Lancia Montecarlo

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Lancia Montecarlo

1975 - 1982
4 cyl.
1995 cc
120 bhp @ 6000 rpm
5 spd. man
Top Speed:
190+ km/h
Number Built:
3 star
Ferrari, Maserati, Lamborghini and Lotus pioneered the mid-engined road car formula, setting new standards of road-holding and handling. Porsche succeed very nicely too, with the rear-engine, rear-wheel-drive formula, having burnt their fingers with the mid-engined 914 series.

Others of the era stuck to a more conventional front enigned, rear-wheel drive layout, such as Triumph with their TR7 and Datsun with their 240 and 260 "Z" cars. The common theme here was that the established exotic car manufacturers produced mid engined cars with price tags to suit, while the mainstream manufacturers, needing to have somthing able to be put in showrooms at a much cheaper cost, stuck to more traditional layouts.

Then the rules changed. From Italy, sired by the huge Fiat conglomerate, the two-seater, mid-engined, Lancia Beta Montecarlo appeared - finally a mid-engined sports car for the masses! Fiat tested the US market with the pretty, little, Bertone-designed, mid-engined Fiat X1/9.

It had a wonderful reception in spite of the modest performance of its 1,300 c.c. engine. An alternative bigger engine in the same shell seemed the next logical move and indeed a prototype 2-liter X1/9 was reported to have been undergoing testing on European roads at the time.

But the 2 liter X1/9 never made it to production, instead Fiat commissioned Pininfarina to design a brand-new, mid-engined, monocoque shell and handed its production and development over to Lancia, utilising the sporting traditions of the famous marque acquired by Fiat in 1969.

The 2-liter Montecarlo completed the Beta range and with its introduction Lancia re-entered the American market, abandoned years earlier, using the new car as a brand leader. Obviously the bulk of Montecarlo production was intended for the USA, it representing the Lancia/Pininfarina idea of what the modern mass-production sports car should look like: mid-engined, yet practical and with an option of fresh-air motoring.

In appearance there was nothing Beta Coupe or Sedan-like about the Montecarlo, an almost "ugly-but-beautiful", low and stubby design stamped front and rear by the US-mandatory, impact-absorbing bumpers/body-work. "Squashing" the amidships engine to save space by placing it transversely was easily achieved by using what was basically the same inclined engine/transmission unit as the fronttwheel-drive Betas. The cast-iron cylinder block was the same as that of the 1800 (1,756 c.c.) Beta, the bore being 84 mm., a longer throw crankshaft increasing the stroke from 79.2 mm. to 90 mm. to give a capacity of 1,995 c.c.

The main effect of the enlargement had been to increase torque rather than power from the twin-overhead camshaft, Fiat straight-four engine: 120 b.h.p. DIN at 6,000 r.p.m. was quoted, the same figure produced by the 1800 Beta Coupe's engine at 6,200 r.p.m.; torque wais increased from the Coupe's 15.3 kg. m. DIN at 4,500 r.p.m. to 16.8 kg. m. DIN at only 3,500 r.p.m. A decrease in compression ratio from the Coupe's 9.8:1, to 8.9:1, as employed in the Beta Saloon engines, was responsible for this emphasis upon torque rather than power. Otherwise the belt-driven twin-overhead camshafts, aluminum cylinder head with inclined valves and downdraught, twin-choke carburetter Ca Weber 34 DATR/200 type in this case remained.

The only radical difference between the transmission of the Montecarlo and the other Betas was that the gear-linkage approached from in front rather than behind; the five-speed gearboxes with integral differentials were similar. Curiously, while the lighter Montecarlo shared the same 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th and reverse gear ratios as the rest of the Beta range, bottom gear was slightly lower, at 3.750 to 1 instead of 3.5 to 1. A higher final-drive ratio (3.714 to 1 as against 3.929 to 1 for the 1800 Coupe) compensated for the choice of 13 in. diameter for the futuristic Pininfarina alloy wheels in place of the other Betas' 14-in. wheels. Their 5H rims were fitted with 185/70 HR CN tires. In essence the all independent McPherson strut suspension was similar to that of other Betas, though there were differences obviously necessitated by the configuration. Lighter weight brought a reduction in disc brake size, from 251 mm. all round to 227 mm., while the idyllic weight distribution produced by an engine squatting between the rear wheels meant that servo assistance was needed only on the front brakes.

One Of The Most Practical And Functional Mid-Enginged Cars Ever Manufactured

In terms of overall package, the Montecarlo proved to be one of the most practical and functional mid-engined two-seater designs to be put into production. It had more room in its comparatively huge front boot (which heat from the brakes and front-mounted radiator made an inadvisable place to store items that needed to remain cool). There was room behind the seats, and even a parcel shelf ahead of the sloping rear window as well as a facia glove locker. Space beneath the side-opening engine cover was under-utilised, in spite of it being shared by the spare wheel, and accesssibility very good.

Perhaps one of the most attractive features of the Montecarlo was its availability in cabriolet or fixed-head coupe form. The convertible setup, a Pininfarina patent, was absolutely brilliant, yet simple: instead of the "Targa" panel which has to be removed and stowed in the boot in the case of the Porsche Targa, Dino 246GTS and X1/9, there was simply a canvas top with two rubber stiffeners which rolled up and disappeared completely into the roll-over bar.

Lancia could be very proud of their history, and it is no surprise where the Monte derived its name. From the 18-24 HP Lancia Alfa of 1908 through the original Beta of 1909, Theta, Trikappa, Lambda, Dilambda, Artena, Augusta, Aprilia, Ardea, Appia, Aurelia, Flaminia, D24 Carrera, the 1955 D50 Formula One car, to Munari's 1972 Montecarlo Rally-winning Fulvia 1600HF. But it was the Stratos which won the 1975 Monte Carlo Rally that supplied the inspiration for naming the new mid-engined Beta. But to provide a level of individuality, the car was never named the "Monte Carlo", but rather one word as "Montecarlo".

Driving Impressions of the Lancia Montecarlo

Apart from being exceptionally comfortable, the Montecarlo's interior was neatly layed out and well upholstered. The brightly colored instruments, including sliding scale minor gauges, were exceptionally clear, the pedals and short gear-lever ideally positioned and Fiat-type steering column controls functional. Otherwise good visibility was spoiled in the three-quarter rear position by those fins.

The engine was relatively noisy for a mid-engined car at low speeds, but this cacophony disappeared astern as speed increased. The gearchange was very good, arguably better than the Beta Coupes, but the bottom gear was a little too low. Speeds in the gears were: 1st, 45 km/h; 2nd, 80 km/h; 3rd, 120 km/h; 4th, 155 km/h. The claimed maximum speed was "over 190 km/h". Nearer 200 km/h with the roof closed was more likely. On the other hand, this 2-liter engine was totally untemperamental and flexible, an exotic car with the amiable disposition of a family sedan.

The rack and pinion steering was light, sensibly geared (unlike other Betas) and positive, the brakes magnificent in performance and feel though the pedal. Cornering powers were exceptional and well within the limits of the present power output, indeed approaching Dino standards. Neither bumps nor wet patches in mid-corner seemed to upset it. Characteristics were biased towards understeer and only some exaggerated driving on and off the throttle in second and third gears through a sequence of mountain bends could make the tail start to move at all.

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