A Tale of Two Lancias: What You Learn Driving a WRC-Champ 037 and a Beta VX Back to Back
As a street car, the Beta VX was tempting. As a rally car, the 037 was unbeatable.
Many years before Volkswagen would make the most out of a 1.8-liter engine, Fiat, Lancia, and Abarth were the trio making big power using supercharged four-cylinders. The extremely light Lancia 037 that Walter Röhrl could pretty much steer with his mind famously became the last rear-drive WRC champion in 1983, powered by a Fiat Twin Cam with a Roots-style system labeled Volumex. Prior to that, the highly-tunable Lampredi DOHC gave Fiat and Abarth three WRC championships pushing the Fiat 131 Abarth sideways in naturally aspirated form.
Before Fiat's dominance, Lancia also won three championships with its Ferrari V6-powered Stratos. In 1981, Fiat launched a 188-unit run of 131 Supermirafiori Volumetrico Abarths. These Italian-market specials were all painted silver grey metallic, featuring a supercharged 2.0 DOHC producing 138 horsepower.
It was this engine that Lancia jammed into a few of its Beta variants, which included the Coupe and the Trevi notchback sedan. The list of front-drive Beta models continued with the normal three-box Sedan, the five-door Berlinetta, the Spider, the three-door wagon HPE, and of course the rear-drive Montecarlo with its transverse mid-engine setup. This eventually made it to America as the Lancia Scorpio.
For the third Beta series, Lancia even added a wild molded dashboard design penned by Mario Bellini.
Rumor has it that of the 150 right-hand drive supercharged Lancia Beta VX Coupes supplied to the UK, only nine were tuned further by Stratton, who added a body kit with a rather aggressive rear spoiler, black trim package, and new 15-inch alloys to a car that already cost as much as a rear-drive Alfa Romeo GTV 6. With 138 horsepower on tap, the VX Coupe could reach 60 miles per hour in nine seconds, and keep going until topping out at 124 mph.
The Lancia pros at Hollybrook Sports Cars say only two of these Stratton VX Coupes survive today, with this red one being restored to better-than-new condition.
Using only the cockpit section of the Montecarlo with custom subframes and the 2.0-liter Volumex engine mounted longitudinally, the Lancia 037 (formally known simply as the Rally) was Lancia's last rear-drive WRC car packing a significantly larger supercharger than the street Lampredi engines. While the Evo 1 and its Weber carburetor setup was a 265-horsepower affair, the fuel-injected Evo 2 produced up to 325 hp in 2.1-liter form.
With its trick suspension and featherweight Kevlar body, the 037 was the most nimble rally car of its era.
How Lancia won against Audi's fire-breathing all-wheel-drive Quattros in 1983 was best explained by The Grand Tour's Jeremy Clarkson with Mark Higgins behind the wheel of this very Röhrl 037. However, choosing between these two Lancia coupés would be hard today.
Both street-legal, while the 037 is the ultimate thrill as well as investment, a Beta VX Coupe tweaked by Stratton in red is such a rare treat that after jumping into its Recaro seats, one might just decide to keep driving it forever. Front-drive or not, WRC cars are awfully noisy, you know. Still, I may as well just hand it over to Harry Metcalfe, who was lucky enough to enjoy both:
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