There are certain cars that have, historically, proved to be motoring landmarks for a variety of different reasons. Mini, VW Beetle, Porsche 911… and the list goes on. One car that does not immediately spring to mind is the Lancia Montecarlo and yet some cars also have a certain something. You cannot put your finger on it exactly but somehow you just want one. So what do people remember about the Lancia Montecarlo – it’s prototype Pininfarina style design and no compromise interior (or basic in other words), perhaps its pioneering use of bonded glass, maybe the distinctive flying buttress profile and mid-engined layout. No – Lancia are just remembered in the UK by 99% of the population for rust. OK – to some extent there is a basis for this – certainly the car carried the infamous Beta designation in Series 1 guise – but that is pretty well where the sharing stopped. In fact the whole car (except for major mechanicals) was built by Pininfarina in house – making it their first major construction project. Painted rolling vehicles left the factory on transporters and as such it’s pretty unique. So designed and built by Pininfarina and then corporately badged by the Fiat/Lancia Group. So, if like me, you want something different the challenge begins.
Why a challenge?
Because, like all cars of this era, they did of course corrode and even the youngest vehicle (last construction 1981) is now over 30 years old so inevitably the majority of cars are well past their best. This situation is compounded by the almost complete unavailability of compatible parts from Fiat and for the UK – the withdrawal of Lancia from the UK Market in the early 90’s.
Buyers checklist – beware!
S1 cars need a lot of thought before purchase, but many S2’s are now also very corroded. Some reproduction panels are currently available but large panels, such as wings can be very expensive. Fortunately more part panels are now coming onto the market . Of course you should always try to conserve the original panel whenever possible based on the simple premise that rarely are repro panels a match for the factory OE stuff.
Common body problem areas
- almost always expect problems with the sills – if you are lucky the outer sills will be the limit – but for more serious corrosion there is a full length inner sill that also has a wide metal base. This is very much a structural panel so is important for the vehicles rigidity.
- If you can see problems at the bottom of the front wings (the outer front sills) get ready for potential issues with the door hinge post. Rather oddly water is directed through this panel to a lower drain and then out through the bottom of the wing. Sadly this area also clogs up with mud and debris blocking the drain with the consequential trapping of moisture and rust. Certain measures to prevent corrosion on S2 cars where not applied to S1’s – mainly the protection of inner structural elements with Crylaguard (or Waxoil in today’s speak) but even later cars suffer over time. Later cars originally also had wheel arch liners but these get lost over time.
- When looking at cars ask about suspension turret repairs and examine both the rear and front upper turret areas (visible in the engine and luggage compartments respectively). Rust here will be pretty obvious and most, if not all cars, have now had repairs. This is a major structural area and will be an instant MOT test failure. The problem is that there are multiple layers of metal behind the visible panel and these were nearly always missed off the Crylaguard treatment leaving inner panels in thin primed state. When water gets trapped (as it always does) the rust sets off and as its unseen the first result will be heavy rusting in this area. Behind the inner arch at the rear is a kind of internal chassis member (part of the monocoque) and it is normal to find that one wall of this has completely gone.
- Floors rust like all cars of this generation. Water ingress through the back screen channel is one problem as well as leaking heater boxes or just general leaks through poor bonding of the front screen and side rear windows. Its not a big deal and can easily be repaired , although panels are not readily available.
- Front screen aperture – rust gets into the corners under thee bonded rubber and eats away unseen. Some screens come out to reveal a perfect condition body – others turn out to be the reverse. Repairs, although fiddly, can easily be done.
- Front wings – around the front nose attachment (hidden area) – under the Pininfarina script badge – arch areas – adjacent the bonnet where there is a mud trap underneath.
- rear screen channel – hidden under a rubber seal.
- Rear badge bar – where the badges sit – worse on S2’s with a full length alloy badge bar with hidden steel fasteners.
- Rear engine cross member – combination of stress fractures under the engine mount and general rusting of a very thin stressed area. A design fault that in extremis will allow the rear engine to drop and pressure the handbrake cables.
The modified car – good and bad
Most sports cars seen to go through phases of ownership from initial purchase and full servicing (particularly with more exotic marques – Montecarlos being expensive vehicles when new falling into this category), to the 5-10 year old period when cars are generally still maintained, then onto the 10 year plus category. It is this final stage that poses risks to all vehicles (unless you have a Ferrari or some such super car) when the residual value of the vehicle is low and hence the cars fall into the wrong hands. Servicing gets missed and the modifications start – again particularly with sports cars. This is where the “baby Ferrari” label comes from with a huge number of early rare 1970 OE coloured cars being resprayed cheaply in Ferrari red (pity the loss of all the metallic green, pale green and pale blue Montes) and the spoilers, recaros, wheel arch flares and general “boy racer” styling gets added.
Not to say that everything that was done was bad – for instance the addition of twin Weber carbs is seen as a positive performance gain, together with a freeflow exhaust, both poor OE areas of design. Better wheels such as Integrale 15″ and modern rubber help handling and the removal of the brake servo from S1’s is an essential safety measure as Lancia got this area completely wrong from the outset.
But… there are still some real horror cars around and generally these should be avoided as the focus tends to have been on modification at the expense of looking after the bodywork. That said some owners are now spending up to £30k restoring Monte’s with some serious performance upgrades and these cars fall outside the category above – although you are highly unlikely to get one of these at a bargain price.
Right hand drive or left hand drive?
Early cars from Europe had solid rear buttresses and this can look very good but you will have to master driving a car with limited visibility and LHD if in the UK. Not such a major problem and the possible benefits could be a car with much less rust and all the expense that that entails. The decision is yours. One thing that will become quickly apparent is that a very good UK car will be around £7,500 (01/2012) with an equivalent Italian car being nearer 14,000 Euros – in other words much dearer. This is down to the stronger Euro rate and a general higher valuation in the rest of Europe. UK cars always had glass buttress inserts as the UK authorities felt the solid buttress hampered rearward visibility.
If all this sounds too much don’t worry – the UK has an excellent Supporters’ Club in the Montecarlo Consortium (new window/tab) and all new or prospective owners should make membership a priority to avoid expensive mistakes.
See part 2 for plastic exterior parts, interiors, engine guide and much more.
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