Theme: Brochures – Beta than expected but not as good as hoped

The 1973 Beta Coupé was slightly underwhelming – and to be honest, its sales literature was as well.

All images: Driven to Write
Well proportioned, neatly styled yet somehow lacking. The Beta Coupe. All images: Driven to Write

A year after the berlina’s launch, Lancia announced the first of four sporting Beta derivations, the 2+2 Coupé. Designed in-house in conjunction with Pietro Castagnero, the man responsible for the much-loved Fulvia amongst other pre-Fiat Lancia designs. This is an early sales brochure and it is notable for a number of reasons – some of a pedantic nature, others of a more whimsical stripe. 

The most striking aspect of the Beta brochure is the lack of narrative. Normally when manufacturers promote an aspirational model such as this they project a lifestyle; attractive models (of either gender) cavorting around yachts/gliders/light aircraft or involved in wholesome looking adventure sports. Yet here, we are presented with the car amidst forestry, open land and a number of suggested seascapes, but apart from a lone image where the driver is just about visible, Lancia appeared uninterested in suggesting who a Beta Coupé owner might resemble.

There is also a dearth of copy, although what is there is quadrilingual which does eat into the available space. Much is made of the car’s heritage, practicality, safety and interior space. Little however about more normative concerns like performance, handling or indeed power. At launch, the Beta Coupé was available with either a 16oo cc or 2.0 litre engine, mechanically related to that of the berlina. Clearly, Fulvia 3 owners wishing to trade up would either have to stump up the extra or await the introduction of a 1.3 litre model in 1976.

Images abound of seemingly hurriedly vacated Beta’s, doors left ajar in the haste for egress. Was there an unsavoury smell? It can’t have been the interior ambience or colour, which as represented here appears rather nice. Lancia claimed to hold the patent for the anatomic seat design, which look like a straight lift from a Fulvia 3. Despite the plenitude of gauges, the dash was a major letdown on preceding Lancia’s, but the Italians really couldn’t seem to get a decent handle on large plastic mouldings during this period and frankly the berlina’s dash wasn’t much to write home about either.

An anomaly which always bothered me when I perused this brochure as a youngster was the fact that the yellow example has open headlights and a full and quite elaborate grille arrangement, while the red example has the more simplified black grille with five horizontal bars at the base, which was fitted to most of the first and second-series models I came across and looked slightly unfinished to these eyes. The literature provides no enlightenment. Was it a matter of denoting engine size? If anyone knows please write in and put me out of my misery.

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Just like its four-door sibling, the Beta Coupé straddled the upper end of the Fulvia market and the lower reaches of that of the 2000 Berlina and its derivatives. In 1974, the lovely Flavia-based 2000HF would still have been available, but in 2.0 litre form, the Beta offered a more modern, if not palpably better proposition – certainly not from a durability or build integrity point of view.

What surprised at the time and seems staggering now is that Fiat sanctioned not only this, but two additional bodies on a broadly similar theme, and that’s before we mention the mid-engined Pininfarina bodied Montecarlo model. Is it any wonder the Beta programme cost so much and gave so little in return?

Author: Eóin Doyle

Founding Editor. Content Provider.

10 thoughts on “Theme: Brochures – Beta than expected but not as good as hoped”

  1. There’s a faintly BL sense of melancholy to these pictures. Was it a matter of printing technology, which lent all 1970s colour brochures this Don’t Look Now flair? I don’t mind the odd bit of melancholy myself, but there’s a time and a place for it.

    1. I think it’s also the locations. They suggest futile trysts in out of the way places, chosen more for their position away from other people than any beauty. Or worse – to conjure another Nic Roeg film, I could almost imagine the driver of the yellow Beta in the side-on view putting the gun in his mouth ….

      Were they a knowing metaphor for Lancia’s state, then and now?

    2. I need do to some research into this, but maybe Anthony Richmond had a career in commercial photography, before he became Roeg’s favourite lensman?

    3. The other problem is that, whenever I see a publicity shot of a Fiat or Lancia with anything that might possibly be seawater anywhere within shot, I imagine a fast dissolve (not the editing type).

    4. Of course the 1970’s was a terribly volatile period in Italy, so there is every possibility the custodians of such a glamourous looking vehicle were kidnapped by the Brigate Rosse while the shoot was taking place. Lacking the budget to reshoot, perhaps Lancia simply made the best of things – they were getting used to that. This certainly would explain the slightly sinister feeling one gets from the sales literature.

  2. That large expanse of rutted soil on the double page spread is amazing.

    What were they thinking? Is that really the best composed shot they had for that space?

  3. “Plentitude of gauges” borders on the litotic.

    The Beta coupe / Spider / HPE probably had more of the things than any other volume-produced car before or since; Speed, revs, time, fuel, amps, coolant temperature, oil pressure, oil temperature, oil level.

    Were they reaching out to the mechanically paranoid market niche?

  4. Eóin,

    Don’t feel bad about your inability to work out the trim differences, Lancia’s own copywriters couldn’t manage it. From an article I have in my archives:

    “The series two 1600 models changed very little visually, they retained the original radiator grille and bonnet the only change seems to have been to the upholstery but this is confused by the marketing department who seemed to have recycled photographs from the early cars, however the German market brochures show seats upholstered all over in the same brushed nylon rather than the earlier velvet/brush nylon combination.To add further confusion some cars seem to have had vinyl piping, I presume this is what the spare parts book refers to as ‘garnish’ and the marketing department excel themselves by showing both variations on the same page of one brochure. There is also at least one coupe brochure showing a picture of green seats that have vinyl sides a feature I had only thought occurred on the HPE, probably an error but if it was confusing for them what is it for us pushing on towards 40 years later?”

    With that said, this particular brochure is consistent for the period, which is late-1975 onwards. The S2 1600 Coupes (as per the yellow car above) looked pretty much identical to the launch cars, with separate metal-surround headlamps and the honeycomb grille. The red car is a 2000 – ‘i’ badges (for ‘important’) hadn’t been invented yet, so to compensate it scored the revised black/chrome grille, headlight covers and bonnet hump (to clear the taller engine). For bonus autotragic points, the very earliest HPEs (mid-’75) had actually debuted the covered headlights, but combined it with the honeycomb grille. The 2000 grille and bonnet were standardised for the ’78 S2 facelift (or S3 if you’re in Italy – don’t ask), along with a return to separate headlight surrounds (now black, and plastic). That pretty much covers it, except for the boggo S2 ‘1300 Coupe’ (no Beta in the name, officially), which only got a straight black grille and surrounds…

    1. What sort of a day did Lancia’s product planners have when they determined the trim levels? I can see a table scattered with photos and a decision being made so as to get home on time. Plus coffee and cigarettes.

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