Montecarlo or Bust!

Cars

The North of the 80s, the North of my coming of age felt like a giant oil-grey canvas and we stamped our youthful enthusiasm across it in a rainbow of defiance. Against a backdrop of the miners strike, soaring unemployment and football violence I lived for the tones of Marlene Shaw extolling the virtues of California Soul, lighting up some dark, smokey club we had descended on, candy coloured Lambrettas lined up outside in the drizzle.

We robbed and plundered elements of café culture from across the globe. We shunned the parka, but embraced the three-button suit, we snubbed the common lines of the Escort, the Capri, but worshiped at the temple of all things Auto Italia. Not that the latest Milanese exotica were within our reach – just keeping a GP200 in two star was costly enough. Perhaps that’s why I still harbour dreams of cruising the Riviera in something fast, in something stylish, in something born of the imagination of one of Italy’s great design geniuses.

And there she sat, preserved in her humidity-controlled catacomb, lines clearly visible under the shroud: two seats, mid-engined, flying buttresses, penned by the great Carrozzeria Pininfarina. But the object of my attention was not the 60s icon on my left. The Sophia Loren like curves of the red Ferrari 246 Dino may have caught my eye, but it was the Series 2 Lancia Montecarlo tucked away at the back that I was here to see.

A metallic blue brooding beauty, she was all high cheekbones, dark eyebrows, sharp jaw-line in that Margaux Hemingway 1980s kind of way. As an ex-press car, she’d been splashed in glamorous spreads across the glossies and I’d lusted after her through finger-worn features. Now she was coming home with me.

Launched as the spiritual big brother of Fiat X1/9, the Montecarlo was not a sales success. For all its sharp lines, inspired chassis and free-revving willingness, many reviews labelled it underpowered and noisy.

After a couple of years the car was quietly withdrawn. That would normally be the end of the story, but being Italian, endings are made to be re-written, redesigned. With fettled brakes, larger alloys and a grill to match the Delta Integrale, the re-launched Montecarlo hit the streets at the start of the Walkman decade.

So how is it living with an 80’s supermodel? This rarefied beauty certainly attracts attention at watering holes. The sculpted cockpit is reminiscent of many Ferraris of the era. Sitting in the space-frame seat, the beautiful leather Momo wheel is small and perfectly positioned. Yes it may block out the speedo, the indicator, the warning lights, but you can see the rev counter and in an era that was all about power lunches and power dressing, seeing the needle race through the power band was what it was all about.

The engine sits just behind the driver in the centre of the chassis and at mid revs, with the windows closed, the interior reverberates to the amplified roar of the sports exhaust. But where the Montecarlo really comes into its own is blasting along rural blacktops, winding though coastal lanes: it roams the countryside swooping and turning like a Peregrine Falcon, totally unflappable through the esses.

On a warm autumn day with the windows down, I dream of sweeping along the Italian coastline, heading for some beachfront café bar to nonchalantly abandon my ride in a no-parking zone, knowing the passing Carabinieri will merely nod in admiration at this stylish little ‘automobile raffinata’ before ticketing the oil-grey Audi parked alongside.

Photography: Demi Taylor

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