The Alfa Romeo Owners’ Club (AROC) held its 2017 annual convention in Montreal, Quebec, in conjunction with the Alfa Romeo Club of Canada. Billed as “Alfa Expo17”, the choice of this city was not arbitrary. This convention celebrated the 50th anniversary of the showing of the Alfa Romeo concept car at Expo ’67 in Montreal. When the car went into production a few years later, it was named after its debut city. Alfa Expo17 promised a significant showing of Alfa Romeo Montreals, as well as some special events planned around this very special vehicle.
This was my first participation at an AROC event. My 1967 GT 1300 Junior turned 50 this year, so partly in honor of the car’s birthday, we drove the car there, the decision helped by Montreal’s relative proximity. My wife accompanied me, because she likes riding in the Alfa (claiming that it’s the most comfortable collector car I’ve owned) and because we’ve enjoyed our previous visits to our northern neighbor.
When the convention’s agenda was published in the club magazine, I was somewhat surprised to see that “activities” were scheduled to begin as early as the Monday before Sunday’s concorso. Taking that much time off was not practical for either of us, so we decided to arrive early on Friday July 14. To help with that plan, we departed from home on Thursday evening the 13th, and spent the night near Saratoga Springs NY, almost exactly half-way to our destination.
Friday’s convention agenda included lunch at the Orange Julep fast-food restaurant in downtown Montreal, followed by a gimmick rally for the afternoon. We decided to aim for lunch at the Orange Julep, and take a wait-and-see approach to the gimmick rally.
Our planned lunch arrival of 12 noon was missed by almost two hours, because the combination of rain, traffic, and road construction had us crawling at 10 mph for much of our time in the city. (Oh, and this driver, unable to read street signs in French, made a wrong turn and drove in circles through a residential area for 20 minutes.) As we finally pulled into the Orange Julep parking lot, the threatening skies opened up again.
There were perhaps four Alfas remaining in the lot. We ordered our food and said some quick hellos to a few Alfa owners. As soon as we had our food in hand, the rain picked up and the temperature dropped. The Orange Julep only had outdoor seating. My wife asked if we could eat in the car. THAT was not an option. I gave her my hooded jacket, we found seating in an outdoor shed, and wolfed down lunch as quickly as possible. The gimmick rally was not going to happen for us.
With the rains continuing, we dove back into the car, and began to plot our route to the hotel. Next issue: both of our phones lost internet coverage, so, no Google maps. The filling station across the street sold me a street map of Montreal, and we were back on the highway, again brought to a crawl by traffic and construction. What should have been a 20 minute ride took closer to an hour. We were happy to arrive and get into a warm and dry hotel room. It was not the best start to our holiday weekend.
Friday night’s dinner was on site, so there was no need to get back into the car. We sat down and met all the other couples sharing our table. For the first time but not the last, we were treated to the warmth and openness of our fellow Alfa owners. Everyone was gracious, humble, and willing to make us feel included. My wife, who is not a car person, managed to gain the sympathetic ear of several of the other ladies who understood that she was not at the dinner to discuss double overhead cams, oil viscosity, or Spica fuel injection.
At the conclusion of the meal, about five Montreal owners lined up their cars along the back entrance of the hotel, and Wes Ingram, Spica guru, gave a technical presentation. All the cars had their engines started, and it was an incredible sound to hear these V8 engines roaring.
Saturday’s schedule included a number of optional events. For those who wanted to test their driving skills, autocross-type drives were conducted at a nearby raceway. That’s not my thing, especially when the car in question is also my transportation home, so we opted instead for a bus tour of Old Montreal.
With the rain holding off, the bus departed the hotel at 9 a.m. sharp, and our driver/tour guide, a pleasant local chap, was knowledgeable if a bit difficult to understand through the accent. The bus meandered through town, then parked for a 2-hour lunch break, which put us out on our own. The gloomy weather was changing over to sunshine, and it was nice to walk around. Back on the bus, we finished the tour and we returned to the hotel by 3 p.m. I didn’t mind being a passenger for the day.
By this time my wife was ready to relax in our hotel room. The sunny skies meant that this was my window to prep my car for Sunday’s big show. The hotel provided a wash station, complete with hose, soap, bucket, and wash mitts. Of course, about 50 other owners had the same idea, so there we all were, having turned the back lot of this Holiday Inn into a major preen and primp area.
But Alfa owners never miss the opportunity to engage fellow Alfisti in banter. I made about a dozen new friends in our mutual admiration society as we compared notes regarding the history and authenticity of each other’s cars. Modestly, my car garnered some significant attention because of its originality, with owners of similar Giulia coupes interested in knowing, for example, if my 3-spoke steering wheel is original (it is).
Saturday evening was another arranged dinner at the hotel, this time with speeches and awards. The winners of the gimmick rally and the time trials were presented their due. Cindy Banzer, the president of AROC, gave the keynote speech in English AND French, impressing us with her bilingual skills. Things wrapped up by 11 p.m., and good thing they did, as we would all be rising early Sunday morning.
The Sunday Concorso, arguably the highlight of the weekend, was not at the hotel, but rather in “Petite Italie”, French for Little Italy, in the city center. Planning an 8 a.m. arrival, but dreading the traffic, we departed the hotel by 7:30 a.m. Of course, we breezed right in. The weather was perfect.
The show was held in conjunction with the Fiat Club of Montreal, and was billed as “Montreal’s Official Italian Automobile Festival”. In addition to the dozens of Alfas, there were Fiats, Lamborghinis, Ferraris, and DeTomasos. All the cars were parked on Rue Dante, a main drag through Little Italy, and the locals came out in force to take in the sights and sounds. The neighborhood featured Italian restaurants, bakeries, and shops, so breakfast and lunch were closer to what you’d find in Rome rather than Paris. Given star billing at the head of the street were eight Alfa Romeo Montreals parked in a row, a sight that I never thought I’d see.
AROC members had the option to choose “judge my car” or “don’t judge my car”. I chose the latter, if only because I didn’t want to spend Sunday morning on detail alert. My plan was to relax, take in the sights, and continue to chat up my fellow Alfa owners, which is exactly what I did. At 2 p.m., the AROC judges announced the winners. As an especially nice touch, cake and champagne were served at the awards ceremony.
With that, Alfa Expo ’17 was officially over. We had decided to stay in Montreal Sunday night, and take our time driving back on Monday. We left about 9 a.m. Monday, drove through some nasty but brief storms, and once on the other side of that weather, had bright hot sunshine for the rest of the trip. We arrived home by 6 p.m. Monday night, exhausted, but pleased with our active weekend.
These were my takeaways from my first AROC convention:
- Unless the Alfa in question is a non-street-legal track car, almost every owner drives their Alfa to an Alfa convention.
- Alfa Romeo owners, as a group, are the most friendly, knowledgeable, yet humble car folks I’ve ever met.
- The AROC Organization, which has quite of few of these events under their collective belts, puts on a top-notch event.
- The “pre-convention driving tours” (the reason for planned activities starting a week before) are a Big Deal to Alfisti, who love to drive their cars.
- Alfa Romeo owners like ALL Italian cars.
- Alfa owners love to drive their cars (did I say that already?).
My GT 1300 Junior continues to amaze me. We drove 880 miles round trip. The car started, cold or hot, on the first turn of the key. We comfortably cruised on the highway between 70 and 80 mph. There were no unwanted noises or behaviors. With a trunk full of spare parts including plugs, wires, a coil, and a fuel pump, none was needed. (My theory is that the quantity of spare parts on board is inversely proportional to their need.) The car used no oil, and never missed a beat.
The AROC has announced that the 2018 convention will be in Olympia WA. I’m already plotting my trip out there.
All photographs copyright © 2017 Richard A. Reina. Photos may not be copied or reproduced without express written permission.