While in development stages during the early Seventies, the Montecarlo started out as the successor to the Fiat X1/9. It was originally designated as the X1/20 — until someone had the bright idea to slap a Lancia badge on the nose and then charge more money for it. And what a good idea that would prove to be.
Regardless of the somewhat confused early identity, the Pininfarina-styled mid-engined Beta Montecarlo series one launched at the 1975 Geneva motor show and it sure went down very well. It came at a time when the mid-engine revolution was in full swing at the Fiat Group. It already had the 308GT4, 308GTB/GTS and 512 GT4 Berlinetta Boxer Ferraris on its books, and if these were too pricey for enthusiasts, there was always the more affordable X1/9. The Beta Montecarlo (it became known as the baby Ferrari) joined the party, offering exotic styling and race-car handling, again, for a modest outlay.
Featuring taut, crisp lines and robust performance from its 2.0-litre, DOHC inline-four mated to a five-speed manual making 120bhp (it was originally intended to be offered with the Fiat 130’s 3.0-litre V6 but this idea was dropped due to the oil crisis of 1973) it benefited a great deal from Lancia’s reputation for making high-quality models.
It had a 41/59 weight distribution, MacPherson struts all around, four-wheel disc brakes, a rack-and-pinion steering and was available in two body styles — a Coupé and a Spyder, with the latter featuring a manually operated targa style convertible roof.
Lancia pulled it from production in 1979 to rectify a few faults and then relaunched the model in 1981 (series two) with improved rearward visibility, and better brakes while the Beta name was ditched. It remained in production for three years and in total, 7,595 models were built.
Today, pristine examples retail for around Dh75,000 but they can be had for half that, however these are the cars with rusty wheelarches, sills and floors — so paying a bit more might just be worth it.