Looking for something exciting and exotic but left cold by the ubiquity of Porsches and the price of Ferraris? Then STOP PRESS: we have something for you here. On paper, the Lancia Montecarlo has all the right credentials to sit with much loftier and more typically sought-after classics. It’s by a famous Italian car manufacturer, it was designed and built by Pininfarina, and its mid-engine layout was still something of a rarity outside the top-tier of sportscars when the original version – the Lancia Beta Montecarlo – arrived.
The Montecarlo has proper motorsport kudos as well. First as a circuit racer in the guise of the Abarth SE 030, then as the mighty Montecarlo Turbo Group 5 car, which won various titles including the 1981 World Endurance Championship. And, of course, there was the Rally version. Fair enough, the 037 was only loosely based on the road car’s mechanicals, but let’s not get bogged down in details. The steroidal 037 looked fantastic and enough like the road-going Monte for passersby to make the association.
In its famous Martini colours, the 037 is still one of the best-looking rally cars ever. It ran in the infamous Group B and, in 1983, handed Lancia the manufacturer’s World Rally Championship title thanks to the efforts of Markku Alén, Attilio Bettega, and Walter Röhrl. That was despite facing the ever-increasing challenge of those four-wheel-drive Audis that would dominate the following year. The 037 stands as the last rear-wheel-drive car to take the title.
The Monte was originally designed to replace the ageing but oh-so-pretty Fiat 124 Coupé. Fiat charged Pininfarina with designing its new sportscar, codenamed X1/8, but Bertone proposed a less costly alternative. What to do, then? Well, Fiat decided to put both mid-engined concepts into production. The Fiat X1/9, which retained its codename for the production model, was the cheaper version. Lancia, meanwhile, intended its car to be a more premium alternative, using a racier 3.0 V6 instead of the X1/9’s small-capacity four pot – but then the fuel crisis hit.
That dictated a more frugal option, so Lancia downgraded the engine to an inline four (at which point the codename changed to X1/20) although this was still a more enticing prospect than the Fiat’s 1.3-litre single-cam motor. Lancia opted for a 120hp 2.0-litre twin cam, designed by ex-Ferrari engineer Aurelio Lampredi. The Monetcarlo was also the first time Pininfarina had designed a car from the ground up, instead of using an existing platform, and built it at its base in Turin.
The series one Montecarlo was released in 1975 and, to my eyes, it’s a much, much prettier car than the X1/9. The problem was on the engineering side. It’s a Lancia, so it didn't simply rust, it dissolved in water. One of the most susceptible areas to disintegrate was the poorly designed rear cross member with its too-thin steel. There were also handling issues with the cars destined for the American market, but the real biggie was the brakes. Reports of dangerous lock-ups began to surface, and this became so serious that the Beta Montecarlo was pulled from sale in 1978. It was gone for two years, returning in 1980 and renamed as the Montecarlo, minus the Beta bit, and minus its brake servo, too. That was one of the solutions to reduce the over boosted brakes.
Because rust remained such an issue, these are now rare cars. This advert claims there are just 69 examples left taxed in the UK. This later series two Montecarlo has had three owners in total and covered a modest 61,000 miles, and the last owner spent a reported £10,000 with Bell Sport & Classic (a dealer we know to produce fine work). Still, there’s work left to do, with the refreshingly honest advert pointing out the rust bubbling through on the rear wheel arches and the bottom of the doors. Otherwise, it’s a very tidy-looking example with smart cream leather and even air-conditioning – a rarity in a car of this type and year.
Looking at what’s out there now, you’ll pay up to £30,000 for a mint car, so at £17,950 the price of this one seems fair. That’s a good £7,000 more than a tidy X1/9 will cost you, but the Montecarlo’s wow factor is arguably worth way more than that.
SPECIFICATION | Lancia Montecarlo
Engine: 1,995cc, four cylinder, naturally aspirated
Transmission: five-speed manual, rear-wheel drive
Power (hp): 120 @ 6.000rpm
Torque (lb ft): 126 @ 3,400rpm
Recorded mileage: 61,000
Year registered: 1982
Price new: N/A
Yours for: £17,950
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