Lancia’s most unusual rally car

As the WRC's Group B-era approached, Lancia looked to its sportscar program for inspiration

potw jan 10

What’s this, a Group 5 car rallying? What’s that all about then?

You don’t see many cars like that on a rally stage. But hang on, doesn’t it look a bit like…?

This picture from the Girardo & Co. Archive shows Finnish Italophile Markku Alén at the wheel of a Lancia Beta Monte Carlo on the 1979 Giro d’Italia.

And if you thought there was some familiarity about it, you’d be right. The Beta Monte Carlo was the (loose) basis for Lancia’s first Group B car, the 037.

Prior to the introduction of a drivers’ championship within the World Rally Championship in 1979, for two years there had been an FIA Cup for drivers. It mostly consisted of WRC rounds, with a few other major events thrown in.

In 1978, one of those was the Turin-based Giro d’Italia Automobilistico (its full title, to distinguish it from the cycling event). Alén won it, on his way to the title, in a Lancia Stratos. The following year, though the event was no longer part of a major championship, Alén was back, aiming for a repeat.

This time, however, he was in the Group 5 Beta Monte Carlo. Lancia had been using the car in world championship sportscar racing, but not previously in rallying. But with rallying regulation changes on the horizon – what would become Group B – here was an opportunity to evaluate it.

Markku Alen Story

The magnificent beast was little different from its racing sister. Visually, a shortened tail and rear wing were most noticeable. Its little 1425cc engine, complete with KKK turbocharger, pumped out an incredible 360bhp, only slightly less than the racing version due to a lower rev limit. That made the 800kg spaceframe car by far the most powerful car on the entry list.

The Giro combined closed-road tests with circuit races where Alén handed his car over to Ricardo Patrese, and team-mate Walter Röhrl made way for Gilles Villeneuve. The Group 5 cars weren’t the quickest through the stages, but their prowess on the circuits was enough to take them to a 1-2 finish, Röhrl’s car some 35 seconds clear of the Alén entry.

Or so they thought. A rival’s protest led to both Lancias being disqualified for making deviations from the road book’s route.

Eighteen months later, the 037 made its WRC debut. By far the most successful two-wheel-drive Group B car, it claimed the manufacturers’ championship in 1983. Powered by a two-liter, normally aspirated longitudinal engine for improved weight distribution (and a little less power), it didn’t share a lot with the Beta Monte Carlo, but the blueprint was there.

And unwittingly, by being the best of its kind but still unable to halt the Audi onslaught, it proved that four-wheel drive was the way to go.