There are many eras of racing I absolutely adore. I reckon F1 peaked in the early 80s, WRC was an absolute ball in the 80s as well, and even Le Mans was pretty good in the early 80s too. But one element of the early 80s I’ve never really embraced was Group 5.
Group 5 was effectively one of the earliest equivalents of GT racing. But whereas modern GT racing sees current supercars taken and only slightly modified into race cars, Group 5 saw rather smaller sports cars made into extensively modified, pure racers. The term they are perhaps best known by is ‘silhouettes’.
They initially competed in the World Championship for Makes which evolved into the World Sportscar Championship. They were banished after 1982 in favour of Group B – but that was better known for rallying. Race-built prototypes from Group C took over the World Sportscar Championship instead.
Porsche’s 935 was the most successful. It was untouchable when the regulations actually started, and it won Le Mans in 1979 – unusual to think given how road-car-like it looked like compared to modern prototypes…although it might not have seemed that way when Porsche did the same thing 20 odd years later with the 911 GT1.
But aside from it, there was also the Nissan Skyline and Bluebird silhouettes – the former of which was in Gran Turismo 2 – BMW’s CSL and M1 racers, Zakspeed’s Ford Capri, Ferrari’s 512BB and this, the Montecarlo Turbo from Lancia.
I know plenty about the base Montecarlo with which this shares only the centre section with. Mostly I remember how the brakes were too strong and they fixed it by removing the brake servo entirely. Leaving it with no brakes at all. But it looked very sweet, a quintessential mid-engined sports car of the 80s.
If I’m honest, I haven’t properly followed the Montecarlo Turbo that was built for Group 5 because I’m so much more interested in the other motorsport-built car the Montecarlo spawned – the 037. But I’ve already sung my song about that at great length.
The Montecarlo Turbo won the 1980 and 1981 variants of the World Championship for Makes, proving itself one of the best of its kind to come about, even if it rather late in the day in terms of Group 5 itself.
But I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect in terms of driving it. I’d seen the stats of some Group 5 racers, and seen a couple of them in action, and was likely expecting something shouty, screamy, and very unforgiving yet still very appealing.
Yet the Montecarlo didn’t seem all that savage to drive. Indeed, the actual stats do back this up. At 780kg it is seriously light but it’s only got 400hp so the engine isn’t the strongest around. So it feels rather slower than I expected.
There is one good trade-off of this though – it is a superb car to drive. Far from being a wild, out-of-control dervish, it is in fact remarkably stable in all cases. Even on a track like the Nurburgring, with bumps and inclines galore, nothing shook the Montecarlo. Only a very immediate change (i.e. accelerating on a kerb) shook it slightly, and even then it hardly deterred from its path.
That said, this isn’t what you tend to notice most when driving the Montecarlo. What you do notice is the squirrel in the engine. Oh sure, it’s actually a turbo, and turbo engines as tiny as the ones inside the Montecarlo – it’s not much more than 1.4-litres – are supposed to do that with the way their wastegates are. But this squirrel is very, very prominent. It’s great how mechanical some of the 80s cars sound in Forza 6 – I noticed this with the MG Metro too – but this one really doesn’t shut up. A very hyperactive squirrel, this one.
It certainly does distract you from the sound of the engine itself. Which is fine. But it only really screams when you’re as deep into the redline as you can go. Unfortunately, the car is so well-behaved you rarely get to hear this.
But make no mistake. On a driving front this Montecarlo is absolutely terrific. It’s exactly what you want your racer to be – trouble-free, something you can take to the max at all times and, therefore, win races in. Even if it’s not very fast in a straight line, you’ll be the one winning at the end when all others ahead may well have fallen off. This really is a car anyone can get in and drive. I recommend you do so right now.
And yes, this isn’t the livery it comes in. But what else is a Lancia supposed to have?