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