Theme: Brochures – 1975 Lancia Beta HPE

In contrast to the recent rather insipid Beta brochure, I can present a thoroughly aspirational 1975 Lancia HPE brochure such as this.

Use as directed: 1975 Lancia HPE.
Use as directed: 1975 Lancia HPE. Richard-Ginori is still in business.

It shows how the product is intended to be used and the kinds of people who might be attracted to it. Shooting, diving, sitting down, gardening, conversing outside a hotel late at night: Lancia did not want for ideas to show how this rather fabulous vehicle could be used. What the brochure made you want to do was to

1975 Lancia HPE cover
1975 Lancia HPE cover

get out of your house, drive and enjoy life. It might be that I am especially vulnerable to escapist fantasies but I think with the HPE and the selected imagery, Lancia found something credible even if, in reality, people didn´t pursue these activities or live the dream. Some attempts to project a thrilling
1975-lancia-hpe-evening-scenelifestyle on a car obviously lack credibility. We discussed Sean´s Kangoo here recently.  That would be an example: it’s a useful car for doing useful daily things. It won’t be until it’s 14 years old that owners will use it to take weekend trips for fatal cave diving expeditions or camping and binge-drinking trips near the dunes of San Baviano. When one looks at the HPE one gets the strong suggestion a few extra percent of the first owners did use the car to drive out to blast birds from the sky or to park it by the beach so as to water bathe. Certainly, a few HPEs made it to the garden centre.

1975-lancia-hpe-spread-1

While some might be very slightly sceptical of Lancia’s use of the Beta platform, I find Lancia’s creativity with the platform more credible. The variants are different in character in a way that some spin-offs aren’t. Take for example the Passat and Passat CC or the BMW 5 and Gran Coupe

1975 Lancia HPE brochure
1975 Lancia HPE brochure

(which I assume are related – aren’t they?). These aren’t really different cars, are they? Ford did it better with the Galaxy and S-Max, though. In contrast, if you are asked to choose from a single showroom a Beta saloon, a HPE, a coupe or a Montecarlo (and then a Trevi), you probably shouldn’t be properly challenged to pick a car and to feel it is offering something the others don’t, other things being equal. Each has its charms and up until the Trevi appeared, I’d probably have to take the HPE. If someone else wanted the coupe I’d fully understand. They aren’t the same cars despite sharing so much.

1975 Lancia HPE
1975 Lancia HPE

For the HPE, Lancia didn’t simply add a bit volume to the coupe. They kept the long wheel base of the saloon and the coupe doors to make it an estate and not simply a hatchback. It added utility to a range that was

1975 Lancia HPE
1975 Lancia HPE

firmly non-hatchback and stayed that way. It had more room than the coupé yet had a bit more rake and swash than the saloon. The Montecarlo is another proposition – so I’d argue that Lancia managed to use the same mechanicals to find several quite different markets which is more than Chrysler managed with a plethora of K-car variants.

1975-lancia-hpe-spread-5

While I am reflecting on the HPE, take a look at the C-pillar. While I think that it’s a recent thing for cars to have tricksy, non-functional C-pillar decorations, they were doing it in 1975 (but it didn’t look like glass). Thinking about it a bit more, the Trevi´s C-pillar makes a bit more sense if you see it as conceptually similar: a mock-louvred panel.

1975 Lancia HPE: driven by bird shooters.
1975 Lancia HPE: driven by bird shooters.

Technical Bit

In 1976 John Bolster at Autosport took the coupe and HPE out for a test to see how the 2.0 litre suited the cars. Until then the 2.o litre had only

1975 Lancia HPE technical specification
1975 Lancia HPE technical specification

been found in the Montecarlo. Bolster wrote kindly when he tried to imply the 2.0 differed much from its Fiat base: it had 119 hp over the Fiat’s 112. The HPE 2000 had a cast-iron cylinder block and a light alloy head

1975 Lancia HPE interior
1975 Lancia HPE interior

and belt driven cam-shafts. The car had electronic ignition and twin Weber carburetors. I like this bit: “The primary shaft of the five speed gearbox is in line with the crankshaft, dispensing with the step down gears, and the final drive is by helical tooth spur gears”. That’s great to know; I’d rather Bolster had told me what he thought that meant. Where I can relate to Bolster is his view that the HPE “has a body that is practical as it is beautiful”.

1975 Lancia HPE for gardeners
1975 Lancia HPE for gardeners

Bolster test drove the coupe and then used it as a benchmark for the HPE. He considered the coupe noisier.  Then he loses me: “Mine [the HPE] was quieter than the coupé,  but whereas noise might be acceptable in a

1975 Lancia HPE - crisp, elegant, interesting.
1975 Lancia HPE – crisp, elegant, interesting.

sporting vehicle”. So, was the coupé supposed to be more luxurious? The HPE had lighter steering, the brakes too much servo and a stiffish gearlever. It had a softer suspension “but nevertheless a car

1975 Lancia HPE: sedate? Sophisticated.
1975 Lancia HPE: sedate? Sophisticated.

of sporting character”. The HPE had excellent lights and powerful heating and, said Bolster, it turned heads. To conclude, Bolster described the cars as hairy-chested as they put handling and performance as top priorities. Road and Track demurred: they thought the HPE a bit more “cumbersome” when they compared the same cars in 1976. They thought Lancia had aimed the HPE at the sophisticated, sedate owner and the coupe was for the sportier driver.

A conclusion

So, that puts the imagery of the brochure in perspective: a car for sophisticates. What else are the couple at the hotel, the lady out shopping and the chap ready to annihilate chaffinches? They are the target image of the intended buyer of the car and the message, for me, reverberates strongly after all these years.

 

Author: richard herriott

I like anchovies. I dislike post-war town planning.

8 thoughts on “Theme: Brochures – 1975 Lancia Beta HPE”

  1. Glad you presented this brochure it has brought back memories of a short ownership back in the eighties. I remember the practical side of the car almost a mini estate combined with a firm but comfortable ride, flat cornering, nice five speed, accurate steering but alas marred by the unusual odd Italian driving position.
    I obtained this immaculate car for minimal outlay as one could in those days of post Beta rust problems in the UK.
    I mention short ownership as this was a period when I seemed to be trying to experience every interesting type of car available before moving on but remembering the HPE believe it would fit right in today as a Dailey runner.

    1. The Beta programme as I understand it was a well intentioned attempt to produce a cost-rationalised Lancia that could be made in large volumes while making a profit – something of a new concept for the shield and flag. Due to the sensitivities involved, the prevailing view appeared to be to give Sergio Camuffo as much engineering autonomy as possible around a number of fixed and resolute hard points but to retain as much Lancia-ness as possible within the strictures handed down. Hence the differences in engine specification, mounting, the choice of running gear and suspension design – none of which were from the Fiat parts bin. Additionally, a wide choice of coupe and convetible body styles had been a latter-day Lancia fixture.

      So for the Beta programme to incorporate a berlina, a 2+2 coupe, a 2+2 Spyder, a shooting brake hatch and a mid-engined soprtscar was to some extent, entirely in keeping, if smacking slightly of overlap and possibly overkill. The question I would ask is whether it was wise to have spent all that money on so many different models potentially chasing similar customers when it seems it was known that the programme was unlikely to meet its break even point. Clearly Fiat had ambitions to export large numbers of the Beta family to the North American market and of course they were sold there for a time. Had that worked out for them, it is likely the investment into such a wide range of models may have been justified by the volumes, but that didn’t happen.

      So to summarise, I’m not really criticising Lancia for making so many versions of the Beta from a product perspective – they made quite distinct derivations – all of which have their own appeal – (although I have always held a special place in my affections for the delightful HPE) – more from a business viability and resource perspective. With so many models, Camuffo’s team of engineers was stretched mighty thin, which impacted on all model programmes – especially that of the Montecarlo and of course the Gamma. (Which as we know, is another story altogether).

      This might sound mildly heretical to some, but looking at the HPE above, I found myself wondering what a five-door version would have been like?

  2. “[R&T] thought Lancia had aimed the HPE at the sophisticated, sedate owner and the coupe was for the sportier driver.”

    This seems to be a generally-held belief, but it is not one that rings true in my experience. It is true that the Coupe is a bit more nimble but I actually think the HPE’s longer wheelbase makes it a better-balanced handler overall. Lancia’s own engineers reportedly thought the HPE was the best-resolved package of the lot, too.

    The most interesting aspect of this brochure, I think, is the colour chosen for the car in the photoshoot. Betas came in some very natty colours and the best they can do is 318i silver?

  3. “The primary shaft of the five speed gearbox is in line with the crankshaft, dispensing with the step down gears, and the final drive is by helical tooth spur gears”. That’s great to know; I’d rather Bolster had told me what he thought that meant.

    Richard – me too. The definition of a spur gear is one whose teeth are orientated parallel to the axis of the shaft – the simplest type of gear. A helical toothed gear is one with the teeth at an angle to the shaft in order that the teeth engage more gradually, making the mechanism quieter and smoother in operation.

    So at the very least there’s a contradiction in terms, if not quite an oxymoron. Perhaps I’m missing a point, but it is a puzzling description, particularly as John Bolster was Technical Editor of Autosport for many years, and not some modern-day regurgitator of press releases.

  4. I have fond memories of the HPE. In my mind, it’s much more present than the Berlina. Is it because it’s such a characterful car or was it really selling better around here? I could imagine the latter – many could have judged it the best variant, as did the Lancia engineers, and it also presented quite an unique concept, whereas the more standard variants fought in areas with strong competition.

  5. Had an HPE a short time. Its optional better alloys ended our association when i parked out of sight overnight and had all four stolen.

    Driving was not perfect. Had a terrible tendency to tramline in any slight furrow, needing muscles to get out of it.
    Brakes either on or off.
    Clutch either in or out.
    Handling so flat I had little clue as to how much grip might be left.
    In other words, like a racing, not a road car.

    Went back to a BMW 2000 Touring: no, the HPE wasn’t a unique idea. BM not as well equipped as HPE, which was a nice place to be, if not to be driving. The space was well-designed.
    Clincher was that BMW doors and boot went “Clunk”; HPE’s yelled “Tink” as the metal was so thin.
    Beta saloons I travelled in were better suited to ordinary drivers.

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