Model history: In the second half of the 1970s, the World Championship for sports cars was run for production based 'Group 5' racing cars. Compared to the much more tightly governed 'Group 4' cars, manufacturers were allowed to carry through major modifications compared to the road car the racer was based on. Group 5 was effectively a silhouette class. To balance the performance, the cars' minimum weight was coupled to the displacement of the engine. Since its inception in 1976, the Group 5 class had been completely dominated by the Porsche 935, which faced no serious competition. That changed halfway through 1979 when Lancia Corse deployed the striking Beta Montecarlo Turbo.
As the name suggests, Lancia's Group 5 racer was based on the Beta Montecarlo road car that was first introduced in 1975. However, other than the general layout and the engine block very little was retained for the racing car. The Italian manufacturer had called in the help of in-house racing expert Abarth for the mechanicals and designer Pininfarina for the aerodynamics. The startling end-result bore but a small resemblance to the mid-engined road car it was originally based on. The very wide body panels developed in the Pininfarina wind-tunnel formed a stark contrast to the much slimmer centre section that the rules dicated had to be carried over from the production car.
Under the composite panels the changes were numerous as well. Chassis guru Gianpaolo Dallara completely reworked the production car derived monocoque and McPherson strut suspension in every way, shape and form allowed by the regulations. The biggest 'secret' of the Group 5 Beta Montecarlo was found between the centre section and the rear suspension; the engine. While the production block was retained, Abarth engineers built a brand new 16-valve head and bolted on massive KKK-Turbo. By keeping the displacement down to 1425 cc, the car fell in the 2-litre / 780 kg class (using the 1.4 equivalency factor for Turbocharged engines). Despite its relatively small size, the engine was still good for 400 bhp and later for up to 473 bhp.
Even though the Lancia Beta Montecarlo was first shown in December of 1978, it did not make its racing debut until June of the next year during the Silverstone round of the World Championship. A single car was entered for Ricardo Patrese and Walter Röhrl. The new racer was quick straight out of the box, although it struggled to keep up with the much more powerful and heavier Porsches. Reliability also was a major issue and caused a very early retirement. Once the early bugs were ironed out, the Beta Montecarlo easily dominated the 2-litre class, taking class wins at Pergusa and Brands Hatch. Lancia finished second in the overall championship at a considerable distance behind the Porsches.
For 1980 the championship was divided in two classes; one for under and one for over two litres. Painted in the striking Martini colours, the Lancias absolutely dominated their class, scoring ten victories from a possible eleven in their class. It has to be said that the competition was very limited. More impressive were the outright victories scored at Brands Hatch, Mugello and Watkins Glen against the Porsches; a Lancia one-two at each occasion. There was more of the same in 1981 with Lancia again winning the 2-litre championship and scoring another outright victory against the 935s, which had in excess of 800 bhp on tap. Another great achievement was an eight overall and a second in the Group 5 class at Le Mans behind a Porsche 935.
Encouraged by the performance of the 'two-litre' Beta Montecarlo, Abarth developed a larger engine for 1981 to really go 'Porsche hunting.' The new engine displaced 1773 cc and came equipped with two Turbo-chargers. Power was increased to 520 bhp. Unfortunately this version was never fully developed with Lancia already looking ahead to the brand new 'Group C' regulations that would come into force in 1982. The larger engined Beta Montecarlo only managed to score points at one occasion. Although no longer eligible for the World Championship, the Group 5 Lancias continued to be raced by privateers with considerable success. Clinching two World Championships in such dominating fashion, the Beta Montecarlo Turbo has gone into history as one of the great Lancia racing cars.
The second of three Lancia Beta Montecarlo Turbos built ahead of the 1979 season, this chassis made its debut at the Vallelunga 6 Hours. Driven by Eddie Cheever, Walter Röhrl and Giorgio Pianta, it failed to reach the finish after starting eighth on the grid. The car was more successful in 1980, when it won the Brands Hatch 6 Hours in the hands of Röhrl and Ricardo Patrese. This was the type's first outright win. Chassis 1002 has since been restored, wearing the popular Martini livery adapted by Lancia in 1981.
Chassis 1003 was first pressed into service in the fall of 1979 for the Giro d'Italia, where it was driven by Riccardo Patrese and Markku Alen. They finished second behind the sister car of Gilles Villeneuve and Walter Röhrl but both Lancias were disqualified for using the Autostrada. The final Beta Montecarlo Turbo was second again behind its sister car at Brands Hatch in 1980 and this time the result stood. Chassis 1003 was retired from active duty hereafter in favour of the new-for-1980 cars. Beautifully restored to the striking Martini livery, it is today regularly campaigned in historic events.