Getting hold of an engine was a big problem for aspiring Formula 1 teams in the early 1980s, when the Cosworth DFV era was coming to an end. Williams did a deal with Honda, Brabham signed with BMW, while Ferrari, Renault and Alfa Romeo did their own things, but McLaren had to convince TAG to fund a Porsche engine. Most teams didn’t have the money to do such things. The DFVs were not really competitive and the new generation turbos were powerful but unreliable. Manufacturers were not keen on doing customer deals.
Ted Toleman might have waited to see what would happen, but he was a man in a hurry. He had been building up a team in Formula 2, beginning in 1978, using March chassis and Brian Hart engines. The team switched to Ralts in 1979 and then in 1980 Rory Byrne designed Toleman’s own F2 car. Brian Henton and Derek Warwick finished 1-2 in the European Championship.
It was time to step up into F1 and no-one was surprised when Toleman announced in November 1980 that it was entering F1. History relates that the team used a turbocharged version of the Hart F2 engine and that the Toleman TG181 was overweight, underpowered and unreliable. It took Henton and Warwick until September before they could qualify a car for a race.
What many forget is that Toleman came close to doing an engine supply deal with Lancia.
Four years earlier Fiat had decided to try to integrate its motorsport operations and an edict was sent out that the different marques should use motorsport to promote their production cars. Lancia motorsport boss Cesare Fiorio was told to use a car from the Lancia Beta range.
This was not easy. The Betas were big solid-looking luxury cars, which had been launched in 1972. It was the first model introduced by Lancia after it was taken over by Fiat in 1969 and the goal was to focus on quality. The cars featured a straight four 2-litre engine designed by former Ferrari designer Aurelio Lampredi.
To make the range a little sexier Lancia launched a Montecarlo version of the car in 1975, a Pininfarina-designed mid-engined sports car. These did not sell well, but when Fiorio sat down with engineers Gianni Tonti and Giampaolo Dallara to try to figure out what to do, they concluded that Lancia Beta Montecarlo might conceivably be successful in the Group 5 sports car championship.
This had started in 1976 and was basically a silhouette formula, with standard production car bodies (but dramatic mudguards) and original engine blocks in the same location and the same orientation as the road cars. Other than that the engineers could do what they wanted.
The trio concluded that if they downsized the 1.8-litre straight four cast iron block used in the U.S. version of the Beta Montecarlo, mated it with a version of the Fiat 131 Abarth 16-valve aluminium cylinder heads, which had been used to win the previous year’s World Rally Championship (and would go on to win that year and again in 1980) and added a big KKK turbocharger, they ought to have a competitive car in the 2-litre class, allowing for the 1.4 equivalency calculation for the turbo (1.4 x 1.4 = 1.96).
The 34-year-old Tonti set to work with help from Nicola Materazzi and they created the 14.78T engine.
The new car – which bore little ressemblance to the road car – was launched in December 1978 and the first tests with the new engine took place in April 1979. That year Riccardo Patrese and Walter Rohrl won the Group 5 World title, a feat that Lancia drivers then repeated in 1979 and 1980.
What Toleman wanted to do in 1980 was to upgrade the 1.4-litre turbo to a 1.5 – and get Lancia into F1. It didn’t happen, probably because Enzo Ferrari objected to the idea.
Fiorio would get to F1 in the 1990s, as head of the Ferrari sporting department (after Enzo had died). Tonti would move on and design Alfa Romeo F1 turbos and Toleman would struggle until it was taken over by Benetton and was later transformed into Renault F1. For a while it turned into Lotus and is now Renault again…
One can only wonder what might have happened if there had been a Toleman-Lancia.