GRR

Dan Trent: Can falling for a '70s Italian icon ever end well?

07th November 2017
dan_trent_headshot.jpg Dan Trent

If the Fiat group’s gutting of Lancia doesn’t bring a tear to your eye you don’t deserve to call yourself a petrolhead. OK, I understand the back stories of iconic Italian car brands traditionally feature as much tragedy as they do triumph. But this is Lancia, creator of the Aurelia B20 coupe and dominant force in 80s and 90s rallying! I’d have rather seen it killed off completely than reduced to a range of wheezy, diesel-powered Chrysler cast-offs.

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Setting that ignominious recent history aside if I were going to buy a proper Lancia what would it be? Given my recent rally reawakening the Delta Integrale would seem an obvious choice. Too obvious though!

The Group B era gave us many fascinating cars but the 037 remains one of my favourites and is positively graceful in comparison to the brutal Delta S4 that succeeded it. That the 037 was the last rear-wheel drive car to win a WRC title has a suitably romantic appeal too – fast, fragile and traditionally pictured sideways in Martini stripes it’s everything an Italian competition car should be. To qualify for Group B Lancia had to build at least 200 ‘Stradale’ versions too and these are very rare and collectable cars.

I like to think I have my feet on the ground though and my sights are set slightly more realistically on the Beta Montecarlo from which the 037 took its fundamental structure. That’s about as much as they share but it’s link enough for me and the Montecarlo is pure '70s Italian cool in the (predictably rust prone) metal. There was also a super cool Group 5 touring car version, wedge-shaped, wide-arched and wearing some of the best liveries of the era.   

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Given the mechanical layout the road car’s long nose and short tail are an odd combination, the black strip around the nose another curiosity. There’s a hint of DeLorean in the proportions but I think Pininfarina’s work on the Lancia is sharper, more pure and neater than Giugiaro’s DMC-12. Plus I’m more motorsport fanboy than Back To The Future nerd. And, back on topic, like the 037 the Montecarlo is mid-engined, although in this case it’s a transverse set-up and not supercharged. Still, 120hp or so from a 2.0-litre Lampredi twin-cam engine in a small, light car sounds like enough to be having fun with.  

These are pretty rare cars and there aren’t many for sale. This UK one looks sound and is a cosmetic brush-up from looking respectable – less than £20K doesn’t sound daft either, though I realise any Italian car of this era needs buying with eyes wide open and a very thorough check over for rust.

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But it’s an S2 version with the additional windows in the distinctive rear buttresses. This also got improved power delivery and addressed the infamous tendency for locking the front brakes found in the S1. But I prefer the look of the solid buttresses on the S1 and removing or disconnecting the brake servo apparently solves the latter problem – that was Lancia’s eventual solution after all.

And here’s one for sale in Italy for just over £11,000. Better still it’s a 1976 car, again nailing that ‘car from the year of my birth’ thing I was talking about  the other week. The silver bodywork is a little understated but I love the lurid red trim inside and it looks generally clean and tidy. Has anyone else ever made two-spoke alloys look cool either? It’s pretty lo-fi but the engine fires first time and sounds pleasantly rorty and I think there’s enough promise there to make a one-way ticket to Naples sound like an appealing idea. Appealing enough I could even cope with the shame of the wheezing, diesel-powered ‘Lancia’ taxi from the airport. 

Le Mans image courtesy of LAT.

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