In contrast to the recent rather insipid Beta brochure, I can present a thoroughly aspirational 1975 Lancia HPE brochure such as this.
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
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
lifestyle 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.
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
(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.
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
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.
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.
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
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
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”.
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
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
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.
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.
20 thoughts on “Theme: Brochures – 1975 Lancia Beta HPE”
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.
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?
Eóin, I’m a bit late to this party, but I must say I share the same question with you: what would a five-door Beta HPE been like, and how would it have been received by the market? I also have another “what if” scenario: would it have been out of place to make a four-door sedan version out of the HPE?
Hi Konstantinos. I can answer the first part of your question:
As to the second part, well, I would buy it!
Regarding your second “what if” scenario, how about this:
Daniel, at the risk of going into “shut up and take my money” meme territory, I must say I too would love a three-box sedan version of the HPE. In fact, I think its pseudo-louvred C-pillar would adapt pretty nicely to the form of a three-box sedan version. Also, I must say I find the dashboard of the coupé and HPE versions more appealing, although it may be less ergonomic than the berlina’s in places (I could be wrong, though, as I’ve yet to sit down and compare the two dashboards’ layout). On a more technical note, am I alone in thinking the Beta’s BLG rear suspension owes something to the Fiat 130’s arrangement?
Daniel: you whipped up the sedan treatment just as I was putting together my previous comment. It looks pretty nice, and I think it’d even look just as nice if the trunk didn’t slope at the rear and stayed at the same height as the final bottom corner of the rearmost side window, i.e. if it looked a bit like the Tipo 116 Alfa Romeo Giulietta’s. Come to think of it, perhaps that third side window could even be incorporated in the rear passenger door.
Konstantinos, the higher, flatter rear deck didn’t work with the narrow D-pillar. It ended up looking like a crew-cab pick-up! However, with a wider D-pillar more similar to the original HPE and a modest slope in the rear deck, it’s not bad:
Those HPE variants look rather intriguing. I have to say I like the tension between conventional and off-beat. I like the saloon version very much. It´s very plausible. I´d never thought of extending the HPE concept that way. It shows the strength of the theme that it can be developed and extrapollated. Neat!
One final variation, the narrow D-pillar, low rear deck version, but with the ribbed plastic cladding removed from the D-pillar:
Does this look a bit plain? I prefer the wider D-pillar, higher deck version.
“[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?
“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.
Who told you car “journalists” know anything about engineering?
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.
Being of a rather morbid inclination, I always associate the HPE with Mike Parkes’ untimely departure from us.
British motor industry aristocrat, F1 racing driver, one of the great minds behind the Lancia Stratos. What would he have achieved but for that fateful night in late August 1977?
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.
Have you seen our Trevi write-up?
Was never a fan of the Montecarlo until discovering the modified examples with Delta Turbo engines, it brings to mind the question of whether it and the Beta family could have been further developed to prolong their production life a bit longer had they not suffered from the various issues that did much to damage the Lancia marque.
Had it been possible would have loved to have seen the Lancia Montecarlo form the basis of an earlier 1980s Italian analogue of the mk2 Toyota MR2 Turbo (plus JDM 242 hp GT-S), by carrying over the Lancia Delta Integrale’s 4WD and 165-220 hp (plus 250 hp Lancia Hyena spec) 2-litre Turbo engines with suitably tasteful bodykit. – http://www.lanciabetamontecarlo.nl/EngConv/delta_conv_.html
There is another brochure which is quite aligned with my phantasies which mirrors the senses of living with a Beta HPE back in the day. Those were the days in which Torino was a large city and yet within human-ish size. The mornings were fresh, the cold and blue early light were not a sign of desperate melancholia, in fact, were just there as an introitus to the warm feeling daylight day. The brochure I am having in mind is this one https://www.netcarshow.com/Lancia-Beta_HPE-1978-1280-01.jpg whereas one can street view the precise location https://goo.gl/maps/SaWxaQYDNBQW7jwWA . This is close to the castle of Turin, I have found it by searching the insurance company logo.
That’s a beautiful and very evocative picture. It’s a relatively dark picture, but not gloomy, as you say. It just has an air of sophistication.
It’s remarkable how good photography can really capture a mood, or a place and time.