A Chevy small-block powered...
A Chevy small-block powered the Beretta.
The Beretta cockpit was outfitted...
The Beretta cockpit was outfitted like any other Winston Cup ride.
It was the late 80s when the Monte Carlo was dropped from the product line of Chevrolet, creating the problem of what to race in NASCAR. Rumors abounded that the new Chevy Lumina was waiting in the wings, but it was not in production yet, thereby voiding the rules.
Thus began an almost frantic search for a suitable bridge between the Monte Carlo and the Luminaand all eyes focused on the Beretta. The Beretta was then available as a production model and would have fit NASCAR and ARCA criteria.
Size Does Matter
While NASCAR watched with more than a passing interest, ARCA approved the Beretta. But recall that the Beretta was noticeably smaller than the Monte Carlo and Thunderbird. Norman Negre accomplished the initial Beretta buildup for owner Jim Coyle. To meet the ARCA specs, which are practically identical to Winston Cup, the Beretta wheelbase had to be stretched a 10 inches. The cars width was increased by about 8 inches by fabricating new fenders and quarter-panels. The lengthened and widened racer gained a completely different look from its street brothers.
The new, GM-sponsored Beretta car ran the final 87 ARCA race at Atlanta with Lee Raymond at the wheel. The car was a screamer with a new track record and a strong Second-Place finish. Some people had the feeling that the car could have easily won its debut but was held back. The following season, again at Atlanta, the Riverside Auto Parts Beretta also won a second. The car also took two wins at Pocono and another second at Atlanta. In the final race of the seasonat Atlantathe car was involved in a heavy crash, tearing it in half. Lee was OK, but the Beretta was a goner.
Raymond, an ARCA Champ, recalls, The car got a ton of publicity, and there wasnt much bitching from the other drivers because of its dominance. The Winston Cup teams were interested in the car, and we got a lot of advice from Junior Johnson, Tim Brewer, and Richard Childress. The car was really fast. During testing for the 87 Atlanta race, I remember we were turning laps at about 172 mph, while some Winston Cup teams were in the high 160s. That car drove like a rocket ship. I loved to drive it.
One fault Raymond noticed, however, was that the car always seemed very loose at speedmaybe because of its short rear section. It didnt have much downforce, with most of the air blowing right over the top of the rear spoiler. But it was really sleek and had a coefficient of drag about half that of a Monte Carlo.
NASCAR decided, though, that they would not allow the modified Beretta to participate in Winston Cup. Instead, the old Monte Carlos were used until the Lumina was ready. Even then, the two-door Lumina was on the racetrack before it was on the street.
Maybe the Beretta was just too good. Lee Raymond and Jim Coyle certainly demonstrated that in the Berettas short career!