The takeover of Lancia by all-conquering Fiat led to some strange anomalies — one of which was undoubtedly the appearance of the Lancia Montecarlo in 1975. This mid-engined sports car came in two versions — a two-door coupe and a two-door convertible, the latter with an unusual roll-back targa-style top operated by hand.
The odd thing about the Montecarlo is that it was never intended to emerge from the Lancia stable. The car was Fiat’s X1/8 development project, based on the prototype Abarth 030. It was always intended to be a larger version of the company’s hugely successful small mid-engined X1/9 sports car (which actually retained its project tag after commercial production began). The Montecarlo had a much roomier interior than the cramped X1/9, plus larger engine and a slightly more conventional fastback coupe appearance, with a side-opening rear-access panel.
For some reason Fiat lost interest in the car, and passed it on to Lancia. Original design consultant Pininfarina was retained to refine the new model for production, and the Turin outfit also secured the contract to build the Montecarlo. The S1 version had faults — like a tendency for the front brakes to lock up in the wet — and this was sufficiently serious to see production suspended in 1978, although it returned in 1980 as the enhanced S2, which was in turn discontinued in 1981. In short, it was never a huge success, and perhaps vindicated Fiat’s decision to step aside.
A turbocharged racing version of the Montecarlo did, however, compete successfully in Group 5 races in the early 1980s. The Montecarlo also served as the genesis for Lancia’s splendid 037 Group B rally car, although in truth this used little more than the original centre section, and even then the engine was mounted longitudinally rather than horizontally as it had been mounted in the Montecarlo.
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN:
1975 (until 1981)
1,995 cc Straight Four
Top speed of 118 mph (190 km/h); 0-60 mph (97 km/h) in 8.6 secs
YOU SHOULD KNOW:
There was a detuned and rebadged version of the Montecarlo made for export to the USA with a smaller 1.8 I engine — called the Lancia Scorpion, it was a feeble shadow of the European car and was sold only in 1976 and 1977 before being discontinued.