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Lancia Beta Monte Carlo

Published: 27th Apr 2011 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Could be a hot Ferrari from this angle and it’s mid-engined. too! Their rarity ensures that this Lancia is a real head turner. Could be a hot Ferrari from this angle and it’s mid-engined. too! Their rarity ensures that this Lancia is a real head turner.
Cabin is roomier than X1/9 although hardly of better quality. Look for ageing Cabin is roomier than X1/9 although hardly of better quality. Look for ageing
Montes rot of course, so check, especially inner wings and chassis Montes rot of course, so check, especially inner wings and chassis
Monte Carlo became an accomplished race and rally car in its time. Base car can be easily modified Monte Carlo became an accomplished race and rally car in its time. Base car can be easily modified
Although called a Beta, Monte had few carry over parts from the range Although called a Beta, Monte had few carry over parts from the range
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What is a Lancia Beta Monte Carlo?

Like the Fiat X1/9, it’s a baby Ferrari and like the great little Fiat relation, the Beta Monte Carlo is a car for the purist. At long last, Lancia is having a glamourous comeback with news of the pretty Fulvietta concept car going into production in 2007, the forthcoming new Lancia Delta complete with Integrale option, and the Fenomenon Stratos, the new concept car which may be put into production if Prodrive’s feasibility tests show a big ‘thumbs up’ On these grounds, a renewed interest in the classic Lancia Beta Monte Carlo may be wholly justified, especially if one forgets that the Monte Carlo actually started out as the Fiat X1/20 and only took its Lancia badge at a fairly advanced stage of development. The Beta Monte Carlo of the 1970s is a glorious mix of the good and bad - something only the Italians can do. A pretty Pininfarina shape, fine performance, mid-engine handling, dangerous brakes and dubious build quality - yes that’s the Beta Monte Carlo.

History

Fiat picked the artistic brains of Bertone and Pininfarina at the end of the Italian hippy Sixties: the company needed a replacement for its Fiat 850, and two prototypes were developed in parallel: the X1/9 and the X1/8. Bertone was responsible for the former, a mildly disguised version of another prototype suggested for the De Tomaso Ford; Fiat bosses liked it so much that Pininfarina’s X1/8 was left to languish for a while.

A year or so later, in 1972, two 1:1 models were built, and the project - bigger than the original concept - adopted the X1/20 name. Three years on, the new car was launched at the Geneva Motor Show. Its smaller sibling, the Fiat X1/9, was already selling well; Fiat had also already introduced a prototype very similar to what would become the Lancia Beta Monte Carlo - a joint Fiat-Abarth effort called the Abarth 030 and powered by the Fiat 130’s engine, a six-cylinder 3.2 unit bored out to 3.5 and developing 285bhp. Fiat’s portfolio of new models seemed complete, ensuring the marque’s presence both in the commercial and in the racing world. Fiat knew it could count on the Abarth 131 to carry the prestige flag of racing and, at the same time, to encourage the public to identify with its ‘family car’ image. In contrast, Lancia did not have a sports car in its range, (if one excludes the Stratos, which Fiat would shelve a touch prematurely,) so it made sense to ‘transplant’ the X1/20 project over from Fiat: a purely commercial decision.

The Monte Carlo basic design did not change dramatically over its nine year life span, from 1975 to 1984. Like the X1/9 on which it was based, the Beta Monte Carlo was a mid-engine, two-seater sports job, endowed with a unique steel body; it shared with the Beta and the X1/9 the engine, transmission and allround MacPherson strut suspension set-up. Pininfarina, frozen out of the X1/9 project, got the job of applying the magic styling touches to the Monte Carlo, and also actually building it. Fiat had big plans for this model, expecting it to do well in North America where it was marketed under the powerful name of ‘Scorpion’ (with obvious hints at the Abarth heritage) because another car had the rights to the Monte Carlo name. Sadly, the car did not live up to the Americans’ expectations, or – rather – its looks were not matched by its performance. It may have had something to do with the emasculated 1.8-litre engine which came with the Scorpion, thanks to American regulations regarding tough exhaust emission control.

The Lancia Beta Monte Carlo lived a parasite life, relying on the Lancia Beta for its running gear, though its twin-cam engine has different head, cams and mountings. In 1978 the Monte Carlo was suspended from production to sort out the sensitive lockprone brakes and some other incidentals, but when it was withdrawn in ‘84, it disappeared for good. A supercharged version was never offered for the road car, and only around 7500 cars were actually made, of which about 1000 came to the UK.

Driving

When the X1/9 was launched, experts said it was a cracking car that cried out for more power. On the face of it, the bigger brother Lancia was the perfect answer. Why the Lancia Beta Monte Carlo/Scorpion did not fare well in North America was that, despite its very good handling for which the midengine layout was to thank, the car was not as fast as its fine body led people to believe. Lancia desperately tried to address the many problems afflicting the early models especially, by withholding production for two years (1978-1980) - a decision previously unheard of in the Italian car industry - in order to solve what would be perceived as a chassis weakness, such as fearful braking in wet or even damp conditions.

A mid-engined car such as the Monte Carlo, which is already unusually light at the front, would not benefit from servoed front brakes, as they would lock under certain circumstances such as wet roads. And lock they did. The brake servos were blamed for that, as they were only fitted to the front. At the Monte Carlo re-launch, they had been duly eliminated in favour of bigger 9.9in discs and a variable braking control device, thanks to a mechanical link which calibrated the leverage. Improved spring and damper rates encouraged more competent handling, and torque was improved by fitting a Magneti Marelli electronic ignition system.

The Monte Carlo has balance and poise provided that it’s not pushed too much, especially during cornering. Autocar, testing the new car back in the Seventies, noticed a mild understeer in all circumstances, substituted by oversteer due to lift-off of throttle mid-corner, a trait which could be easily corrected and even give the driver some entertainment. The sporty Lancia is relatively easy to climb into, and slightly uncomfortable to drive in, much as the rest of Italian classics. The rear window has a particularly impractical wedge-shape, but despite its narrow glass area, rear view is surprisingly good. It’s noisy and not too refined, but a bit roomier than an X1/9.

Prices

For around £1000 one can find a Monte Carlo in dire need of a full restoration - and that will prove pricey. If not keen to spend all weekends in the year (and beyond) in one’s garage under a car, £3000 - £4000 will buy a nice, drivable car, but twice as much will get a gem, a proper Beta Monte Carlo to have fun with, dodgy brakes notwithstanding.

What To Look For

  • Do Beta Monte Carlos rust more than other cars of the Seventies? No, they rust just as much, and more or less in the same places: wheel arches, suspension turrets, sills, floors and doors. Particular attention should be devoted to checking the bonnet, as this is about the only body panel that isn’t currently available in the parts world. Having said that, the infamous front subframe rot that afflicted normal Betas doesn’t cause the same distress on a Monte.
  • As the car’s brakes left a lot to be desired, check for past accident damage. Look for creasing along the floor, signs of new flitch panels and overspray. Ensure the car runs straight and true on a test drive.
  • The brake servo at the front only, responsible for some serious deficiencies in road behaviour, was a problem confronted in the two years during which Lancia withdrew this model from the market. Most early models have since been sorted (many simply de-couple the servo and fit better pads), but check the brakes for disc wear.
  • Other possible areas of concern may be steering and suspension bushes; struts should not be leaking. On the subject of the rear dampers, early cars used Fiat X1/9 hubs and these are sealed (welded) items. Leading Monte Carlo specialist Monte Hospital modify them so conventional inserts can be fitted.
  • Out of the 1000 Monte Carlos imported from Italy between 1975 and 1984, around 300/400 survive well, and some are lovingly restored and looked after. But it is always a good idea to check the floor of the luggage compartment for signs of an accident, and make sure that all lines, from the rear wings to the front panels, are aligned.
  • It would be easy to think that, with only 300/400 models in the UK, finding parts may be a daunting task, but it needn’t be: apparently this country is the richest source of available parts in the world. Other markets such as the USA, Japan, Australia and Europe (sometimes even Italy itself!) all contact UK Lancia specialists for parts.
  • For example one of them, the very aptly named ‘Monte Hospital’ in Linton, Herefordshire, has access to a full range of body and structural panels, electrical parts, suspension, steering, engine, gearbox and trim panels as well as a good selection of tuning and performance items.
  • Lancia enthusiasts can also rely on the Lancia Owner’s Club forum and eBay for sourcing elusive parts, making owning and looking after this classic model less troublesome than having to wait a few frustrating weeks for, say, a modern Alfa Romeo’s bits to come from ‘Ricambi’ (Parts) in Northern Italy.
  • A Lancia Beta Monte Carlo’s engine, the strong 2.0 unit, is the least of an owner’s worry. Most Lancia M.C.s are not driven every day and do not clock up a lot of miles, but the engine itself can cope with a lot more power, lending itself well to tuning. The timing belt should be checked when buying one; good idea to change it anyway, just in case, as a breakage will bend the valves.
  • Check the transmission; clutches aren’t easy to swap and see that the gearchange is nice and precise - could be simply worn linkages.
  • Want to make a Beta better? Then mod the Monte! Engine swaps can be anything from an Integrale engine up to a V6 Alfa lump, which makes life interesting. Chassis mods consist of better damping while the notorious brakes can be upgraded with the likes of Tar Ox or Rossini components – plus disconnecting the servo, if still fitted.

Verdict

Over the last five years, Monte Carlos have become increasingly popular, and that is reflected in the price they command. The parts availability situation, the engine, that beautiful, wide-but-short Pininfarina body, all conspire to make this classic a very interesting proposition. The Owner’s Club is very active, producing a bi-monthly magazine and keeping owners both here and abroad up-to-date with all activities, news and events. It’s rarer than, say, a Ferrari 308, but oh so much cheaper to buy and run and just as much fun.



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