Repairing your Montecarlo – the real costs
So there it is – the Montecarlo you want on e-bay or one of the free classics ad. A good car (according to the seller) but been off the road for a few years but an easy restoration. The engine hasn’t been used for some time because they didn’t want to turn it over with the old cambelt and yes, the brakes are not doing a lot – but that is to be expected – isn’t it? Tempted?
Well an increasing number of us are, often based on the premise that there are hardly any cars coming up for sale anymore and we all set a “realistic budget” for bringing it back on the road, and then it all goes downhill.
I think it is really important that when you buy a car these days you consider just how the costs can rapidly build up. I recently tried to bring back an S1 Spyder that had been poorly done up by the last person following a period off the road from 1982. It is now finally back with us after 32 years off the road but you should be under no illusion – it cost more to do than the cost of many cars which are up and running.
In brief here is a breakdown:
• Initial purchase £2300
• Recovery £150
• Basic recommission and MOT £1200
• Tyres £200
• Parts £450
• Paintwork £850
• Panels £250
• Screen £200
So this was a car that looked half decent but needed a replacement bonnet, rear engine hatch and door lower skins/base repairs. Everything was done properly but economically and yet we still end up over £5,000. And what I have is a good road car – but certainly not excellent + there are still some jobs to do. To be honest I kind of knew what I was getting into by the state on collection and the fact that the car had previously sold on e-bay for around this figure but the deal had not been closed. If you had seen it cold on collection and close up the sad standard of the work would have been obvious.
Lessons learnt from an e-bay purchase – basically the seller misdescribed much of the car but a fascinating insight into some less than truthful (being kind here) e-bay sellers language – leather interior (actually OE brown vinyl), full bare metal respray (not true), minor work to make the bumpers fit for a concours standard (fit for the bin!), painted in original type paint (pity it wasn’t the right OE shade), bonnet replaced from another Montecarlo (totally rusted out), windscreen perfect (delaminated everywhere). Buyer beware…………
What are the disadvantages and benefits to restoring a car like this? At least when you do this work you get an invasive look at the vehicle and there should be no future horrors lurking. This car had a reasonable engine so nothing was needed on that front otherwise it would have uneconomic. In this particular case it had been in dry storage for so long that inner panels were better than most, with particularly good rust free turrets. Yet the bonnet and doors had both suffered badly in the 5 years it had been on the road since new.
The moral is if you can buy a really good car from the outset then do it – even if that seems an expensive option – as restoration costs of a Montecarlo will soon outstrip its true market value. So pay £8,000 or even £10,000 and get a really good car, drive it home to your garage, and then look after it. On the other hand, there is a certain satisfaction and achievement in bringing an old car back into use – but often this can be an expensive game.
Repairing your Montecarlo – the real costs
Owning a Montecarlo – the Investors view
or, enjoying your car without losing a fortune
Before we start it is fair to say that everyone who owns a Montecarlo has made the right choice in my view and you are free to do whatever you want with your own vehicle. This article is intended to help you understand the impact of work on your car and how that may benefit or detract desirability to future owners. You probably know a lot of this as it’s mostly just common sense but hopefully it will help some owners.
One thing in life is certain and that is that what “comes around, goes around” and with classic cars there are some definite trends that can be applied to any desirable Marque. Let’s look at a few examples and see how the market works when it comes to firstly, making a shrewd investment, and secondly, ensuring that you maintain and build on that in a vehicles value potential once you have it in your garage.
Rule 1 – Investment vs mothballing
So to dispense with one myth straight away – investing in a classic car does not mean locking your car away and not using it. In fact this causes more problems than it solves, particularly on the mechanical front. I lose track of how many Montecarlo’s need new Master Cylinders due to lack of use. Always buy what you like, admire and wish to drive because if you want it, odds on other will also and it will increase in value over time rather than dropping like a stone. Almost always sports cars out perform saloons so we are off to a good start.
Rule 2 – Spend all the money at purchase
Buy the best and most original example of a vehicle that you can afford / find. So you have spent £8000 to £10,000 on a good Montecarlo and others are saying that was just too much- but you will be laughing in the future when you see the endless repairs that others are carrying out which will cost them a fortune as problem after problem comes to light. It is true that occasionally there are barn finds out there that may justify heavy investment but chances are that you will not know enough about the vehicles at the early stages of looking to recognise the wreck from the car with potential. Why risk it? Sure it’s great to return long lost vehicles to the road but do you really know who to trust rebuilding the engine, carrying out the bodywork repairs, sourcing the rare parts that everyone wants and ensuring that the final preparation and hefty refinishing costs do not spiral out of control?
Rule 3 – Original Spec
Avoid the modified vehicle as an investment unless it is a full blown conversion which you are buying just for that look (such as 037 copy) as this is a sure fire way to put off a large number of interested parties. Doubt this? Let’s look at a few cases:
Case study 1 – Just look at the closest market we have – Lancia Delta Integrales.
As with all older cars they have gone through distinct periods in their lives when values mirror desirability. When new or near new they have a standard used value to the trade. Reach 5 years old and they start to enter the older used car market – often with high mileages. 10 years in and they are generally just considered as throw away vehicles and this is the real danger time as this is when the wrong types get them and start running them into the ground, with poor maintenance and substandard modifications. The “boy racer” type move in and many vehicles are driven badly, chipped, modified and generally abused. Then we enter the renaissance period when certain more informed individuals (usually 40 plus age bracket) with more disposable income look back at vehicles and recognise that perhaps they were special for their time and worth preserving as a future classic.
Now the new owner seeks the factory specification vehicle again so cars are taken to specialists and all the modifications are stripped off at great expense and everything goes back to standard. Integrale’s are now worth rather a lot of money for a vehicle that was not designed to take the power of the later generation Evo’s, and the current better off owners know exactly what they want to pay top money for. They want the pure Lancia design vehicle – nothing else.
This is the golden rule for all classics. The mor money people spend the more particular they gat about originality and this is why hardly anyone, except those who track race, want a modified Ferrari or Lambourghini where the investment is that much greater.
Case Study 2 – The Ferrari 308 GT4 Dino which was always considered the “non-ferrari” by purists but has now gone through a renaissance. It was right at the bottom of the wish list for a perspective purchaser and could be bought for as little as £6k in rough condition up to 5 years ago. However, now that people see them as a viable collectors car virtually all the modified vehicles have been stripped back, with a standard car with good provenance now climbing to over £30k – a massive rise in value in less than 5 years. Keep it standard – maintain the value. In fact people try to obliterate any history of track use as that suggests accident damage and with a Ferrari that is seen as a real problem as only a small knock can upset the chassis alignment.
Case Study 3 – Porsche 911 an all derivatives (including the 912). In the 1980’s loads of these cars were modified to look like later vehicles. Now they are being torn apart again in a desperate scrabble to restore standard period looks. Off with the impact bumpers, side skirts, spoilers, wide wheels and later mirrors and much research into original matching engine numbers. It has even got to the level where 1980’s 911 SC are being de-whale tailed to make them look more toned down – even though 90% of UK cars had the tail as a factory standard option. Now a late 60’s or early 70’s 911 is pushing over £40k in good condition. They used to be the undesirable models and very underrated.
Rule 4 – factory finishes
Was your car light blue, white, pastel or metallic green from new and now is red or black? That is potentially bad news for any future sale as a colour change to any classic car takes it away from the factory specification. At one time that there were more Ferrari red Montecarlo’s around than any other colour, primarily because the more unusual 1970’s shades were often over painted. Now, fortunately, there is a revival. Just look at the new Fiat 500 range and surprise – all those unusual colours are back in vogue.
If you buy a Montecarlo with a colour change and are happy with that then fine, otherwise allow about £4000 to bring it back to original or just walk away. Refinishing of vehicles is now one of the most expensive outlays in percentage value terms, particularly with vehicles in the sub-£10k bracket. If you are restoring a car and you decide to change the colour that’s fine as long as you know the long-term impact on value (which of course may not matter to you if you intend never to sell)..
Obviously the higher value classics are a more sensible proposition where you end up with a car worth £40,000 but for now we are not in that realm. Also, never underestimate the cost of stripping a car completely in prep for a paint job to return it to a bare shell, or the time if you do it yourself. Something best avoided unless you start with the aim of a nut and bolt restoration and accept that you will spend far more than the car will be worth once restored.
Rule 5 – the reinvention of the wheel!
So your car was built over 30 years ago and is still on the road and in one piece. That kind of suggests that Lancia and Fiat did not get it all wrong. So it has Italian electrics which were primarily intended for warm climate use and this means that earthing points are not always best located, but we all know where they are and presumably are capable of cleaning these and restoring good operation.
There seems to be an increasing trend in minor modifications that often are useful, but not necessarily essential to keeping your car on the road. It is important to remember that Fiat. Lancia and Ferrari for that matter do not use idiots to design their electrical systems and spend massive amounts on new car development to prevent cars being dangerous and to protect them from legal action.
Now where there is a proven weakness such as the servo assisted front brake system I see the point in change, but just be cautious when considering changes as this all costs money and you are unlikely to ever see that investment back if you sell the vehicle. A cautionary tale which we can learn from was the widely tendered “expert” advice from specialists at one time that Montecarlo’s needed replacement valve seats to run on unleaded fuel. That was until a real engineer pointed out that the seats in an alloy head made by Fiat/Lancia were actually made of harder material than the replacements being put in!
So one I find hard to fathom – electric windows on a Montecarlo which all UK cars have. Sure – they are slower than your latest BMW to go up and down but they were always slower – that is just improvement in technology over time. Simply maintain your windows and they should serve you well for years. Ensure the worm drive is lubricated properly and that the window fuzzy strips are not damaged or swollen and I believe the windows will go up and down properly barring a major issue with the motor. Yes there is a small bearing at the base of the motor but it rarely goes wrong and in general the electrics to the windows are very simple. What else is there to worry about? Remember your car has been around over 30 years so if it hasn’t already burst into flames is it really ever going to? One test I do is to connect used units direct to the battery and watch them go up and down. Then I test through the switching and rarely do I see a difference in speed . So having subjected the motors to the full powerresource that the car has, if I want an improvement in the speed the window goes up and down it is surely down to maintenance – nothing else.
In my view for car electrics focus on the weak spots – the starter and the ignition switch. The rest should look after themselves. Ultimately the choice is yours and these modifications can be very good and do no harm to the car, but choose sensibly and remember to ensure its fully reversible and of course, mods are never a solution for poor maintenance or worn components.
On the electrical front, there are other cars in a far more precarious state than ours. Anyone had problems with the Fiat X19 headlamp switch which also triggers the raising of the lamp pods. Make that everyone!
And for TVR and Lotus owners I just have two words of advice – Good Luck!
Rule 6 – performance engines, fuel injection, turbo charging et al…
We all know that there are firms out there who are excellent engineers and will happily modify your engine, but as with all specialists you pay the market price for that work and knowledge. Your Montecarlo has a proven twin cam 2 litre power plant that was extensively used in other Fiat Group vehicles and continued to be developed well beyond the production period of our cars. It is a superb design for its time and generally simple to work on and maintain, as well as being very strong and long lasting. When the Montecarlo was new it was not a slow car as the 120 mph performance was the benchmark for all sports cars of its type/price bracket. In fact it was only really exotic vehicles that went faster when the car first hit the market in the mid-70’s. It is not a modern car and should be viewed in that light. The real joy of ownership is that you just do not need to go fast in a Montecarlo as nobody knows what speed it can achieve and it really is all about Pininfarina’s body design rather than out and out performance. It’s the crowd that forms around it when its parked that is the true test.
So performance engines are fine if you want to produce a non-standard car but they often do not add much value if your car if it is just for road use. By all means use twin carbs and performance exhausts but the engine and originality is central to classic ownership. After all you wouldn’t remove the engine from an historic race car such as one of the raced 037’s and replace it with something more modern or heavily modified, would you ? So why do it with the standard vehicles. Montecarlos were very good usable cars for their time and still have good handling characteristics and are reasonably rapid cars in standard form.
Now there are exceptions as it may be prudent to improve the engineering if your existing standard engine is damaged or worn out. There are problems sourcing some parts these days and that can mean that there really is little choice – pistons being a very good example.
Some bolt on bits are a separate issue. I would never turbo charge an engine but in the 1980’s there were many attempts – almost all of which have since proved a mistake. I also have my doubt about any sort of major fuel system change such as fuel injection. The car was not designed with this and it will impact on saleability. I realise that some people want to modify as a project or challenge in itself but the standard car works well as designed form the factory and often performance mods impact on fuel economy and day to day running of the vehicle.
As always – it’s your car and your money and you are welcome to disagree!
Rule 7 – if you do modify keep the old parts
The next owner may want to put your car back to standard. If you do decide to modify the car make sure changes are reversible and can be taken right back again easily. Keep that old carb, standard interior, OE wheels etc.
Rule 8 – Enjoy your car!
Despite all this I know that there are owners out there who have invested huge amounts on modification, and I guess all would claim their car is improved. Ultimately if you enjoy your vehicle and do this with your eyes open then it’s your choice and your money. To me however the original car is always king and will be the vehicles that remain desirable and benefit from the inevitable rise in value that our cars deserve. I know others may disagree, but In general they are also the most usable day to day vehicles, completely reliable and a sound investment.
About the author – Malcolm Steer is the proprietor of Montezone and has owned 9 Montecarlo’s since the mid 1980’s. He has also had numerous other marques including Ferrari, Jaguar, TVR, Alfa Romeo and many others. Over the years Lancia specialists have come and gone and there is little that he has not heard said about the cars or seen done……..not always to the financial benefit of the owners!
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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