The Montecarlo is part of the ill-fated Beta family, but don’t let that put you off; these mid-engined sportsters make a great left-field buy
How much to pay
• Project £6000-9000 • Good £10,000-16,000 • Concours £21,000-30,000 •
Running costs ★★★
DIY friendly ★★★
Mid-engined Italian two-seaters tend to have large price tags attached, but if you want some Latin flair and your pockets are shallow, help is at hand with the Lancia Montecarlo.
Conceived as a big brother to the X1/9, the Montecarlo was originally supposed to be a mid-engined Fiat with a 3.0-litre V6 engine. The fuel crisis set the manufacturer on a different course, and at the 1975 Geneva Motor Show the car was unveiled as a 2.0-litre Lancia instead. It was sold as the Montecarlo in most markets, but as Chevrolet owned the Monte Carlo name in the US, federal Lancias were sold as Scorpions.
Part of the ill-fated Beta family, the Montecarlo suffered from the same poor reputation as its less glamorous siblings, ensuring that values have traditionally remained on the low side. However, thanks to that mid-mounted engine, sharp Pininfarina lines, crisp handling and surprising rarity, the Lancia makes a great left-field classic buy.
Your AutoClassics Lancia Montecarlo inspection checklist
The Montecarlo’s lusty twin-cam powerplant is its biggest asset, which will despatch 200,000 miles if properly maintained. Although the four-pot is based on the Fiat unit of the same configuration, only the cylinder block is interchangeable.
The cambelt should have been changed within the past 30,000 miles of any potential purchase; if it breaks the valves, a cylinder-head rebuild will be needed. Also be wary of blown head gaskets; after 60,000 miles the head-retaining bolts stretch. It’s usually a case of just replacing the gasket and retaining bolts, but the face of the head will need to be checked for flatness.
If the engine doesn’t run happily, suspect dirt in the idle jets of the Weber carburettor; repairs are easy. Don’t be too worried about an oily engine bay, as the powerplant is notoriously tricky to seal. Cam cover and head gaskets are the most likely culprits. Lubricant shouldn’t be pouring out, but you should expect to see signs of it in the engine bay.
The transmission is tough, but a neglected car might give the impression that there are major issues – the key one being difficulty in getting the gears. If fifth or reverse are hard to find, the selector shaft needs greasing – an easy job. There’s also some sideways adjustment of the shift linkage available. As the gearbox moves slightly over time (due to softening mountings), the change gets increasingly notchy. Minor linkage adjustments will restore everything to normal.
Drive the car from cold, paying attention to the change from first to second, and third to second. The synchromesh on second gear is always the first to go, and when the ’box is cold getting the ratio at all can be a pain. You can either learn to live with it, or you can fit a used trans – they’re not expensive, and replacement takes a day.
Suspension and brakes
The suspension is reliable, although the struts can leak; a new pair of dampers won’t break the bank. Wheelbearings aren’t weak, but it takes ages to renew them even if you know what you’re doing.
While the braking system of a Montecarlo series 2 is efficient enough, the series 1 had a servo that acted on the front wheels only, and it locked up early. That’s why it’s best to disconnect the servo of a series 1 if it’s still fitted.
The brakes don’t like being left idle for long; wheel cylinders and handbrake cables seize, so you need to roll the car on level ground and see how quickly it stops. If the system needs to be freed off, things can get pretty involved.
If the brake pedal is very spongy, it’s because the system hasn’t been bled properly. The Montecarlo has a dual-circuit braking set-up, and both circuits have to be bled together – something that many owners overlook.
Rust can be a major issue, but any Montecarlo that has lasted this long, and is still in good condition, should survive in decent nick for many years yet. That’s why you need to look out for tarted-up cars, which is why taking your magnet with you is essential.
Post-1981 cars were better rustproofed, but any Montecarlo needs a close inspection. If significant corrosion is evident your best bet is to find a better example – because although you can get pretty much any panels you’re likely to need, the costs will quickly add up if the car is rotten.
Start by looking at the bonnet, which suffers from stone-chipping and rust in the seams. The MacPherson strut mountings and inner wings can also rot through, allowing the suspension to pull straight through the top of the bodywork. The front wings can dissolve where they meet the sills, and along their tops; check them from underneath, although post-1980 cars had wheelarch liners fitted.
Inspect the underside of each door and the base of each quarterlight. The latter can rot and, even if the doors are okay, the A-posts can corrode badly if the front wings have also rusted. Once this happens the A-posts lose their strength, so see if the doors are dropping; something that’s impossible to disguise.
Inspect the whole length of each sill, which has three sections including a centre membrane. All three sections can dissolve, usually from the inside out, so press on it all firmly and feel for the metal giving way.
Next take a look inside each wheelarch, paying close attention to the seam between the inner and outer arch. The mastic here hardens then cracks, allowing moisture in and leading to rot. Finish by checking the rear valance, quarter panels, rear wings and rear strut towers; this last area is best inspected from inside the engine bay.
All spider series 1s featured vinyl trim; most other cars had cloth but a few had leather. None of the interior trim should pose problems, as the original materials were generally durable and you can source most stuff on a second-hand basis. It’s even possible to get some new bits through specialists.
With the electrics, everything needs checking to make sure it’s working properly, especially the power-operated windows. The main problem is poor earthing through corrosion of the terminals, along with worn motor bearings. Although fixing things probably won’t cost much, it can be a pain tracking down exactly where the problem lies.
- 1975: Mid-engined Montecarlo reaches showrooms, using the same 2.0-litre engine and running gear as the Beta saloon. There’s a choice of coupé or spider derivatives, the latter being a targa with a fabric roof.
- 1977: Montecarlo arrives in the UK.
- 1978: Production is halted because of build quality and braking issues.
- 1980: A revised Montecarlo is launched, with a new grille, bigger wheels plus revised suspension and brakes.
- 1982: Montecarlo production is halted permanently, although the final cars aren’t sold until 1983.
While everyone is flocking to major British marques such as Triumph and MG, you don’t have to follow the herd if you want a cheap sports car. Affordability, great handling and a lusty engine are three of the best reasons to buy a classic – and the Montecarlo can offer all of those.
Even better, you can buy anything you’re ever likely to need to rebuild this Lancia or simply to keep it on the road. However, finding a good example of the Montecarlo is getting ever harder, which is why you should join an owner’s club first. Most decent cars change hands within the ranks of these organisations, and they’ll help you to steer away from buying a liability. Unfortunately, there’s no shortage of ropey Montecarlos out there, but there are some superb examples, too – you just need to look hard to find one.
Picture courtesy of MagicCarPics
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