Pick Up a Pair of Matching Mid-Engine Lancias at RM Sotheby’s Essen Sale
Just don’t call them Stratos.
On the subject of classic mid-engine Italians, Ferrari and Lamborghini get all the credit. Sure, there was a period when Maserati and even Fiat flirted with the midship configuration, but when you dream of the raked, low-slung supercar profile of the 1970s and 1980s, it's probably wearing either an excited pony or frustrated bovine on the front bumper.
Still, long before Alfa's 4C and shortly after the incredible Stratos, Lancia offered two distinct flavors of mid-engine-ness, both with varying degrees of success. Luckily for you, RM Sotheby's upcoming Essen sale has exemplary color-matched versions of both cars, giving us a rare opportunity to look at the two side-by-side.
We'll start with the more proletarian 1976 Lancia Beta Montecarlo. Born from a stalled Fiat/Abarth program to develop a mid-engine sports car above the X1/9, Lancia assumed the residual development costs and retained design house Pininfarina as both the designer and final production for the Beta Montecarlo, on account of the mid-engine platform sharing nothing with the contemporary Lancia Lineup.
The result was an effortlessly attractive and clean-cut ultra-wedge mid-engine profile, though the car harbored some unfortunate design flaws that had to be addressed after production. Straightline performance wasn't quite up to par, with the 2.0-liter (1.8-liter in the U.S.) Lampredi inline-four cylinder capable of only 118 hp. The brakes were prone to lockup, and handling was poor, thanks to tall U.S-specific springs and rudimentary suspension design.
Don't let this deter you from bidding. It really is a sharp looking sports car, and all of the aforementioned wrinkles have been smoothed out by the aftermarket and legions of clever mechanics. This Montecarlo in particular is already mildly hopped-up thanks to upgraded suspension, brakes, and intake manifold, so you should be ready for backroads cruising as soon as it lands in your driveway. That shouldn't cause too much financial distress either, as even in this explosive classic car market, Montecarlos and Scorpions (the U.S variant) are still quite affordable, often to be had under the $15,000 mark.
On the opposite end of the spectrum is the wild and wonderful Lancia 037 Stradale, a Group B homologation derivative of the Montecarlo. Well, we say derivative, but the 037 is a moonshot away from the Montecarlo, both in purpose and execution. The 2.0-liter four-cylinder in the 037 breathes through a supercharger, now packing a more respectable 205 hp and 167 lb-ft of torque, healthy figures for a car that weighs just over 2,500 pounds thanks to Kevlar and fiberglass body panels designed, again, by Pininfarina.
This being a rally special, the rear suspension incorporates dual dampers on each side in the rear, along with a locking mechanical differential to offset the rigors of high-speed off-road driving. Inside, it's just as spartan as you'd expect, with exposed fiberglass, plastic dash componentry, and sparse leather trimming. Despite the bodybuilder looks and genuine race-bred DNA, you'll struggle to beat a modern VW Golf GTI off the line, as 0-62 mph takes 5.8 seconds. Still, spine-crushing acceleration is hardly the purpose of the 037; if you are the highest bidder, we suggest pressing on when the roadway turns more than a little dusty.
Two mid-engine Lancias, two very different ways. I'm sure the buyer of the 037 isn't looking to park a Montecarlo in the same garage (and vice-versa), but the shared color and underpinnings make this duo almost too good to split up. Almost.