Car advertisements offer a snapshot of a different time. Welcome to a vision of Italy – mid-’70s style.
Today’s visual meditation rests upon that perennial DTW favourite, featuring press ads for two of the more indulgent offerings from Lancia’s abundant Beta family. These were expensively shot advertisements featuring high production values, and targeted at a discerning audience. During the 1970s, (before it all unravelled for them) Lancia’s UK importers spent a sizeable portion of their ad budget with publishers, Conde Nast, between full-page colour ads like these, and multi-page spreads made in conjunction with a fashion house(s) of choice.
The product planning meetings for the Beta programme must have been interesting. Given the breath-taking scope of what they eventually went with, one has to wonder what wonders were rejected along the way. Were their Fiat masters over-compensating for the paltry state of Lancia’s product plans, or was there a clear-headed strategy behind offering so many seemingly overlapping variations?
The Beta Spider as seen above was based upon the factory Coupé, styled in house by the same team who had crafted the pretty Fulvia Coupé before it. The conversion was carried out by Zagato, although it bore little of the carrozzeria’s trademark style. The hefty rollover hoop was clearly a nod to the same proposed 1973 US Federal regulations which adversely affected innumerable early ’70s designs, despite never being enacted. It’s unclear as to whether the Spider ever made it across the Atlantic, but its more exotic mid-engined brother certainly did, badged as the Scorpion.
While Bertone’s delicate little X/19 was a successor to the equally diminutive Fiat 850 Spider, the larger Pininfarina designed X1/20 was initially aimed (it’s alleged) at replacing the larger 124 Spider. But with that model remaining a strong seller in the US market – there being robust demand for technically simple and relatively crude open two-seaters in America (as MG and their ilk had long tapped into) – this more sophisticated concept was gifted to Lancia as the Beta’s halo model.
Designed, engineered and built by Pininfarina at their Grugliasco plant, the Montecarlo was introduced in 1975 in coupé and spider versions, the latter aimed at a more discerning clientele than the workaday 2+2 Zagato Spider. The example pictured above is curious however, in that while clearly a first series car, it has lost the early model’s full rear buttresses in favour of the flying buttress arrangement of the second series. However, the revised model didn’t appear until 1980, well after this ad was aired. Was there an interim model?
The Montecarlo was taken out of production in 1978, following a well publicised issue of premature locking of the front brakes under full retardation. It was two years before Lancia could offer a suitable remedy and allow Pininfarina to resume production. The revised cars could be identified by glazed flying buttresses, the new corporate Lancia shield grille and new style alloy wheels shared with the Beta HPE, Coupé and later versions of the Trevi. The changes came too late to save the Montecarlo however, and it was withdrawn in 1981, having never met its potential.
I suppose one could make a comment about implied (or overt) sexism in the manner in which these ads were composed, but one has first to remind oneself of where they were being run (Vogue continues to enjoy a predominantly female readership), the fact that the spots were playing upon somewhat clichéd notions of Italian culture, not to forget the mores of the time, which are somewhat different some forty years later.
What we’re left with therefore is two rather arresting (if poorly reproduced) images of very pretty, deeply flawed motor cars, and perhaps one takeaway piece of reflection: Had we known what would subsequently befall the marque, would we collectively have been as sniffy about the Beta programme at first sight? Because looking at what Lancia was offering during the 1970s, it seems more like a high water mark.
The times, in more ways than one, are not as they were.