John J Campion opens the doors to his Lancia collection once again, paying particular attention to the 1981 Lancia Beta Montecarlo he’ll go on to drive at Daytona, 36 years after the car competed at the legendary 24 Hour race.
Sometimes, you really have to be jealous of John J Campion.
Fair play to the man. Having arrived in the United States from his native Ireland with only $25 to his name, he has since gone on to create a name for himself as executive chairman of Florida-based APR Energy, as well as build one of the most well-respected collections of classic Group B rally weapons in the USA (you can see more about that in THIS Petrolicious video). Being the proud owner of a pristine Delta S4, a ’75 Stratos, an ’83 037 and an ’88 Delta – which he still drives, just FYI – is more than enough to get our hackles suitably miffed, but John goes one step further by driving his ‘81 Lancia Beta Montecarlo around Daytona, 36 years after this exact same car competed in the famous 24-hour event.
A bit of context before we continue. By 1979, Lancia’s reputation on the World Rally Championship scene was pretty much bullet proof, the Italian marque having won the Championship for Manufacturers three years on the bounce from 1974 to 1976, as well as the inaugural Driver’s title with fellow Italian Sandro Munari (the marque would go on to win another seven constructors’ titles, six of which were consecutive with the Delta from 1987 to 1992). For 79 though, new regulations for Group 5 opened the door for a sports car return for Lancia. Under the tutelage of Lancia Corse sporting director Ceasare Fiorio, race-spec versions of Lancia’s Beta Montecarlo were developed with significant aerodynamic modification. A new front splitter, extended wheel arches, a enormous rear wing and heavily revised coachwork were introduced to improve downforce and airflow, the Montecarlo also dropping 300kg over its road-going alter-ego.
The biggest difference though was the 1425cc four-cylinder, which, under Fiorio’s instructions, was fitted with a KKK turbocharger to give the comparatively 370bhp a boost to 450bhp (some examples tipped the dyno at 470+bhp). Poor reliability plagued the Montecarlo throughout the 1979 season, but a strong debut at the 6 Hours of Silverstone – with former Grand Prix winner Riccardo Patrese and WRC legend Walter Röhrl on driver detail – plus high points-paying finishes when the Montecarlo went the distance meant Lancia secured the lower powered Division 2 title in its debut season, outright championship glory being added to the mix one year later.
By 1981 though, Lancia Corse was eying outright sports car glory with its new LC2 prototype, and while engine issues scuppered any hopes of Daytona 24 Hours glory, the ‘Monte’ – now wearing its time-honoured Martini livery – would finish eighth overall (second in the Group 5 class) at that year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans with Michele Alboreto, Eddie Cheever and Carlo Facetti, as well as the World Endurance Championship for Makes in its swansong season. Years later, and after extended tenure in an Italian motoring museum, the Montecarlo made its way to John Campion’s garage, albeit with the red/white ‘swirls’ livery that was subsequently re-created using archive photos and the decals from a 1/18 diecast model. Further light restoration – including a brand new fuel cell – and the Montecarlo was ready to hit Daytona once again as part of the historic ’24 minutes of Daytona’. In the above video, and much like his ‘Road to Amelia’ journey, John J Campion walks us through the significance of the Lancia, as well as the difficulties he’ll find actually driving the 1981 example around Daytona:
“450bhp sounds pretty exciting, except, the first gear is very long, so it’s kind of 0-70mph in first gear, and you’ve got a LOT of power after the turbo kicks in at 4500rpm. Prior to that, it’s kind of a lawnmower engine.”
Oh, and if you’re keen to hear what sports car racing circa 1979/1980 sounds like, you’ll want to skip ahead to 6m 20s…
- Images courtesy of Rafael Martin