Lancia Montecarlo Description
The Montecarlo is generally the most sought-after Beta of all, a two-seater mid-engined coupe or convertible using essentially the same drivetrain as the 1995 cc carburettor cars, but with an entirely new Pininfarina-styled bodyshell (usually described as a 'Mini- Ferrari' due to its resemblance to many of the Pininfarina Ferraris- e.g. 512, 308).
Bert Kanters has both a 308 and a Montecarlo and you can see them parked side by side.
In 1975 Lancia announced the launch of the Montecarlo at the Geneva motor show. Styled by Pininfarina, the new car was mid-engined and offered fine handling, and ride comfort. These prototypes were produced for motor shows across Europe and lent to journalists to review. I have an example of such a review from Autocar 11 October 1975 shortly after the car was exhibited at Earls Court. There were some complaints about the rear vibility as the car had solid rear quarter panels above the engine bay. Lancia promised that cars would become available "early in 1976", a timescale that was never met.
The 1977 version of the Montecarlo was produced in two variants, fixed head and spyder form. There was a small break in production around 1978 where further modifications were made to the car. Externally there were very few changes to distinguish the two variants, but these versions have subsequently known as series 1 and series 2. Mechanically the two variants have different brakes and different suspension settings. In the USA, the name Montecarlo was already used and Lancia decided to launch with the name Scorpion. A further derivative of the Montecarlo was the Lancia 037 which was predominantly built for racing, with sufficient non-race cars sold to satisfy the race authorities.
The production Montecarlos were all powered by a 1975cc engine derived from the Beta. The engine is carburated by a single downdraught two stage Weber, and subtle changes from the Beta engine includes modified valve timing. The engine delivers 122bhp at 6000rpm which is only slightly higher than the Beta counterpart. The car was launched to a mixed response from the motoring press. The gearchange was criticised, as being slightly notchy and second gear hard to find. After the fullness of time, the gearchange does not improve. I have yet to drive a Montecarlo where the second gear was not difficult to locate. One area the press were happy was the handling. A mid-engine car (if correcly designed) should offer ultimate cornering ability irrespective of the amount of power used. The steering is light and precise, normally giving slight understeer. Only when severly provoked, by cutting power in the middle of a bend can oversteer be induced. Most owners will tell you that while the steering is good, the car is easily diverted by a strong side wind. The brakes are another point of issue. When new the road tests were universally saying that the front was too easy to lock up in wet conditions. Despite this it took 2 years before any modifications were made to this aspect of the car.
Despite popular belief that the Montecarlo was derived from the Fiat X1/9 there is evidence to suggest it preceeds the Fiat. Further information on the development of the Montecarlo can be found here.
There are a number of aspects to be considered when buying a Montecarlo. The problems begin with the relative rareness of this car. There are still good original examples available with reasonable mileage. However these tend to command a high price, with pristine examples selling for between 6000 and 8000 UK pounds ($9500 to $13000). At the bottom end of the scale, there are cars going for scrap value only. These are often a good buy as a donor car. Irrespective of the condition of the car, the buyer should take some care selecting the right car. I have prepared some notes on what to look for which may be of some assistace.
I am often asked by prospective buyers to recommend books on the Monetecarlo. This is difficult as there is no one ideal book. I have seen more bad books than good with many factual inaccuracies, beware just because you read something in a glossy book does not always mean it is correct. If anybody has a recommendation of a good book on the Montecarlo, then drop me a line and I will review it.
After the success with the Fulvia and the Stratos, Lancia pulled out of world rallying in 1978 after a couple of years with not much success. The Montecarlo was outperformed by many cars of much higher power output, forcing Lancia to look at the World Championship for Makes. Lancia competed in the up-to-2 litre division, and in 1979 Riccardo Patrese finished 2 overall in a Montecarlo turbo.
Lancia refined the car in the 1979 - 80 season where amongst other changes the engine was improved to give 400bhp. At the start of the season class victories were notched up at Daytona and an overall win at Brands Hatch. With further improvements to the car and consistent class success, Lancia won the 1980 World Championship.
Last updated: 2001-03-07