Getting Romantic With An Alfa Romeo Montreal In Emilia-Romagna
Photography by Andrea Casano
We are in the countryside of Emilia-Romagna with a 1972 Alfa Romeo Montreal, just a few kilometers from the city of Reggio Emilia. The sun is steadily rising from the horizon, its early morning palette imitating and highlighting the gorgeous orange curves of the car in front of my camera.
I can see why the Montreal’s hooded headlights are often thought to give the car’s “face” a sleepy expression, but to me these grand touring Alfas have an aura about them that’s more predator-in-waiting—the eyes of a big cat stalking its next meal though the gaps in the trees. Ever since I was a child and saw my first Montreal I’ve been struck by the front end in particular. The beak-like grille and those four round lights hiding behind the louvers are simply evocative. I always stop to admire these cars when I catch sight of them at gatherings, but I’d always wanted to have some quality time photographing one on its own.
I had such a chance recently, when my friend Paolo gave me a call. Paolo works at Ruote Da Sogno, a wonderfully stocked (both with cars and knowledgeable people) automotive showroom, so I am always happy to hear from him. There’s always something interesting to see when these calls turn into visits, and this was no exception. Before I could say a proper “hello,” Paolo was asking if I’d like to bring my camera down to shoot the Montreal, and before I could give my obvious answer I was already scrambling around the room packing my bag with my free hand.
I arrived in Reggio Emilia and met Paolo at the showroom, and after admiring the rest of the inventory we made our way to the workshop section where the Montreal was waiting to be woken up.
Marcello Gandini’s beautiful grand touring design wasn’t without its complications before its final form was realized in the 1960s, but even with some changes to the car’s dimensions and intentions along the way, the end result should still be considered among the styling maestro’s prettiest creations for the road. At any rate, the Montreal certainly looks at home in this part of Italy, and throughout the course of the shoot I was unable to think of a more perfect machine to take on a vintage-inspired road trip around here. The Montreal may have faster, more exotic peers, but life isn’t about chasing the maximal. It’s about finding meaning and hopefully some enjoyment along the way, the latter of which the Montreal would do a more than fine job of providing in my search for the former.
The mechanics welcome Paolo and I into the workshop and pull me out of my daydreams. They are the type of guys you’d hope to find, ultra passionate, talented and competent, but also kind and with great humor above all else. They are great company to keep, but I am also eager to get out on the road, so we waste little time (and golden light) in getting on our way. The mechanics, all with unmistakably Romagnolo accents, give us a rundown of the car’s personality, and the next thing I know we’re out on the road.
We are in the perfect place, considering the Montreal model has a connection to this Emilia-Romagna region. During its development the team did a lot of testing on the area’s well-known mountain pass, “Passo della Cisa.” Full of fast third- and fourth-gear curves between tight hairpins, the pass bends and weaves between the provinces of Parma and Massa-Carrara, and though we weren’t going to replicate the rigors of the original test drivers, being in this area lent a little extra specialness to our drive.
I mentioned that we wasted no time in getting on the road not because we were trying to race against darkness, but against daylight. The intention was to shoot the car as the sun came up in a romantic echo of the growth it had thanks to this region. Sunrise hues and low, golden light sure beats the perpendicular noontime sun at full strength, so we made sure to get an early start. The streets are all but deserted at 4:30 in the morning which makes the presence of the Montreal that much larger. The bright orange is almost a reverse silhouette under the shadows of the buildings, and the sound of the V8 only competes with the morning songbirds.
Soon we navigate out of the narrow but empty streets and into the hillsides, where, hanging out of the trunk of our camera car, I find myself falling in love with the Montreal’s face for the umpteenth time that day. It looks like it wants to spring forward on every corner exit to take a bite out of me like I’m the carrot on the proverbial stick. And yet there’s nothing belligerent about its demeanor. It’s aggressive and athletic looking, but it doesn’t need to look like a snarling fighter jet to achieve its toughness. The Montreal doesn’t trade elegance for overt aggression, and this applies not only to the aesthetics, but also to the way it feels to drive.
Limits are approachable without forcing you into triple-digit speeds, and there are no opposite lock “pop quizzes” in the middle of hard cornering; there is ample communication from the chassis to warn you before you’ve gotten in over your head. It’s not the most nimble thing on four wheels, but it’s a remarkably good conversationalist. It tells you what’s going on in a way that both compels you and keeps you humble enough to not push your luck. It’s like being in an intimate setting with someone you’ve always pined for—a piano bar in front of Duomo in Milano let’s say—with the rare ability to say only the right things.
Our date with the Montreal is coming to an end though, and unfortunately we must retire to our respective homes this time. By the end of the shoot the day has begun in full, the sun has peaked, and the afterglow of my time with this Alfa Romeo stays with me long after it sets.