In 1975 I was 40 years of age, unemployed and in the middle of a very painful divorce. In January of that year I was employed by Air America in Saigon as a C-47 and C-46 Captain. On April 29 I left Saigon in my C-47 with 75 passengers for U-Tapo, Thailand (80 miles south of Bangkok).
After losing my job following the fall of Saigon, I found employment with Iran Air as a B-727 First Officer. I had some 1,500 hours as F/O on this plane and I had hoped to become a Captain. But the company policy was only to upgrade local pilots, and hire established Captains. So after three months I decided to resign and study French language in France while waiting for my divorce to finalize in Washington D.C. But while in Iran I sent a letter to Alfa in Milan advising them that I was interested in their new sport 2-door (I believe it was the GTV). As I had a Swiss bank account in Geneva at that time, I used my last flight to make my way to Switzerland.
After a few days in Geneva, I hopped on a train to Milan to pick up the new Alfa. Italy was having problems with red gangs at the time, and business was not good. After making my way to the Alfa factory I was told that if I had sent money they would have built me a car but "no money - no car". But they did have another Alfa for sale, which had only done about 18,000km and was in new condition. I agreed to take a look at it, so we drove to the showroom in central Milan.
I had never even thought about the Montreal, but the blue colour and the seat covers caught my eye and heart. After some discussion we agreed on a price of $6,500, paid in Swiss money. So it was back to Geneva on the train, as banking was not so free then. The train was fun but the station was a mess, with I believe people from East Europe trying to pick my pockets at every step.
After the round trip to Geneva, I paid the money and found I was just at the beginning of a long paper chase all around Milan, which included the Italian Auto Club. If I remember correctly, I had to establish Italian residency before I could buy a used car. I had an international driver's licence, so that helped. In the end I had to stay in Milan for more than two weeks. The showroom where the Montreal was stored was maintained by an Italian family, and they did their best to make me comfortable in their family-owned guesthouse. But I ended up at the Hilton Hotel, as they gave airline crew 50% discount, which made it cheaper than the guesthouse.
One issue on which I refused to compromise was that I wanted seatbelts. They told me they were not macho, but I got my way. I should have held out for door mirrors, too. They told me that I looked like a tramp, so I had to go to the family shop and have a grey suit made before I could drive the car. I was also taken to one of the best restaurants in Milan for lunch. There was no parking there, so my sales agent just parked on the pavement and told me that with the Montreal there should be no complaint. By the way, I believe the first owner of my Montreal was the designer of the Italian Autostrade. I have no idea why he sold it, but the car was not too practical as it was taxed on horsepower and had high fuel consumption.
Finally they told me that everything was completed, and I could pick up my car. We drove back to the Alfa factory and after a few minutes they told me the President of Alfa would like to talk to me. He told me that he had just completed a long tour in the US, and his English was excellent. I was informed that he would not bring the car into compliance with American requirements. He also told me that when the seatbelts were finished, I could have the car, but that Italy was a very dangerous place. So if I were smart I would fill the tank and not stop until I was across the border as the car would be stripped, or on its way to North Africa, if I looked the other way for a moment. So I found a gas station and filled up at about $4 per gal. It was my first time at the wheel but it was not hard to get going.
It was a late afternoon in November 1975 as I left the Alfa factory, and I was soon looking for the light switches and the windscreen wipers and driving at night in sleet conditions in the mountains. I found I was being chased by light trucks and the Monti just did not feel good in fast corners, more nose heavy than I was used to. As a side note I had not been driving that much in the previous 13 years. In Asia I used public transport, so had no reason to have a car. After making it through the Mont Blanc tunnel it was a downhill run to Geneva. I arrived at the hotel near the train station about midnight and found a place to park.
I had a plan to study French language, but as I had no idea where to find a school, I decided to go to Paris and seek advice from my friend's ex-wife. Her husband had been my best friend in Teheran, and I had used his spare bedroom while in Teheran, since I usually worked down south in the Abadan, Shiraz area, and lived in a British camp for one year. (I learned a lot, but still do not like steak and kidney pie).
My French friend had been a secretary for a French Co. and had travelled from Baku to Paris on the train to get a look at the old USSR. I found a small hotel near her apartment and invited her and her son to dinner so that I could find out everything about Paris. We had thought about the University, but it was not the time to enrol, and I wanted a school where I could leave at short notice if I found a good job offer. In the end I found some schools in the Herald Tribune.
There was one in the south at Villefranche (Institut de Francais) and it was cheap in the winter. I did not have unlimited funds, and expected to be even poorer after the divorce. It was a good school; I shared a room and had my meals at the school. All my classmates were politicians from Brussels or schoolteachers adding to their skills. I did make friends with a lady from Finland and made the International Federation of Airline Pilots' Associations (IFALPA) meeting at Courchevel. We made a big mistake and took the road north from Nice and I spent all night turning around mountains. On the return we drove west until we intercepted the road to Marseilles, then had a painless journey to Villefranche.
Back in Paris I talked to the US Embassy about shipping the Monteal to the US, and they were against it. I tried to sell it but no one wanted to buy. In desperation I just sent it to New York and entered the US as a visiting non-resident in mid 1976. While waiting for the Monti, I picked up a commercial licence in gliders in North NY state and used a bike for transportation.
The Monti was happy in the US, with cheap gas and long trips. No real problems until I started to get the low fuel pressure light. While visiting my sister in the San Francisco area, I dismantled the fuel pumps and pulled the tank to look for leaks in the plumbing. Every thing looked good, but the warning light was still on and the engine would cut out and stop if the temperature was above about 30 deg C.
I had a few shops look at it but no one had any idea what was wrong. It was approaching the 60,000km mark and the speedometer quit - no problem, as I knew all the speeds by RPM, so I just pressed on. Then I heard the chain rattling around in the cam section. I found a shop where the mechanic adjusted the chain but he may have taken all the slack out of the chain, and caused excessive strain on the water pump, as the next problem was mayonnaise in the oil. All this was in the 1979 to 1980 time frame. I had new employment as an airline pilot in the US, and was too busy to do anything with the Monti, so it went back into storage in Mesa AZ until about 1986, when I had the local Lamborghini man dismantle and inspect the engine.
This shop was in the back of a house in N.W. Phoenix and his customers were doctors and lawyers (top $ to keep their toys going). His real job was jet engine tech. for air research at PHX. Next he wanted new bearings, liners, pistons, valves, guides, seats and gaskets, which we bought in Milan and Rome. We may have spent $10K or so, and I had everything except the square seals in the cam section.
We found the camshafts in Los Angeles, but I was cheated on the cam that drives the distributor, and had to buy again from Afra for $800+. Then I got the bill - $1,500 just for pulling the engine, the dismantling and the inspection. This was for two day's work. Also he would only guarantee the engine for 500 miles - he told me it was a race engine and only built to go that far. I then fired him on the phone, drove over to his shop in my '67 VW, picked up the engine and had the car trucked back to the storage unit.
Last week I found a shop in Belmont, which I can see out the window - Global Metrics Inc. I bought all the nuts for the exhaust headers in 12mm wrench size, but still the same 8mm nuts. This will help as I spent too much time getting it off. Also she (it is owned and managed by two ladies) found the spacers (washers) that go under the cyl head nuts 12mm - they look the same as for a VW. When I put the head back I will replace the hooks for lifting the engine on cyl 5 with the same size spacers, as the hook is bent and it is very difficult to get my head wrench (which I had made in Thailand) on it.
They also gave me about 6 machine screws for the tail lights. I asked how much and she said $5, but when she gave me the change it was only $4. They know I will be back. We have also repainted the car in the original colour with enamel paint - 15 coats with hand sanding between each coat. This looks great, but it was very labour intensive.
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