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Lancia Fulvia and Beta Montecarlo: unequal siblings of Lancia

Arturo Rivas
Lancia Fulvia and Beta Montecarlo
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The wedge-shaped flounder with the matt black plastic snout endures its fate with dignity: Hardly anyone who happens to be at the Motor Klassik - photo appointment comes by and looks curiously over the shoulders of the team, remembers her full name - L ancia Beta Montecarlo. This car, which already looked quite aggressive when it was stationary, was once a star here in this country.

At the same time and yet generations apart

Hans Heyer from Mönchengladbach won the German racing championship in 1980 with it . And in the same year this car duped Porsche and Co. in the turbo-boosted racing trim by conceding the brand world championship. Yet hardly anyone wanted to own a Montecarlo at the time. No wonder that this car enjoys exotic status these days. With the second candidate, however, everyone immediately seems to be on your side. A Fulvia Coupé - Lancia's bestseller from the mid-1960s. A classic beauty with an angular rear and a filigree roof structure. And an automotive legend: with Sandro Munari at the wheel, he won the extremely image-boosting Monte Carlo Rally in 1972, won the World Rally Championship in the same year, and a year later also became European Rally Champion.

What those two guys connects completely different looking cars in addition to their sporting successes? In 1975 and 1976, those interested in the sales room of a Lancia dealer could have chosen between the two vehicles - the Fulvia at the end of her career, the Montecarlo at the beginning of his hapless existence. Both represent the company's predilection for unusual, technical concepts: The front wheels of the Fulvia are driven by a V4 unit whose cylinder angle of only 13 ° (more precisely: 12 ° 53´28´´) is so narrow that the two cylinder pairs Find space under a cylinder head, almost like an in-line engine. In the Montecarlo, on the other hand, a four-cylinder in-line engine sits transversely in front of the rear axle.

If the other manufacturers should produce cars for the masses from a rational point of view and stick to ideas that were once approved - Lancia was one of Italy's oldest and most distinguished Automakers and had a reputation for maintaining innovation. That one with hisProducts also have to earn money, seemed to be a minor matter at times for Lancias strategists.

With the Fulvia, the company, which had been badly hit by the Italian economic crisis, finally achieved another great success. Contrary to old habits, the Turin-based company did not even enlist the help of famous designers like Pininfarina (who had already designed the coupés for Flaminia and Flavia), Bertone or Zagato when designing the car.

Reduction is the secret of the Fulvia design

This time it was Lancia Head of Design Piero Castagnero who The Fulvia Coupé presented in 1965 delivered an unmistakable masterpiece that was built almost unchanged for eleven years with the exception of various engine variants. His recipe: a simple and strict basic shape with a notchback. And the complete renunciation of provocative style elements. The light-flooded interior exudes the same clear elegance. Two large and three smaller round instruments for speed, engine speed, fuel level, water temperature and oil pressure turn out to be the only jewelery in a simple and stylish setting. The driver sits low in front of a relatively high steering wheel and feels a little like in a greenhouse because of the large windows. Not least because of this, the two-seater - the rear row of seats is sufficient as a shelf for some hand luggage at best - gives an extremely generous feeling of space that is otherwise only expected in a limousine.

Constructively extremely complex - the Lancia Fulvia engine

The engine is brought to life by pressing the ignition key, but when the vehicle is stationary, the small 1300 four-cylinder can hardly be heard. And certainly not to feel anything. The narrow V-angle has such a beneficial effect on the mass balance that balancing shafts are not even required. However, the engineers couldn't avoid splitting the camshaft in two. A separate shaft rotates on each pair of cylinders, one of which actuates the intake and the other the exhaust valves of all four cylinders. The fact that Lancia's design engineers did their job with a love of technology and detail is proven by the hemispherical combustion chambers, V-shaped valves and the use of aluminum for the engine block, cylinder head and gearbox.

After 2,000 revs, a pleasantly sporty wind blows Sound through the cabin, and from around 4,000 tours the fun begins in a Fulvia. The 87 hp are still enough today to make an impression on winding country roads in the car, which weighs just 960 kilograms. The Fulvia can be playfully circled through the corners and denies its front-wheel drive like hardly any other car of its time that is kept in motion by the front wheels.

Lancia Montecarlo with under-challenged chassis

Quite different from Montecarlo.The athlete demands two firm hands on the steering wheel if he is allowed to swing through corners. On the other hand, he behaves very good-naturedly on the slope for a very long time. Not even an abrupt release of the accelerator can seriously upset this wedge, the typical load change reactions of a mid-engine car remain manageable. Unfortunately, the performance remained quite manageable over the entire production period - 120 hp. More was not to be elicited from the transversely installed two-liter engine, which comes from the Fiat 132. The car could use more steam. The chassis would easily cope with it.

The appearance anyway: Pininfarina had already drawn the crisp shape with the long front overhang, the short stubby tail and the sloping roof struts at the beginning of the 70s on behalf of Fiat. And also did without any chrome jewelry. As the X1 /20, this uncompromising athlete should be positioned above the X1 /9. Only shortly before the presentation at the Geneva Motor Show in 1975 did Fiat boss Agnelli pull the emergency brake - and decorate the new car, which was now called Montecarlo, with the traditional Lancia coat of arms. Fiat had already incorporated the heavily indebted family company Lancia six years ago - not least to benefit from the glorious name. Sports car fans, it was certain, would very probably much rather choose a Lancia than a Fiat.

The second attempt of the Montecarlo also fails because of the engine

But this time it didn't work out. Too little power and too high consumption - the trade press quickly got rid of the car. Four years after its presentation, the Montecarlo was taken out of the range again.

Encouraged by some successes in racing, Lancia offered the Montecarlo again from 1980. However, a few optical retouching, larger 14-inch rims and a more modern interior failed to hide the car's greatest weakness: a modest 120 hp. The new benchmark on Germany's roads was called the Golf GTI - and it has since pulled away from a Montecarlo. In June 1981 Lancia stopped the Montecarlo project after a total of only 7,695 copies sold. The model is one of the last examples of this type.

As soon as you lie more than you sit in the comfortable bucket seats and the engine rolls in front of you directly behind your neck, any performance discussion from the past seems superfluous. From now on, the driver looks at the world from below in this flat sports car and is happy about the almost cart-like driving behavior in front of the angular instruments cast in plastic. And the curious glances will soon no longer be an issue.

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