Gamma: Signs and Portents – Part Eight

The Gamma’s most formidable rival may surprise you, but should it really have surprised Lancia’s lords and masters?

Image: autorevue.cz
Image: autorevue.cz

When Lancia’s half dead remains turned up on Fiat’s doorstep in 1969, the product drawers may well have been empty, but there was a clear and logical model hierarchy in place. So it’s peculiar that Sergio Camuffo saw fit to disrupt this well defined model stratification with the first of his new-era Lancia’s – 1972’s Beta Berlina.

The background to this car’s development is nearly as politically fraught as that of its bigger brother, but nevertheless, Fiat allowed Camuffo a measure of creative freedom once the basic parameters were established. But what wasn’t entirely clear is what model the Beta was intended to replace, since it essentially straddled the Fulvia and larger Flavia in size, which couldn’t have helped matters when it came to fixing the parameters for the tipo 830 Gamma.

A study of the relative dimensions for Lancia’s various saloons is instructive. Camuffo stated tipo 830 was initially schemed to directly replace the mid-range Flavia, which is borne out by the close dimensional relationship between both cars. In overall length, the Gamma is shorter by 40mm – owing perhaps to its truncated tail – and a mere 20mm separates them in wheelbase. One would naturally expect a more modern design to be both wider and lower, and unsurprisingly the Gamma conforms.

Gamma: Table -1
Gamma: Table -1. Datasource: Carfolio/Lancia

But a surprise comes to light when one examines the more compact Beta’s dimensions. A palpably larger car than the Fulvia it supplanted, the Beta was also notably larger than domestic rivals such as the 116-series Alfa Romeo Giulietta. But given that the Gamma is only slightly larger again, it’s difficult to see what owners stood to gain over the cheaper model. Power? Only if the 2.5 litre version is considered.

In mainland Europe the Gamma was offered with a 2.0 litre version of the tipo 830 boxer unit, developing 113.5bhp at 5500 rpm, 127 ft lbs of torque at 3500 rpm and 56.8 bhp per litre. This model would form the bulk of Italian Gamma sales – Car magazine’s Giancarlo Perini reporting that only 76 Gamma 2.5’s were sold in the home market during 1978. But two years earlier, with the Flavia 2000 fading and the Gamma’s introduction delayed, the strongly selling Beta was made available with a 2.0 litre version of the Lampredi four, developing 115 bhp at 5500 rpm, 130 ft lbs of torque at 2800 rpm and 57.6 bhp per litre – putting paid to any suggestions of a power advantage.

Little to gain from a style perspective either. To the untrained eye, the Gamma’s silhouette appeared similar to the smaller car, thus failing to provide owners with sufficient visual receipt for the extra outlay. Certainly, the larger car was more dramatically styled, more elegant, more expensively finished and specified, but given the sizable price differential, it’s hardly surprising if a sizable number of customers felt the Beta (especially in more refined series 2 form) offered a broader balance of virtues in a handier-sized package.

Running the Gamma close? A second-series Beta Berlina. Image: autorevue.cz
Running the Gamma close? A second-series Beta Berlina. Image: autorevue.cz

Journalist and marque enthusiast, John Simister suggested in a 2001 piece for Thoroughbred & Classic Cars, that the Beta was originally an aborted joint venture model with Citroën, which was later hurriedly re-purposed and engineered for Lancia. It’s certainly plausible and if so, it would at least explain the model’s unconventional dimensions. What it fails to do however, is adequately explain why Camuffo and Fiat’s product planners sanctioned two cars that effectively canceled one another out.

As the Gamma failed in the marketplace, Lancia compounded matters by introducing the conservatively styled, more upmarket Trevi 2000 in 1981; in many ways sealing the Gamma’s fate. Because not only did the Trevi codify the principle that customers favoured three volumes to two in this sector, it queried the necessity for a large Lancia saloon at all.

Author: Eóin Doyle

Founding Editor. Content Provider.

6 thoughts on “Gamma: Signs and Portents – Part Eight”

  1. This inability to clearly demarcate a model hierarchy was shared by Alfa back then, who built both Nuovo Giulietta and Alfasud (and almost the Alfa 6) on identical platforms. I certainly does confuse customers.

    I certainly remember Car Magazine stating authoritatively back then that there was commonality between the Beta and the CX. Particularly that they shared a transmission. Not that I now believe it’s true. My one time faith in TWBCM has long been tested to extinction.

    Probably their concepts were developed together, but the actual execution was separate since the Fiat Citroen marriage had never happened. They both, for example, have an intermediate drive shaft that runs across the back of the engine in order to avoid the inelegance of Dante Giacosa style unequal length drive shafts, a solution that might have been agreed at an early stage, but that was probably engineered separately by both parties.

    1. You must have mixed something up here. Probably you meant to say that Giulietta and Alfetta were on the same platform (which later evolved to the 75 and also shared wheelbase and probably a lot else with the 90). The Alfasud was of course a completely different thing – FWD and boxer.

    2. On the shared Beta / CX gearbox matter, in The World’s Most Plagiarised Car Website, Keith Adams states the following:

      “And another little-known fact about the Beta is that it shares its SMAE gearbox with the Citroen CX – a hangover from the PARDEVI project of the early 1970s…”

      Keith’s pretty reliable, although further research suggests that La Société Mécanique Automobile de l’Est (SMAE) was not formed until February 1978. No matter, that gearbox was still in production then. Did it continue into the Thema? It seems to be a strong possibility, as the Thema / Croma looks like an exercise in fitting as much Beta componentry as possible within the parameters set by the Tipo Quattro brief.

    1. No. I meant Beta and CX since both cars were conceived at the time of the Fiat/Citroen merger that never bore any fruit of consequence. Though I suspect I might have absent-mindedly and incorrectly referred to the Gamma as sharing its genesis with the CX in an earlier comment on Eoin’s series. If so, my apologies.

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