Lancia Beta

Lancia Beta
Lancia Beta
Lancia Beta
Lancia Beta
Lancia Beta
The Lancia Beta was the company's first new model introduced by Lancia after it had been taken over by Fiat in 1969. The Beta was produced from 1972 through 1984 when it was succeeded by the Lancia Prisma. The Beta was available in coupe, sedan, wagon, and 2-door Targa body style. The first body style offered by Lancia on the Beta model line was the sedan. This body style was followed by a 2+2 coupe with the design developed in-house by a Lancia team led by Aldo Castagno. Pietro Castagnero worked on the project, acting as a styling consultant.

The HPE estate wagon, also known as a shooting-brake, rode on a longer wheelbase floor plan combined with the coupe's front end and doors. The 'HPE' stood for High Performance Estate, and then later High Performance Executive.

Coachbuilders were given the opportunity for working their craft. Zagato created a two-door convertible called the Spider (or Zagato in America). The Spider was designed by Pininfarina and built by Zagato. There were a total of 9,390 examples of this body style produced.

Pininfarina also created a saloon later in the Beta's life, called the Trevi. It introduced a new, but controversial dashboard layout with deeply recessed displays. Lancia built a total of 36,784 Trevis models.
By Daniel Vaughan | May 2010Fiat bought out Lancia in 1969 and the first new model to be produced by Lancia was the Type 828, or Beta. The Beta was launched near the end of 1972 and the name was picked as a symbol of a positive new beginning. Vincenzo Lancia was famous for using letters of the Greek alphabet for his early cars; Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Etc., and as such, Beta had been used on two previous vehicles.

The Lancia company had been without a Technical Director for a year when the acquisition took place, and no one had yet been named successor to the post. At the beginning of 1970, Sergio Camuffo was appointed to develop the new model. Even short-staffed due to the buy-out, Camuffo pulled a good group of Lancia engineers together to produce the car by the close of 1972. Heading up the chassis design was Ramanini, the engine development was organized by Zaccone Mina and Gilio and Bencini was in charge of testing. Not much time was spared for the project, and funding was considerably low, which made the choice of powerplant an easy decision. The group chose to use an existing powerplant, the Fiat twin overhead cam straight four-engine with its alloy head and cast iron block.

Gianni Agnello, Fiat's chief, needed the Lancia Beta to keep the high-quality image that Lancia was known for, but feature a minimized development time and lower production costs by utilizing as many in-house Fiat components as possible. The Beta used an existing Fait engine that was fitted transversely and driving the front wheels. Fiat's partner Citroën had developed the gearbox as a development of a transmission unit for one of their own future models. Thankfully the Beta design was a much less expensive model to produce in higher volume than previous Lancia saloons.

The Beta and all of its versions were outfitted with DOHC engines, five-speed gearboxes, rack and pinion steering, Macpherson struts that controlled fully independent suspension at both the front and rear, and disc brakes on all wheels. Front-wheel drive versions were offered with a variety of engine capacities that started at 1.3 L and went to 2.0 L. The engine in the Beta was mounted on a subframe that was bolted to the body underside, like many previous front-wheel-drive Lancia's. Though unlike other models, the engine and manual gearbox in the Beta was fitted transversely in-line. By configuring the engine this way the weight transfer was improved over the driven wheels and towards the center of the car, and the center of gravity was also lowered by tilting the engine 20 degrees rearward. Using a very similar layout except with the sub-frame mounted at the rear was the rear-wheel-drive Lancia Montecarlo.

Lancia came up with a special independent rear suspension on the front-wheel-drive Betas with MacPherson struts joined to parallel transverse links that turned on a centrally mounted cross member bolted to the underside of the floorpan. Ahead of the rear struts was an anti-roll bar fitted to the floorpan with both end of the bar trailing back to bolt to the rear struts on each side. This special layout would be used on future Lancia models and since it was never patented by Lancia, other dealers inspired similar suspension layouts during the 1980s and 1990s.
During the summer of 1973 a short-wheelbase coupe was debuted, and one quick year later the 2+2 Spyder convertible arrived on the scene. Lancia introduced the HPE (High Performance Estate) during the 1975 Geneva Motor Show. The HPE was very similar in style to the Volvo 1800ES and the Reliant Scimitar and kept the wheelbase of the Berlina. The Beta Monte-Carlo, a 2-seat mid-engine coupe was next to arrive.

Throughout the years the various model all went through updates and revisions. The German company ZF produced power steering for specific left-hand drive models. In 1978 electronic ignition was offered for the first time, along with an automatic transmission with the Beta being the first Lancia to be manufactured with an automatic transmission factory option. Power steering was available in 1981 in special right-hand drive models. This was also the year that a fuel-injected version of the 2.0-liter engine was made available for certain models. In June of 1983, the Coupe and HPE models went through a revamp and were offered for a longer period than the other body styles. Supercharged VX versions were offered during the summer.

The Trevi VX was released near the end of Lancia's production span. It featured a Roots-type supercharger that was nestled between the carburetor and low-compression two-liter engine. During the summer of 1983, the Coupé VX and the HPE VX soon followed the Trevi VX, and these three models were known as Volumex models and were reputed to have the highest performance of all road-going production Betas. The variants had 135 bhp and significantly increased performance compared to the normal two-liter 200 N•m (148 lb•ft). One can distinguish the VX models from the normal cars by the rubber rear spoiler, the offset bulge on the hood that clears the new air intake and spoiler fitted below the front bumper. The Volumex models also sported stiffer spring rates. A total of 1,272 Coupe VX's were produced by Lancia, 3,900 Trevi VX's and 2,370 HPE VC's. Most of the models were left-hand drive, and only one right-hand drive Trevi VX model was ever produced. A select few Trevi models were manufactured to run on LPG rather than gasoline.

The first body style was the Berlina, debuting in 1972 with the most common being the four-door saloon. The Berlina had a wheelbase of 100 inches and 'fastback' styling that looked very similar to a hatchback. The saloon did have a normal functioning trunk. Manufactures weren't sure how popular the hatchback would be in the current market, so this was a common practice. Based on earlier Fiat designs, the Berlina featured 1400, 1600 and 1800 transversely mounted twin-cam engines along with a five-speed gearbox. A 1.8ES version was introduced in 1974 and sported alloy wheels, sunroof and electric windows. The following year a 1300 engine was added to the range and by the end of 1975 the current 1600 and 1800 engines were replaced with a new 1600 and 2000 units. Lancia came back to the U.S. market with the Beta this same year. In 1978 automatic version was introduced. The 2.0 was available with electronic fuel injection in 1981. This same year Berlina production ceased.

The Beta Trevi was introduced with assistance from Pininfarina as a significantly revamped three-box saloon version. It featured a dashboard layout that featured deeply recessed displays that would be the inspiration for the third series Berlina. A total of 194,914 Berlinas were produced, and a total of 36,784 Trevis.

Launched in 1973 was the second style, the 2+2 two-door Coupé, though because of the fuel crisis the model wouldn't be available until the beginning of 1974. The Coupe sported a 93-inch wheelbase and was debuted with 1.6 and 1.8 engines. Late in 1975 new 1.6 and 2.0 engines replaced the original units, with a 1.3 arriving early in 1976. The Coupe was available with automatic transmission and power steering in 1978. The model underwent a mini facelift in 1981 and the 2.0 engine became available with a 135bhp available output. Led by Aldo Castagno and the assistance of Pietro Castagnero, the bodywork was developed in-house by a Lancia team. Castagnero already had quite a feather in his cap with his previous design of the Lancia Fulvia saloon and coupe. A total of 111,801 Coupés were produced during its production span.

Utilizing the Coupé's shorter wheelbase, Lancia launched a two-door convertible called the Spyder (or Zagato in the U.S.). Lancia spelled this next version with a 'y' instead of an 'i' in an attempt to differentiate it from the Alfa Romeo Spider. Designed by Pininfarina, the Spyder was built by Zagato with a total of 9,390 models produced. The Spyder featured a targa top roof panel, a rollover bar and folding rear roof. In the beginning the early models didn't have a cross-member supporting the roof between the tops of the A to B pillar, but eventually, models came with fixed cross-members. At first, the Spyder was powered by either the 1600 or 1800 twin-cam engine but eventually, the new 1.6 and 2.0 engines took over. The Spyder never received the IE or VX engines, but there were fuel-injected engines available for the US market.

In the spring of 1975, the three-door sporting estate or shooting-brake Beta HPE was debuted. The HPE stood for High Performance Estate before eventually changing to High Performance Executive. The HPE was a combination of the Berlin's longer wheelbase floorpan and the coupes front end and doors. Castagno's team was also responsible for the styling of the HPE in-house at Lancia with Castagnero as styling consultant. When it was first introduced it came with either 1600 or 1800 twin-came engine, but they were soon replaced in the fall by new 1.6 and 2.0 units. Just like other Beta models, in 1978 the HPE was available with automatic transmission and power steering. In 1979 the Beta HPE's name was changed to the Lancia HPE, and during the fall of '81 it gained the option of a fuel-injected 2.0 engine. A 2.0VX supercharged version arrived on the scene in 1981. A total of 71,258 HPE's were produced before being discontinued in 1984 along with all of the other cars in the Beta range

Pininfarina designed and constructed, the final car to carry the Beta badge, was the two-door Lancia Montecarlo. Set apart from other Betas, the Montecarlo was a rear-wheel drive, mid-engined two-seater sports car. The car was first created by Pininfarina as a replacement for Fiat's 124 Coupe, but Bertone's cheaper design won and became the Fiat X1/9. During the prototype stage Pininfarina's design was dubbed the X1/20. Offered as a high-end alternative to the X1/9, the Montecarlo featured a 2-liter twin-cam engine instead of the single-cam 1300 found on the X1/9. Both models shared a similar chassis floorplan, which was based on the Fiat 128 MacPherson strut front suspension with disk brakes at both the front and rear. The parts for the Lancia Beta were limited to those from the already existing Fiat/Lancia standard parts bin, the five-speed gearbox and transaxle and the transverse mount version of the Fiat 124's twin-cam engine.

The Lancia Montecarlo was available as either fixed head 'Coupés' or 'Spiders' with solid A & b pillars, but with a large flat folding canvas roof between them. The first models came with steel panels to the rear wings above the engine bay, but this setup made it very difficult to reverse so glass panels replaced the panels. This look was a lot like the Maserato Merak and gave the Montecarlo a 'flying buttress' appearance.

From 1975 until 1978 the first series cars were badges as Lancia Beta Montecarlo with 'Montecarlo' written as one word. The updated second series of Montecarlos were introduced following a two-year gap in production in 1980 for one year. These models were simply badges as Lancia Montecarlo. Since General Motors already had the Monte Carlo name badged, the first series car were marketed as the Scorpion next to the rest of the Beta range. The Scorpion was an Abarth reference. A total of 7,798 Montecarlos were produced during its lifespan.

When it was first introduced the Beta was met with great acclaim by the motoring press. The public was enthusiastic about the impressive handling, road capability and performance. The Beta quickly became the highest sold Lancia model for the time, and was priced very competitively in export markets. Despite the original positive publicity, the Betas quickly earned a negative reputation for the rust-proneness. The 1st Series vehicles that were produced from 1972 to 1975 were the biggest offenders of this issue. The rust issues could have generated from poor rustproofing techniques, prolonged strikes in Italy, or Russian steel supplied to Fiat.

The rust could be structural where the subframe that housed the engine and gearbox bolted to the underside of the car, or the box section to which the rear of the subframe was mounted could corrode badly which would cause the subframe to loosen. A technical inspection could not be passed with a car with a loose subframe. The rust issues affected almost wholly 1st Series saloon models, not the HPE, Spider, Coupe or Montecarlo versions.

Lancia's biggest export market at the time was in the U.K., and the company was very good about pacifying their unhappy customers. They launched a campaign to buy back vehicles affected by the subframe issue from dealers and customers. Even though some of these models were six years old or older, the customers were invited to take their vehicle to a Lancia dealer for an inspection and if the subframe problem existed then the customer was offered a part exchange deal to purchase another Lancia or Fiat car. If the vehicle failed inspection that the car was scrapped and Lancia eventually introduced a 6-year anti-corrosion warranty, which was a brand new automotive concept for the U.K. 2nd Series Betas were produced with reinforced subframe mounting points and cars after 1979 were better equipped against the elements.

Thankfully the Beta enjoys a dedicated following of fans and the car is a valuable collectible car today.

Several specials were produced during the Lancia Beta production span. Three concept cars were constructed on Beta mechanicals by Giovanni Michelotti. Two of these were sedans based on the Berlina, with one vehicle featured four gull-wing doors, and the third having an open top two-seated based on the Coupé. The Medusa was a concept car constructed on Montecarlo mechanicals, built by Giorgetto Giugiaro in 1980. The Medusa had four doors, a rarity for a mid-engined car, with a body shaped to have a very low drag coefficient for the time.

A special variant of the Beta was the twin-engined Trevi Bimotore. This variant was used for tests related to Lancia's new four-wheel drive rally cars. Power for the Bimotore came from one Volumex engine under the hood driving the front wheels, and one more in the back driving the rear wheels and air scoops in the rear doors. The two engines worked together, the two gearboxes were linked and an electronically controlled throttle replaced the mechanical system.

Though very few Lancia's were assembled outside of Italy, Betas were. In the fall of 1967, it was announced that SEAT would begin Spanish production of the Lancia Beta. SEAT started on Beta production at the newly acquired Pamplona plant in 1970. The only Beta models included in the production were the Coupe and HPE lift-back versions. Unfortunately, this arrangement wouldn't last long, only a year in fact due to a disagreement between Fiat and the Spanish government over the need for investment to upgrade the SEAT range. Volkswagen joined up as SEAT's major auto-industry partner in 1982 and the plant that was assembling the Beta, SEAT Panda and SEAT 124 switched its production to Volkswagen Polo.


By Jessica Donaldson