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PARS PRO TOTO: ALFA ROMEO MONTREAL
2018-01-02 18:00:00
by Christopher Butt
(comments: 0)

Alfa Romeo Montreal

Hardly Gandini’s most famous effort, but a fine illustration of the master’s style during his heyday nonetheless.

 

The Alfa Romeo Montreal is as much a Gandini as it is an Alfa. Cut from the same cloth as his contemporary designs of the Espada and Miura Lamborghinis, the Montreal betrays the designer’s flair in numerous ways. 

Above all, there is the flamboyant detailing. Unlike his great contemporary/adversary, Giugiaro, Gandini never shied away from a bit of decorum for the sheer sake of it. Hence the Montreal’s fully non-functional air vents, which lend the Alfa a rather striking set of graphics.

 

 

The standard fare Cromodora wheels complement the Montreal’s shape in that they are not as avant-garde as some contemporary Campagnolo designs, just as the Montreal isn’t as outré as, well, an Espada or Miura. 

In terms of sheer Gandini flamboyance, the Montreal’s front would obviously be more appropriate a subject for this kind of illustration, but its rear actually bears one of the stylist’s less blatant trademarks: a slightly truncated, slightly too tall rear end. Just as on the Khamsin and Quattroporte IV Maseratis or the Lamborghini Urraco (albeit not the Miura - make of that what you will). 

 

Finally, its slightly tiptoey stance is a dead giveaway that the Montreal’s underpinnings don’t live up to the bodystyle’s promise of superior performance. Even by 1960s standards, the almost SUV-like ground clearance indicates that this Alfa isn’t really a racing machine.

 

This lesser Gandini isn’t quite a masterpiece, but still an awful lot more inspiring than other, more accomplished designs. 

 

Christopher Butt

 

car enthusiast, writer, critic

biased, elitist, German 

Comment by Dave |

Finally someone who does not repeat the silly fairy tale of the Montreal originally being designed as a mid engined car…

I’m normally not a big fan of Bertone’s designs in general and Gandini’s in particular (except for the Stratos) but to get an impression of this car one should look at the Expo exhibition pieces. They are much sleeker overall and also have a much lower rear - the latter was raised at Alfa’s insistence to give more boot space.
The strangely tall overall appearance and the silly non-functional NACA duct on the bonnet of the production car largely came from using the V8, which as a typical Chiti design is a voluminous engine which sits very tall despite of its dry sump lubrication system.

But surely, its looks weren’t the Montreal’s biggest problem. One of my neighbours has a Montreal in very good condition and this car is definitely no joy to drive. You get an absolute marvel of an engine and the rest is thrown in for free.

Reply by Christopher Butt

It's a terrible drive, I agree. 

I have all the time in the world for Gandini's Bertone efforts, so from a stylistic perspective, I do enjoy the Montreal, even though the body/chassis mismatch is rather obvious. But it's no Dino 246 in terms of 'perfection'. Far from it. 

Comment by Dave |

PS: the Montreal's wheels were the standard "millerighe" design used in different sizes on many Alfas of the Sixties and Seventies, from the Giulia Sprint GT to the Alfetta GT

Reply by Christopher Butt

... and they're really pleasing. Italian alloy wheel designs of the '60s-'80s would be a topic worthy of a rich coffee table book. 

Comment by Dave |

Many of the guys I know who consider themselves as stylists are holding Bertone’s work in high esteem whereas the more technically minded tend to prefer Pininfarina’s and as I’m an engineer my preferences are obvious.
To me, Bertone’s work is mostly strictly contemporary whereas Pininfarina’s is timeless.

In the rare cases when Gandini’s love for unnecessary adornment, fussy decoration and downright silly gags was kept under control by a tight set of rules and stringently enforced requirements he was able to create some pleasing cars like the Stratos or 308 GT4. But when let loose, he would create designs that were over decorated and gag laden as a fairground stall and aged accordingly badly.

Reply by Christopher Butt

I find it difficult to think in such classifying terms. 

I don't know whether you came across the respective articles yet, but I made it abundantly clear that I consider Pininfarina's designs for the Dino 246 and Fiat 130 Coupé simply flawless. Yet I own a 'Lyons Line' Jaguar myself, which has few stylistic traits in common with either (and not for a lack of choice). 

All things considered, I'd never put Scaglione/Giugiaro/Gandini era Bertone ahead of Farina/Brovarone/Martin/Fioravanti era Pininfarina. I do have personal preferences when it comes to certain models, but the design quality is out of the question in either case. Bertone may have put originality ahead of restraint, but that's what's required if one intends to fight stagnation. Or, as a more concrete example: Without Bertone, there would have been no Pininfarina Modulo. 

There's also a dramatic difference between the inventive playfulness of a Gandini in his prime and the man's work post Bertone. A De Tomaso Bigua remains a dumpy thing, no matter how many 'gags' Gandini included in its strangely proportioned body. However, a Lamborghini Espada challenges convention for a reason, and does so in much more refined a fashion. 

Comment by Lucien CB |

Great article and fascinating conversation, thank you both!

Your chat caused me to research Gandini’s works. I hadn’t realised how very prolific he was, nor quite how hit and miss his designs were. From Miura to Espada-fabulous to frumpy in 2 years. Surprising.

Yet so many big hits, like the BMW 5 series...

As I said, fascinating!

Reply by Christopher Butt

Thank you. 

There's no questioning the quality of the work Gandini produced during his golden age (which ended/began to end about the time he penned the Bertone Rainbow), even though you're, of course, entitled to dislike the Espada. 

After Gandini had left Caprie for good, the quality of his work took quite a dive, even though the Supercinq was decent.

Regarding the BMW E12, I must say I'm rather skeptical, as far as the extent of Gandini's authorship is concerned. The relatively recent adulating tome devoted to Gandini's career claims that he almost single-handedly designed the Five, as BMW's designers were too incompetent to do so. Personally, I find that rather hard to believe, but I couldn't get in touch with the ghost of Wilhelm Hofmeister to get any background information. 

Comment by Lucien CB |

He designed the Supercinq as well?! Wow!

I don’t dislike the Espada per se, but it clearly doesn’t have the timeless beauty of the Miura.

All very interesting

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