Any of our three international GTs fit in at any setting, and the valet guys just might leave you parked in front
The Monterey Week seems to symbolize all that’s grand, glorious, remarkable and somewhat unattainable in the collector car universe. I won’t repeat Jay Leno’s endlessly quoted line concerning millionaires and billionaires, but you can still cut quite a dash on the roads around the Monterey Peninsula — if not on the lawn at Pebble or in victory lane at Laguna Seca — for quite a reasonable cash outlay.
How? The answer lies with any of these three glamorous international GT cars.
When new, the Alfa Romeo Montreal, Jaguar XJ-S and BMW 3.0 CS were the conveyances of wealthy playboy types, who spent as much time on the tennis court, ski slopes and in the casino as they might have in the office. This fashionable trio gave near-supercar performance in a more practical package, usable for cross-country dashes with luggage.
Driving one of these cars takes you back to the twilight of truly grand touring in the 1960s, before the miserly hand of government bureaucrats and oil cartels had fully wrung most enjoyment out of the pure pleasure of driving by the late 1970s.
The Alfa Romeo Montreal is sliding slowly out of our $50k or less price limit, so now’s the time to find a good one. Long stuck in the mid-to-upper $20k range, most of the cars on the market had been abused and/or neglected. Owners with very good ones didn’t bother to put them out for sale, or they hand-sold them to close friends in the Alfa clubs.
Directly developed from the Marcello Gandini-designed, 4-cylinder twin-cam Giulia-powered model shown at Expo 67 in Montreal, it was a rare case in which the specification of the production car was more impressive than the show car. When the production model debuted at Geneva in March 1970, motive power was now a detuned version of the 4-cam V8 engine found in Alfa’s potent and successful Tipo 33 road-racing cars. Production lasted until 1977 — although sales collapsed in 1973 due to the oil crisis and never recovered. Alfa stopped advertising the car after 1975, and only 44 were built in the last two years of production.
Driving the Montreal is a delight — with a terrific rich sound from the engine and handling that, despite the weight of the V8 engine, is nevertheless very Alfa-like. However, when you push hard in tightly twisty bits, it can become clear that the Giulia platform on which it was based was really not up to the full performance potential of that potent engine — or the size of the tires fitted. Some owners have revised the springs and installed adjustable sport shocks. But in any event, exceeding the chassis’ limits requires the diligent application of extra-legal speeds in what are most often inappropriate situations. For most of the time, the Montreal is just fine, thank you very much, and it would be grand for a blast down the Pacific Coast Highway.
In buying one, the key points are to find one that has been regularly — and recently — driven and maintained. The engines are not particularly troublesome, but repairing or rebuilding a neglected V8 can quickly become quite expensive. Another important point is the interior hard trim and controls. The cloth trim can become saggy and worn, so the Texalfa (vinyl) seats are best. Very few came new with optional leather seats, but many have been restored with them since. Make sure all the instruments are present and working and that interior hard trim pieces are present and in good condition.
The body is complex, with lots of compound curves, louvers, slots and spots for mud and dirt to collect, encouraging corrosion. You can still find a Montreal that has been mechanically loved and is somewhat cosmetically challenged. Contrary to usual practice, that is the direction in which I would go, provided there are no parts missing. Bottom line, pay as much as you can for the best-maintained example you can find. I’d like to say that $40k will find you that car, but I have my doubts.
An underrated Jag
Jaguar’s XJ-S was much maligned as a disappointing follow-up to the XKE. The XJ-S (with a hyphen from launch in 1975, simply XJS from 1991), was actually a superb successor to the XK 150 FHC as a fast, comfortable GT. The production lasted a very long time, until 1996, with more than 115,000 coupes and open cars of various types built. While conventional wisdom would dictate the choice of one of the final-series cars, either the 6-liter V12 or the excellent AJ6 4-liter 6-cylinder, here I say go — with the heart and gut — for an early car. Although you’ll give up the sumptuous wood trim of the later production runs, there is for me a wonderful period glamour to all that pebbled black vinyl and brushed aluminum bright trim — not to mention the neat drum instruments.
The XJ-S was capable of 0–60 mph in 7.6 seconds with automatic transmission — and of reaching a top speed of 143 mph. All this happened while the car held you in a beautifully shaped, delightfully aromatic leather bucket seat — and delivered a smooth, quiet ride of which the Italian V12 cars could only dream. Of course, the fact that the XJ-S was launched into great fear that another oil shock was looming didn’t help sales much. But looking forward, a new HE, or “High Efficiency” V12 with greater fuel economy was launched in 1981 to help save the car, and it even came with increased horsepower.
Of course, with an early XJ-S you’re also giving up the uprated transmissions and improved brakes of the 1991–96 run as well, but let’s not get practical here — this is “Affordable Classic,” not “Practical Classic.” The 1976–80 cars are unrepentant high-performance fast cruisers, with instant throttle response, quick — if somewhat anesthetized — steering and powerful brakes. The looks of the XJ-S also manage to be both sleek and beefy at the same time — they are actually more aerodynamically efficient than the E-type, and being long, low and wide, they have great presence on the road.
Watch out for cars that have had overheating problems. The V12 is a masterful heat generator, and underhood temperatures could probably melt diamonds. A well-maintained cooling system is key to its health, and not shutting it off immediately after a long, hard run helps as well. From 1977 onwards, the GM Turbo Hydramatic 400 transmission replaced the Borg Warner unit, and it might be something to look for, but frankly it’s more important to find a well-maintained example with records rather than a specific gearbox.
Once properly set up, these cars are no more expensive to run than either of our other choices, but they will almost certainly get you the least distance on each gallon of fuel you pour into the 25-gallon tank. Expect to pay in the low $20k range for the absolute-best-in-the-world early car; the $9k listing in the SCM Pocket Price Guide for a driver won’t get you one like that.
A bargain BMW investment
From Germany, I’ve chosen the gorgeous BMW 3.0 CS. Born in 1968 from the base of the 2000 CS, the E9 coupe, to use its internal designation, was stretched to accommodate BMW’s new 2,788-cc, inline 6-cylinder engine. This power plant is arguably one of the most loved of all the engines made by the company, and it provided even, smooth, flexible power to the more-than-capable chassis.
These very elegant and stylish BMWs are, as the Montreal had been and the XJ-S continues to be, shockingly ignored by the market. Things have improved recently, with the best now scratching on the door of $40k, but good ones are still available in the mid $20k area.
The “cooking” CS is not to be confused with the CSL, which is the road-going version of the lightweight competition E9 coupe that found fame and glory and the nickname “Batmobile” for its high rear wing, rooftop spoiler and fender top fins. Those cars are certainly above our threshold, but the CS delivers just about all the style of the CSL and more-than-entertaining performance.
In fact, during Monterey Week, there’s an added fillip to piloting a 3.0 CS. Behind the wheel of our coupe, we could bask in the reflected glory from the scheduled run at the Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion of BMW North America chairman Ludwig Willisch in a 1975 BMW 3.0 CSL, one of a group of vintage racers being showcased at the races by the factory.
While the 3.0 is not rare, with more than 11,000 built, good ones can be hard to find as the survival rate is relatively low. The Karmann-built bodies are known to be prone to rust, which sidelined a number of these cars — especially those delivered in the Northeast and upper Midwest. But, if properly looked after, they are no more problematic than most limited-production cars from the 1970s. In terms of mechanical reliability, just look at the story of Murray Fowler from Costa Mesa, CA, whose 1969 2800 CS has covered something in excess of 413,000 miles so far. You may not have his good fortune, but if a rebuilt engine, beefed-up cooling system, new a/c and a five-speed gearbox could get him that far, chances are you won’t have too much trouble.
Any of our three international GTs would fit in beautifully at any setting during the Monterey Week. Whether pulling up to valet at the Inn at Spanish Bay, into VIP parking at Laguna Seca or dashing down to Big Sur for lunch at the Ventana Inn, they’ll deliver the style and panache to effortlessly set you apart from the hoi polloi in their common new Ferrari FFs, Aston Martin Vantages and Mercedes-Benz SLS AMGs.
The valet guys might even leave you out front.