porsche, besides being uncomfortable [scomode], were less versatile in use. On the contrary the Montreal was adaptable to all driving conditions.
These are the true opponents in the year of debut: BMW 3.0 CSi (5,700,000 lire, 200 hp DIN, 220 km/hr), Fiat Dino 2400 coupe (4,450,000 lire, 180 hp DIN, 205 km/hr) and Citroen SM (5,200,000 lire, 170 hp DIN, 220 km/hr).
In 1972 the production activities of Alfa Romeo remained seriously harmed by the serious union unrest. The production, which from 1961 to 1971 progressively increased, passing from 37,000 to 123,000 units, in 1972 descended to 119,000 cars. Notwithstanding all (this), in this year 2,377 Montreals were produced. After a first period of indifference, the clientele seemed to realise the first class characteristics of the car. The orders [prenatazioni] became [giugevano] numerous and the production, completely started up [avviata], appeared to respond in full to the demand. The time to deliver was in fact reduced to only 15 days. In January 1972 the price of the car was 5,400,000 lire.
In 1973, union unrest, absenteeism and small conflicts in the company influenced negatively its production volume. Besides, even more serious, it began to suffer [pagare] the first effects of the energy crisis, a crisis which gave a jolt to the world economy, and the European countries in particular.
The time of cheap petrol was finished. The first repercussions were on the movement of automobiles and the rules were to be not too onerous [le norme a essa relative]: no exceeding 100 km/hr, increase in the price of petrol, driving by alternate numberplates on Sunday. These measures brought about a new psychological attitude towards the automobile, causing behaviour not always justified, hesitations [remore] and perplexity [perplessita] at times excessive. The first of them to really pay the price were the powerful Italian GTs. The crisis especially hit those companies such as Maserati, Lamborghini and Alfa Romeo, itself, to name just a few examples [tanto per citarne alcune], which had always produced sporting cars. On this question remember [va ricordato] that in the course of 1972 the Fiat Dino coupe went out of production. The Montreal was heavily affected [condizionata] by this phenomenon: in 1973 its production fell to scarcely 302 examples and the price rose to 5,900,000 lire.
The oil crisis in 1974 damaged the world automotive industry even more seriously. The expansion, over a decade, pushed by a demand in growth of 7-8% per year, reached a restriction [giro di boa] which did not allow (them) then to see with clarity the future direction of the world automotive industry. All the European industry was working [marciando] at 60% of its capacity, with deficits, financial difficulties and very deep problems of employment.
In the preceeding decade of expansion, Alfa carried its sales from 62,000 units in 1964 to 195,000 in 1973, and would have been able to do better if it had had union members comparable to its competitors. In 1974 sales went down instead to 167,000 units, about 14% less.
The number of Montreals produced dropped more: 205. The price of the car increased to 6,779,000 lire at the start of 1974: 14% more compared with the preceeding year! 1975 marked the start of a new slow resumption: against a background of positive sales and findings [fondati] indicating an improvement for the future, the economic results were the most negative which Alfa had reported since the war. Besides the usual union problems were added the debut of the Alfasud. The production of the Montreal confirmed the situation, with a slight increase but a slowing down of delivery time (25 days): 323 units produced. With respect to the first twelve months the price of the car registered a frightening [pauroso] rise: 55% more, that is to say to 10,465,000 lire. The recession did not have effects only on the Montreal. Also the BMW 3.0 Csi reached and exceeded the cost of 10 million lire (10,270,00) together with the Citroen SM, by then on the point of leaving production (10,595,000). From 1975 to the first years of the '80's, gradually European automobile production (and Italian in particular) changed direction, launching on the market new models, economical and moderate in fuel consumption, to seek to attract the attention of a by now disoriented [disorientata] clientele.
The production of the Montreal once again confirmed the tendency of the market; from 1976 the rate of production was drastically reduced. In this year there were only 23 cars produced. The following year, the last 27.
1975 can be considered the last effective year of production of the car; from January 1976 the car was withdrawn from the official list. The final sales price known, which dates back to December 1975, was 11,505,000 lire, over 122% more in respect to the initial sales price.
Also the cost of optional accessories more than doubled: for metallic paint, electric windows and air conditioning one needed to fork out [sborsare] respectively 273,000 lire, 221,000 lire and 715,000 lire.
P. 73: Two shots of a Montreal in a vivid orange colour. Bertone supplied to the car a unique characterisation, which made the plasticity [plasticita] of the lines of the bodywork stand out.
P.74: The deep snow makes the aggressive and original lines of the car stand out. In evidence (also) are the very beautiful wheels in light alloy, which distinguished all the production Alfa Romeos up to the '80's. On the opposite page, the view from above of the Montreal emphasises [esalta] the imposing nature of the front and the dimensions of the bonnet, characterised by the well-known NACA air intake.
P.76: With respect to the original design, the side view of the Montreal shows the considerable height of the waistline. The windscreen is slightly less inclined, (whereas, towards the tail, the roof [padiglione] appears perceptably [sensibilmente] less slender). Widening the upper parts of the passenger compartment in fact was to compensate for the bulk of the transmission. Notwithstanding all the modifications to the design, the car today arouses an emotion which leaves (one) with suspended breath: the reason remains in the original lines, which recognised the value of standing out decisively from any other GT of the time.
P.78: A few sketches by Bertone relating to the interior of the Montreal. On the opposite page, at the top, note the original location of the fuse box and the opening of the glovebox. Above, at the left, is displayed the trim [mostrina] of the rear pillars which contains, at the top, the slits for the ventilation (system), the ceiling light [plafoniere] and the accommodation of the loudspeakers; to the right the interior of the door. To the side, the access to the boot.
P.80: The cabin of the Montreal enjoys spacious glasswork [vetratura], but while the forward visibility is excellent, it is poor in the side-rear zone because of the large (rear) pillars of the roof [montati del padiglione]. Given [dando] a look at the interior, the layout of the very complete instruments is always striking. On the dashboard covered below by a chromed outline one finds two storage shelves [ripostigli] to the side, covered internally in leatherette of the same colour as the seats. At the centre, on the console, is found the bay for the car radio, covered by a panel trimmed in black leatherette.
P.81: To the side, the spraying by hand of the undercoat [sottosmalto] which is the last phase in the preparation of the body. The car was then sent to the final assembly [selleria e abbigliamento, literally "saddlery and clothing"! - Malcolm] for the mounting of all the details of the bodywork and the cabin. Ending this phase, the Montreal was sent to Alfa Romeo at Arese for the mounting of the mechanical components.
P.82: Above, a shot of the final assembly line at the Bertone establishment at Grugliasco. Compared to the pre-series examples, the regular production Montreal now [subito] had small modifications in detail. After the first hundred cars were produced a front spoiler in plastic material was in fact adopted. This aerodynamic appendage was necessary to reduce the lifting of the front end at high speed. To the side, the famous British racing driver Stirling Moss photographed at the side of the Montreal, during a road test carried out on behalf of Alfa Romeo.
P.83: Above, in 1972, the multiple world champion of Formula One Juan Miguel Fangio getting ready to carry out a road test of the Montreal. To the side, an example with the spoiler adopted to reduce front end lift.
P.84: Above, the Montreal in an image produced for the press. Compared to the first press-release cars, the production Montreal mounted new exhaust pipes curved towards the ground (photo, to the left) to avoid the entry of exhaust gases into the cabin.
P.85: Another evocative image of the Montreal in its definitive version. The large spoiler, by augmenting the aggressiveness of the car, weighed down further the front overhang [sbalzo]. Note the small detail modifications brought about on the production cars: the different Bertone nameplate and the more finished door handles. The external rear-view mirror, at least for the first year, remained available as an option.
P.86: The competitors of the Montreal were, at least on paper, very fierce [agguerritissime]. Considering its price, the potential clientele was able to choose also between the Dino 246GT or the Porsche 911S, both extremely powerful and fast. But the true competition to the Montreal was made up of less sporting and more comfortable grand touring cars. Above, the BMW 3.0 CSi, perhaps the most feared [tenibile] adversary.
P.87: At the top, the Fiat Dino 2400 coupe of 1969. It was an evolution of the 2000 version, born by virtue of an agreement between Fiat and Ferrari. From the Modenese company was the 180 HP V6 engine of 2418 cc, which allowed it to achieve 205 km/hr. Below, the Citroen SM of 1970 with V6 Maserati engine of 2670 cc. Both were dangerous [pericolose] competitors to the Montreal.