The Lancia Beta Montecarlo is one of those lesser-known sportscars that sets the nerves of any aficionado of Italian machinery tingling. A rare high point ahead of a massive low for the country’s automotive reputation, it sports a unique shape, riffing on the inevitable wedge that was so popular in the ’70s. The lines are unmistakeable, with the bluff, forward-raked trapezoid nose at the end of a long overhang a counterpoint to the short, sharp cut of the tail.
Whilst hunting around the Italian club section of the Classic Motor Show, I stumbled upon this vision in red: a 1977 Lancia Beta Montecarlo Series 1 coupé. It was immediately recognisable from the shape, but at the same time a number of details shouted that this was no stock Beta. The tail lights? The wheels? The VX on the nose? Particularly the latter pointed to something unexpected going on here, and the result is a super smooth coupé that makes an unholy noise.
Outside of dedicated shows you don’t see a Montecarlo very often these days – for obvious reasons I’ll have to touch on – but the model provided the starting point for some of the most iconic competition cars of the time. The fearsome 500hp Group 5 Montecarlo Turbo. The outrageous Abarth 030 prototype. The supercharged 037 Group B car that would go on to win the ’83 World Rally Championship. But even the base car is a special thing.
This car, belonging to Paul Millet, is recorded as the oldest survivor in UK spec with its glass inserts on the rear buttresses and right-hand drive. That says more about a Beta than just the fact it’s 39 years old. It’s a car from the period where the reputation of Italian cars performed its infamous volte face, going from defining style and sophistication to being the winner of the who-can-rust-fastest and general derision competition in record time. For a Beta, the Rusty Slammington look is just natural, the same as finding one in a junkyard doesn’t shock.
It’s another cross that us Italian car fans have to carry. The Beta’s rust issues hit national headlines, and within a decade Lancia had pulled out of the UK entirely – a market that previously had been its largest – and irrevocable damage was done to the reputation of all Italian marques. The Montecarlo was the zenith of the Beta range, but the build problems mean that a lot of street survivors not in the hands of collectors are in terrible condition. Rebuilds are basically default for new owners.
This Montecarlo started its life well, winning its first concours at just three months old back in ’77. Having bought it back in ’91 and subjected it to a complete rebuild over five years, Paul has returned it to that quality and more.
So although it looks quite stock on the outside, with those classic Pininfarina-penned lines rightly retained, Paul has made serious changes beyond the stabilisation of the chassis and body. There are the smaller things – like mirrors from a Lancia Delta let into perspex quarter-lights – but then there are larger things…
This Montecarlo is a riotous mash-up of all the best things about Italian cars, starting of course with the perfect aesthetic addition of Compomotive TS501 three-piece, 15-inch split rims – more commonly seen on an F40.
On the tail, the Ferrari nods continue with the addition of round rear lights: from the back you’d definitely think 308, right?
And I think the back of this Montecarlo is all you’re likely to see. This Beta is now known as the ‘MonsterMonte’ in Lancia circles, and for good reason. The VX on the nose stands for Volumex – and that means supercharger heaven. On the rear, Iniezione, for the fuel-injected lump that the supercharger punches into.
The new engine is a classic Alfa Romeo 3-litre V6, a gorgeous sounding thing on its own – which I say from personal experience of running one. It took some work to get it to fit, with mounts taken from a 75 and a driveshaft from an X1/9, plus some fine-tuning of balance to offset it against the driving position.
But it’s that metal claw on top that really defines this Beta: an M45 supercharger more usually found on an Aston Martin. That’s what creates the banshee whine when this thing is cranked up. Oh the noise…
Underneath, the Montecarlo sits on new coils and has uprated brakes to cope with the power hike. Paul’s most often seen hammering M3s on track days, which is the right and proper thing for Alfas and Lancias to be doing. It’s seen as a bit of a reference point for the UK Lancia community; a halo project that shows what you can do to one of these bluff and beautiful machines. Rust be damned, this Montecarlo is full forza Italia.