Deserving Beta (Part One)

The 1972 Beta heralded a brave new start under Fiat ownership for Lancia. We tell its story. 

Lancia Beta Berlina Series I.  Image: ruoteclassiche.quattroruote.it

Over six decades from its foundation in 1906, Lancia & C. had earned an enviable reputation for the excellence of its engineering and its finely crafted, innovative and desirable cars. Unfortunately, Vincenzo Lancia, his friend and business partner Claudio Fogolin, and Vincenzo’s son, Gianni, who took over the company when his father died suddenly in 1937, were far more talented engineers than they were businessmen. Consequently, Lancia always struggled to maintain the consistent profitability necessary to sustain the company.

The Lancia family sold their shareholding in the company to Carlo Pesenti, who took over as chief executive in 1955, appointing Professore Antonio Fessia as head of engineering. The new management continued the Lancia tradition of designing technically innovative cars that were difficult and expensive to build. By the late 1960s, Lancia was losing money heavily, with weak sales and an ageing range of models.

Step forward Fiat, the Italian automotive giant, which launched a successful takeover bid in October 1969. With no new models under development at Lancia owing to a lack of funds following a decade of losses, Fiat started with a clean sheet. In early 1970, Sergio Camuffo was appointed to lead the development of a new mid-range saloon, nominally to replace the Fulvia model.

Camuffo pulled together a small team from the depleted ranks of Lancia engineers to work on the new model. The team would have to balance the need to use existing Fiat and Lancia parts to contain costs, yet create a distinctive Lancia identity for the new car. They would take their design from conception to production in less than three years, a truly remarkable achievement.

In the late 1960s, Fiat’s larger models cleaved to the traditional rear-wheel-drive layout but, respecting Lancia’s tradition, it was decided that the new model should be front-wheel-drive, albeit with a transverse engine installation, a first for Lancia. Fortunately, Fiat had in its 125 model a well-regarded DOHC inline four-cylinder engine with a cast-iron block and alloy head that would prove suitable. In the new Lancia, it would be offered in 1.4, 1.6 and 1.8 litre capacities. An end-on five-speed gearbox that Fiat was co-developing with Citroën would also be employed, with the engine and gearbox mounted together on a separate front subframe.

Lancia engineers would modify the Fiat engine considerably for transverse installation. A new alloy cylinder head with hemispherical combustion chambers, different carburettors and new inlet and exhaust manifolds improved the power and torque in all versions. The 1,438cc unit developed 89bhp (66kW), the 1,592cc unit developed 107bhp (80kW) and the 1,756cc unit developed 118bhp (88kW). The changes made meant that, externally, the engine looked quite different to the Fiat unit, which was no doubt intentional on the part of Lancia’s engineers.

Lancia Beta Berlina Series I. Image: Classic and Sportscar

The rest of the technical specification would be equally progressive, with independent suspension using MacPherson struts and coil springs, located by wishbones at the front and transverse arms at the rear, and disk brakes all round. Rack and pinion steering was fitted for the first time in a Lancia. The bodystyle, by Giampaolo Boano at Centro Stile Fiat, would also be distinctive, a crisp and contemporary fastback design(1). The new car was named Beta(2) recalling Lancia’s previous use of the Greek alphabet for its model names. It was formally unveiled in October 1972.

Car Magazine journalist and Lancia aficionado Philippe de Barsy drove a pre-production example at the media launch event and was highly impressed, describing the Beta as “a car in the great Aurelia tradition”. Even though the test car apparently lacked some of the production model’s soundproofing, it was “smooth and silent!” while the steering, pedals and gearchange were described as “light and precise”. The close-ratio gearbox was “perfectly tailored to the sweet power of the 1,800cc version of the engine”.

Barsy was amazed at how the subframe mounting and transverse installation completely changed the character of the engine. He noted that the Italian automotive press had mourned the passing of Lancia’s narrow-angle V4 engines but opined that “pure Lancia drivers will not be as illogical”.

The interior accommodation was comfortable and spacious, and luggage space was described as “enormous”. While he was somewhat ambivalent about the exterior styling, Barsy regarded the Beta as a great return to form after the “disastrous Pesenti-Fessia(3) regime at Lancia”.

Lancia Beta Coupé.  Image: oldcarmanualproject

Continental European sales commenced in early 1973 but it would be almost a year before the Beta was made available in right-hand-drive markets. Autocar magazine road-tested the 1.8 litre version and published its findings in November 1973. The car achieved a 0 to 60mph (97km/h) time of 10.7 seconds and a top speed of 109mph (176km/h). Overall fuel consumption on test was 24.3mpg (11.62L/100km) despite the car being driven “brutally hard”. In both performance and fuel economy, the Beta bettered its most obvious direct rival, the less sophisticated Fiat 132 Special 1800.

With regard to handling, the front-heaviness of the Beta’s mechanical layout was apparent, but it was “reassuringly stable, no matter what the road conditions” unless pushed exceptionally hard. The ride was somewhat firm at lower speeds, but the seats were “sumptuously comfortable”. Wind and road noise were “impressively muted”, but engine noise was intrusive above 85mph (137km/h).

Lancia Beta HPE. Image: motorionline.com

In terms of practicality, the Beta offered “better-than-average leg room, decent head room and large door openings”. The boot was “truly vast and of a useful shape”. The standard of construction appeared to be excellent: “Seldom have cars been produced with such narrow and regular margins”.

This review was typical of the ringing endorsements that the new Beta received, and sales started strongly. Further variants quickly followed: a 2+2 two-door Coupé in 1973, a targa-topped Spider a year later, then a three-door shooting-brake, dubbed HPE (for High Performance Estate) in 1975. The handsome Coupé and HPE variants were styled in-house by Centro Stile Lancia under the direction of Aldo Castagno, with Piero Castagnero acting as consultant, a role he had previously performed for Lancia on the design of the Fulvia Berlina and Coupé.

Lancia Beta Spider. Image: autoevolution

The Spider, although very similar to the Coupé below the waistline, was designed by Pininfarina and built by Zagato. The HPE used the Berlina’s platform and shared its 2,535mm (99¾”) wheelbase. The Coupé and Spider shared a shorter 2,350mm (92½”) wheelbase version of the same platform.

The final addition to the Beta range was the 1975 Montecarlo, a mid-engined sports car available in fixed-head or targa-roofed formats. This model was designed and built by Pininfarina and utilised the twin-cam transverse engine and gearbox from the other Beta models, but otherwise shared little with its FWD siblings. It had originally been designed for Fiat as a proposed replacement for the 124 Coupé.

Lancia Beta Montecarlo. Image: honestjohn.co.uk

Within five years, Lancia had been transformed from a struggling independent automaker, producing well-regarded but outdated cars that sold in small numbers, to an upmarket Fiat group business unit offering a range of contemporary and desirable models that had a high degree of commonality in componentry and could be manufactured efficiently and economically in high volume.

Moreover, with a larger Gamma saloon almost ready for launch, a coupé to follow a year later, and development work on the smaller Delta hatchback was already underway, the future for Lancia was looking brighter and more assured than at any time in its history.

Part Two follows shortly.

(1) This bodystyle could readily have incorporated a fifth door, but hatchback designs were still regarded as inappropriate for a prestige car.

(2) As the first in a new generation of Lancia models developed and launched under Fiat ownership, it might have been called Alpha if not for the confusion (and irritation in Milan) that name might have caused on a Lancia.

(3) Carlo Pesenti was chief executive of Lancia from 1955 to 1969. Antonio Fessia was the company’s head of engineering from 1955 until his death in 1968.

 

Author: Daniel O'Callaghan

Shut-line obsessive...Hates rudeness, loves biscuits.

98 thoughts on “Deserving Beta (Part One)”

  1. Daniel, I do hope your next part acknowledges that Lancia did have a model in development, the Flavia, a FWD from its beginnings in c 1963 to its final form, the 2000ie, which was faster than any Beta and still is a delight to drive.

    1. Vic, I believe Daniel would be referring to what was being developed to replace the Flavia, which was a size larger than the Beta.

      I always liked the look of the Beta sedan, however survivors are rare. I had a very brief drive of a friend’s coupe 25 years ago, and remember positive impressions. I was never tempted to buy one, but I’m looking forward to the next part.

  2. Sadly, the Beta (and, with it, Lancia) fell victim to a scandal-mongering campaign started by a certain British TV show (That’s Life, IIRC) and a certain tabloid rag (the Daily Mirror in 1980; ever since then, it’s been implicated in the “the Italians used rusty steel from Soviet shipbreakers which the USSR used as payment to Fiat for the AVTOVAZ factory” myth, which cannot be corroborated by any document that has emerged so far; even US diplomatic sources (documents from the Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon administrations) make no mention of such a deal whatsoever – in fact, it was explicitly written in those documents that the Italians didn’t want the Soviets to pay in kind (oil, raw materials, other goods), as this would throw the Italy-USSR trade balance even further out of whack.

    1. Good morning Konstantinos. All to come in Part Two later in the week. All I’ll say for now is that the Beta’s problem was design / production related and had nothing to do with the materials used.

    1. Hi Freerk. That looks very nice indeed. The only jarring detail for me is the fussy trapezium-shaped chrome strips above the rear lights surrounding an inset panel. It’s more obvious in this photo:

      Was the inset an aerodynamic aid (some sort of lip spoiler) I wonder?

  3. This is a car I think I have never seen in the metal, even in a museum. I´ve seen Trevis more than a dozen times in the last 20 year, by contrast. It´s a car that I think every car-interested person should find an excuse to test drive, along with the Citroen CX and Peugeot 604, Peugeot 205 and Ford Focus Mk1. Uniquely among them the Focus requires no excuses to justify its ride-handling/driveability compromises. I was not aware of the Beta´s accelerated development schedule, by the way. That´s quite impressive given all of it was probably done with big sheets of paper. The main flies in the ointment are 1) the odd styling crease which trails off under the rear side glass and the fact that 2) the interior didn´t win any prizes for being any other than ordinary. The saloon´s dash has an unfortunate plethora of metallic borders on various features and the overall assembly is not that tidy at all. If you look at, say, a Ford Consul or Opel Rekord from the same period there´s a lot more discipline. I´d still like to see what the 1973 was like though; I can repeat here that the Trevi was superlative, even on a comparatively short test drive.

    1. I don’t actually remember if I have seen a Beta saloon. I guess most likely I did, maybe without really knowing (I was below ten years old when the cars were new). However the HPE certainly was very present on our streets. Maybe they were more numerous, or just kept for a longer time.
      Italians being the largest immigrant group to Switzerland throughout the 50s to the 70s, it was made sure that an appropriate fraction of Italian cars could always be seen here.

    2. True – the HPE was always the one I saw most of, even in Ireland. It wasn´t a rarity or anything unduly wierd. Not common but not an infrequent event. Naturally, the Lancias I saw most were Themas and Prismas. The Prismas tended to be mid-blue and rusting. Rusted cars is one of the abiding memories I have of 1980s Ireland; that and the ugliness of commercial activity.

    3. Hi Richard. Just to clarify, judging by the time of your post, the car you’ve never seen in the metal was the Beta Coupé?

      The “odd styling crease” on the Beta Berlina you mention will be covered in Part Two (literally!)

  4. I’m old enough to have been around when these cars were presented and I remember seeing a number of them on the road, mostly coupés which nearly all were silver with different wild colours for the interior.

    (this actually is a HPE which had the same mad colours)

    In the early Eighties I bought a beta spider for very little money. The car wasn’t even five years old and needed new sills and side panels because the roof leaked and water had collected there. The spider was enormous fun to drive on back roads because it could be steered with the right foot and it had what Italians call accelerabilità – it was quick between 60 kph and 120 kph thanks to its generous torque. The spider also had one of the best heaters I’v ever experienced and it had some nice details like the cast mazak window winder handles with a ‘Campagnolo’ script on their rear side. I also found out that Lancia spare parts came at eye watering prices when a door stay snapped and the friendly dealer told me that the identical part from the Fiat 128 came at less than a tenth of the price of the official beta part…

    1. Great photo, thanks for posting, Dave. On the subject of spare parts, a new perforated aluminium finisher for the clutch pedal in my Mk1 Audi TT 225 Quattro Convertible, which was missing when I bought the car, would have cost an eye-watering (gouging!) sum from Audi. Looking at images on the Internet, I spotted that the identical part was fitted to the Skoda Fabia VRs, so bought the replacement from Skoda at half the price.

    2. That’s another great colour, Dave. It’s a shame the material wasn’t a bit more durable though. The driver’s seats are looking rather creased and puckered in both examples, as are the door trim inserts, although perhaps the latter are meant to be ‘ruched’?

    3. The seat covers were typical mid-Seventies Italian awful. Alfa used similar material and they all suffered from deterioration under UV influence in no time and exceptional electro static charging at no extra cost.
      There was no intentional ‘rouched’ effect in the interior, in the pictures it’s just down to bad quality and wear. The door cards should be smooth.
      What you can see that the seats of the coupé/spider/HPE have very short backrests for their seats that barely reach up to shoulder level and very long headreats. These seats are extremely uncomfortable, particularly so in the spider where they are covered in synthetic ‘leatherette’ material that makes you sweat and feels very unpleasently.
      What the sporty betas don’t have is a cheap dashboard. The original brown one is made from soft material, has a real wood insert (you can tell it from the splinters on the backside), a metal glove box lid and eight instruments in the instrument panel – three alone for oil: pressure, temperature and level. What it does have is strange ergonomics, you switch on the wiper with a column stalk and select its speed with a push-pull switch in the centre console.
      At least you get the same real wood gear lever knob as the Stratos.

    4. Speaking of ergonomics, that neck level ashtray between the rear seats looks like a recipe for disaster.

    5. The object in question is not an ashtray but the rear interior light.

    6. Thanks Dave, I was trying to work out how one would use an ashtray in that position. I’m glad to know it wouldn’t be necessary.

  5. A thoughtful article, thank you. Unfortunately the breezy first paragraph is fraught with casual comments that might be better reconsidered. Its unlikely that a company survives for fifty years, makes some of the best and innovative cars, sells (just for example) 10,000 trucks to the Italian military, maintains their own foundries, and has 7,000 employees without some business agenda. While it is true they ran short of money in the 1950s, its not too hard to attribute that to an ambitious racing program and the simultaneous construction of the “grattacielo”, the 16 story Lancia tower in Turin.
    Looking forward to part 2, as the Beta has long needed such examination.

    1. ” While it is true they ran short of money in the 1950s, its not too hard to attribute that to an ambitious racing program and the simultaneous construction of the “grattacielo”, the 16 story Lancia tower in Turin.”: That might be bit where the business agenda began to falter. That said, quite a few companies experienced this around the same time. The period of a large and growing market combined with a tolerance for idiosyncracy was winding down. That´s why the Golf is a European best-seller. Had it gone better, Lancia might have weathered this as did BMW in Bavaria (and they were in an awful state before the Neue Klasse came along).

      Have you seen this review of the Trevi, Geoffrey?

      Three Volumes in Three Parts: 1


      If you´re in Lancia circles, maybe you could pass it on.

    2. Good afternoon Geoffrey. Welcome to DTW and thank you for your comments.

      Regarding the first paragraph, perhaps you might be more specific as to what you think is inaccurate? I don’t imagine that you would take issue with the first sentence. On reflection, I would probably remove the word ‘far’ from the second sentence as it may be an overstatement, although I intended it to be a compliment to Lancia and Fogolin’s talents as engineers more than a criticism of their business acumen.

      The point I was hoping to make was that Lancia was the antithesis of, for example, Ford as an automobile manufacturer, driven primarily by engineering excellence rather than profitibility. It was intended as praise rather than criticism!

  6. Thank you so much for this article! Do you remember how it was called a beautiful colour used by Lancia, and by Lancia only, something between dark red and dark brown, close to the colour of chocolate (the food)? I remember it being used in Beta, Fulvia, but not in Delta. I haven’t seen it since.

    1. Good afternoon gpant. I do indeed remember the colour you refer to, a dark chocolate brown with a reddish hue. I think this is the colour, but the photo doesn’t do it justice:

      Incidentally, I’ve never seen chocolate described as ‘food’ before, but you’re certainly talking my language in doing so!

    2. That´s a perfectly pleasing hue. Would I be right in saying Mercedes has, in the not too faraway past offered a metallic dark brown? And I am very sure Opel´s Insignia was available in a similar dark metallic red-brown. Admittedly it´s not the same as a flat brown. Still, it´s better than Leasing Dark Grey, Rental Black and Huge Fleet Metallic Grey. Thanks for reminding of this detail, by the way.

    3. This colour is called ‘rosso amaranto’ and was used in a very similar hue by Alfa at that time

    4. My own HPE is a late Rosso Amaranto car, but if we are going to be really technical/anal, there’s at least four very similar shades that were offered in different years. The mid-1970s cars were offered in a colour called ‘Rosso York’, which is this:

      Depending on the light, this is not dissimilar from Rosso Amaranto, but in brighter light it definitely has more of a reddish tint.

      My own HPE is this shade of Amaranto:

      https://lots-to-drive.de/produkt/1981-lancia-beta-coupe-2000/

      This photo is the closest approximation to how it looks in reality on a sunny day:

      But I believe there was a very subtle tweak to the composition of this shade at some point – in my observation the earlier Rosso Amaranto cars do look very subtly lighter and they do have a different paint code. In fact, during the period Rosso York was available, they also had a colour called Marrone Parioli, that is if anything more akin to the later Amaranto than York was:

      https://steenbuck-automobiles.de/en/car_exterior_color/marrone-parioli-en/

    5. the Mercedes colour mentioned should be Manganese Brown (MB Code 480) which I take is very handsome, especially on a C107.

    6. For comparison, here is my series 2 Rosso York 1300 Berlina:

    7. Hello Lee: thanks for posting. I miss flat colours on cars. Hyundai or Kia are doing some. They are quite confident brands. Is your Beta a daily driver?

    8. Hi Lee. Thanks for your comment and photo, which I’ve embedded so that it displays directly. That’s a nice colour, especially with the tan(?) coloured interior. The modest changes to the DLO on the Series II model really were effective in making it look sleeker and more elegant, especially in the rear three-quarter view.

  7. I’m a little older than some of you.. grew up in the car desert of County Mayo, Ireland, in the 1970s. The Lancia Beta was surprisingly popular, the follow on from the Fiat 125, but likely to be due to the efforts of the local dealer. My family bought a FIAT 132 1600gls rather than a Lancia but that might have been an unwillingness to get above ourselves. The Lancia was up somewhere near the Triumph, Rover, or Peugeot at this time.
    I never liked the beta coupé in photographs but u saw one recently in Cork City and some with its owner.. It’s really sweet even you see it in the metal.

    1. Pat: I presume the Lancia you saw in Cork was one of the cars of Ireland´s very energetic Lancia club. I met some of them having a meet in Dun Laoighaire a few years ago. They had a super collection of cars including some lovely Themas.

  8. I have loved Lancias since that time in the early 70s.. Not so much the beta, but the fulvia coupé and, surprisingly, a beautiful brown 2000.ie with light green rear window curtains (in ireland!)… A kind of well-bred exoticism

    1. I can´t quite recall how I caught the Lancia bug. It stems from a peculiar fascination for the Trevi, seeing a Flavia saloon in Cologne and a Lancia-owner (of a 2000 coupé) explaining some of the refinements of the engineering. At this point I even find Dedras and Prismas appealing and harbour a deep fondness for the Kappa which is simultaneously dead plain and like nothing else, clearly distinctive from a large distance.

  9. This is the colour. Thanks Daniel. It changes with the light falling on it, in a broad spectrum of neighboring shades. Imagine a car driving below trees and foliage. I remember a Beta with this colour in a neighborhood close by. I was walking aroud the car to enjoy the colour playing with the light. These memories are so emotional.

  10. Regarding their presence on the road, there were many here in Athens. The berlina and coupe were easy to spot. The hpe was rare. Maybe the owners were a little to the conservative style side. Of course I am talking 80s. Because of the dry climate, there were no problems with corrosion. Afterwards came the Delta I, Prisma, the beautiful Dedra (to my taste of course), and the Delta II, 5 door and 3 door HPE. I don’t remember any Thema with local licenses. On the other hand, there were many Fulvia for many years.

    1. I´ve come to admire the Dedra. It´s a very refined design with some fine flourishes. The grille gives it presence; the shape is harmonious in relation to the panel gaps and the chrome detailing on the DLO is rather post-modern. I notice there are two different and equally good dashboards available for the car. There´s nothing like this on sale now. Where does a Lancia customer go now? Perhaps a Volvo S60 is the nearest thing. Or a very highly specced Astra saloon might do the job. Audi A3 saloon?

    2. I remember a Series 2 white Thema languishing in Larissa, usually parked mere meters away from the Holocaust Memorial. At some point, it seems like it was restored, gaining a rather unfortunate chrome license plate surround at the rear in the process; I don’t know who owned it. A few years later, it was nowhere to be found. Around that time, though, a Thesis became a regular fixture on the neighborhood, but its provenance was known: it was owned by a rich doctor who ended up owning a nearby private hospital.

    3. Richard, the Dedra was a car I’ve always had a soft spot for. Greece’s foremost car publication (a magazine whose role in the country’s political landscape will need to come under ruthless scrutiny) lambasted it as a “European Nissan Sunny” – bland and uninspired. While some of that may have been true for the bog-standard 1.6 version, I wasn’t too sure I agreed with the reviewers. For one, I’ve always liked its clean, well-balanced shape, with its chrome (or was it stainless steel?) detailing being gracefully sparse and chintz-free.

      As for its dashboard, I thought that, in its earliest, purest incarnation, it was a delight: the shape recalled that of the Thema, another ’80s dashboard I loved. It also exuded an air of elegance, rather than opulence, with its choice of wood trim: Mercedes-Benz opted for tinted zebrano or heavily-streaked Indian rosewood; British makers went for burl walnut, which can be overbearing – it’s easy to go overboard if you surround the passengers with very highly-figured woods. Lancia, on the other hand, fronted the Dedra’s dashboard with straight-grained, or very lightly-figured pieces of bubinga (an exotic wood that, along with every rosewood genus, is now HEAVILY regulated, thanks to overharvesting and forest destruction so that the Chinese nouveau riche can have their hongmu furniture), striking a masterful balance between a more classical definition of luxury, the wood trim on the dashboards of the Flavia, Fulvia, and Beta Coupé/HPE, and modernity.

      I also found its interior to be very welcoming, either with fabric or alcantara upholstery (the latter does tend to wear badly, mind you), and I do remember that the seats of the Dedra in the showroom were every bit as comfortable as those of a late-’70s Simca 1307S my father owned from 1980 to 1986. My father toyed around with the idea of replacing his System Porsche Seat Ibiza 1.2 GL (a hurried, emergency purchase, to replace the Simca, which had rusted beyond economic repair) with the Dedra 1.6. Its engine displacement, however, meant higher income tax, so it was ruled out, even though both I and my mother liked it. Other candidates were the Alfa Romeo 33 1.4 IE, the Rover 214Si (in a classic “it seemed like a good idea at the time” move, Biamax – Rover’s importer at the time – chose to bring the 214 only in basic Si trim, offering the better-equipped GSi only with the punishable by Greek Tax Law 1.6 engine), and the catalysed, fuel-injected Citroën BX 1.4 that eventually became our family transport for nine years.

      It wasn’t until 1999 that I got to be driven in a Dedra: it was an early and scruffy 1.8 i.e. that served as my car mechanic’s workhorse. He swore by it. I did, however, get to convince a certain brunette in my class in high school to get her father to retire his W115 Merc with a white 1993 Dedra 1.8 i.e., but that’s another story…

    4. Trust your car mechanic, they have to cope with any model’s defects.
      I too, enjoyed many years with a Dedra 1.8i. Its second gear was ideal for seeing off any similar-sized Audi at the autoroute toll booths.
      Mine was also a plum colour, but with a touch of brown — which has become quite fashionable nowadays.

      Its screen also didn’t let in water, unlike Mum’s Golf.

    5. I think that the closest one can come to a Dedra today is a high-spec Octavia with silver multispoke wheels (if not a Kodiaq/Enyaq or a SWB Tiguan in grey without the sports pack – the Dedra had a rather chunky shape after all). A current S60 is probably a bit too big and expensive for that job, a new A3 saloon too aggressive and an A-Class saloon too stubby. Perhaps a Mazda 3 saloon would do? A Giulia with “Luxury” wheels and chrome trim? A Grand Scènic?

    6. I suppose the Octavia would do the job or else the Mazda 3 saloon. Despite the brand´s previous lower-echelon ranking, Skoda offers a lot cars which don´t differ in any important way from VW in terms of quality. If we look at what they are and not where they came from, Skoda is a sort of professors´s car, some of them anyway.

  11. Dear Richard, I agree so much with your ideas. Unfortunately, I am unable to predict where the Lancia admirers have gone. Let me take a couple of guesses. If they were after style and visual pleasure, they would go anywhere a car pleased them. Japan, France, Germany, etc. If they were after handing and performance, they could choose an Alfa. The Italian style would be offered to them as a bonus. I was thinking that many Lancia lovers would equally love Alfa. This might sound correct for 80s and 90s. There were enough Italian cars in the market. There was a variety of cars in the below 2.0 liter segment.

    1. I can only speak for myself. But when my kappa had reached 200.000 km and 11 years of age, I had to replace it. I still loved the car. It had never let me down, was free of rust, and with only minors signs of use. But spares had to be imported, and was becoming hard to find. As an everyday car, it was becoming impractical.

      By then the Thesis had proven itself to be a failure. Lancia had left Denmark, and I did not like the Thesis exterior. Try as I might, I could not find anything “worth the money” so I bought a new FIAT Panda. That reset all expectations, and a few years later a Volvo S40 suddenly seemed attractive. But I STILL miss that Kappa. It was the first, and so far last, everyday car that I washed by hand, and lavished with TLC. Now my everyday car is chosen by spreadsheet. No feelings involved.

      Car love is not dead however. I have a 1967 Fulvia. She is easy to love.

    2. Good morning Henrik. Thank you for your comment and well done for ‘keeping the love alive’ with your Fulvia!

    3. gpant, being a production engineer, and judging from the Gruppo’s strategic marketing decisions (i.e. product launch and specification decisions, including, but not limited to, engine/transmission configurations), I’ve reached the following conclusion: the Gruppo’s top brass, which was always obsessed with acquiring Alfa Romeo and having it as its crown jewel, tried to prop Alfa’s sales up by driving customers away from Lancia and leading them to Alfa. For instance, Lancia’s flagships (Thema, Kappa, Thesis) were never given Integrale versions – on the other hand, Alfa’s 164 was given a 4WD version. The Alfa Romeo 156 got a 4WD version, the Lybra didn’t. As a matter of fact, even the range-topping Dedra Integrale, which could have been positioned as a proper competitor for the Merc 190E 2.3-16 and the Sierra Sapphire Cosworth, wasn’t.

      Remember the second-generation Delta? For various reasons, people thought it was half-baked – I’m not sure how fair this assessment was. Whatever the case, it would have benefitted from an Integrale version. Did it get one? No. When it was discontinued, Lancia was left for about a decade without anything in the all-important C-segment. What did the Gruppo offer for those who wanted something more upmarket than the the Stilo? The Alfa 147. What did Lancia have at that time? Nothing. Nada. Zip. Nichts. Rien. Was this deliberate? I’d be surprised if it wasn’t.

      Remember the Fiat Barchetta-based 2003 Fulvia prototype? Although it was pretty much guaranteed to be a hit with the public, it never made it to production. Remember the first- and second-generation Ypsilon? They were deliberately hamstrung by being offered only in a three-door format. Remember the Musa? IIRC, it outsold the Fiat it was based on (the Idea). When it was discontinued, did it get a replacement? No. Why? Perhaps because the overrated Marchionne had wasted lots of money on the failed 159/Brera/Spider trio, who knows? But certainly because no one cared to give Lancia a fighting chance – after all, it was Alfa über alles.

    4. Konstantinos: that´s a good charge sheet. I didn´t know the Musa outsold the Idea. And yes, they left Lancia without a mid-ranger until the lamentable Delta 3 which in no way met the construction standard of the Lybra. The idea with Lancia was, supposedly, to leave it to do “luxury” while Alfa did “sports”. All they had to do was offer different style of performance. Lancias need good torque and aren´t about top speed. It looks very much like an Italian case of what happened to Triumph and Rover: the wrong brand was propped up. Alfa could very well have been a three car range and so could Lancia, with prices staggered up the cost ladder so that you either chose one or the other with no direct competition between them, other than, maybe in the mid-sized saloon class. Even then Lancia could have done well with a saloon and Alfa an estate or wagon.

    5. I agree with Konstantinos that Alfa got the lion’s share of attention and funds from the corporate mothership, depriving poor Lancia of a decent chance of success. The four year gap between the Dedra and the Delta II followed by a nine year hiatus from the segment was unconscionable.

      But was Fiat really obsessed with Alfa Romeo? My recollection from the time was that they were leaned on heavily by Rome to acquire AR just to prevent it from falling into the hands of the Americans. Come to think of it, wasn’t the take over of Lancia also under the direction of the Italian government?

      It seems that Fiat, had they controlled their own fate, would have been happy to soldier on with their namesake marque along with Autobianchi as a boutique brand. And maybe acquire Citroen, thinking that would result in them less beholden to the Italian market and government; instead, it probably would mean they’d have to serve another master in the Elysee, as well.

    6. Richard, you’ve made some excellent points. I couldn’t agree more, especially as a Delta III owner.

      Ben, I’ll have to answer a few points here:

      First of all, there’s no way in heaven, hell or earth that Fiat would be allowed to acquire Citroën. First of all, De Gaulle, supported by Peugeot and Renault, rejected Fiat’s proposalto secure a 49% interesting, and management control over the French firm. There were fears that this would mean France would lose its auto industry, with two of its largest carmakers ending up in foreing hands (63% of Simca was already owned by Chrysler).

      Second, yes, there are rumors that Ford wanted to acquire Lancia and that Fiat was pushed by the Italian government, to avoid allowing the Americans to gain control of an Italian carmaker. However, I’d like to see some hard evidence of it, as many of the stories that have been peddled by auto “journalists” over the years and commonly accepted as truths have turned out to include lots of fabricated narrations. On the other hand, there is evidence that Ford wanted to purchase Alfa Romeo: https://www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-1986-11-07-fi-15490-story.html

      Alfa Romeo was highly prioritized. When the Delta I was discontinued, as it was already way too old, Lancia was left for four years without something to replace it. Should we be surprised that the Delta II arrived too late and was a commercial failure? Then, when the Delta II was discontinued, it left a yawning gap in Lancia’s range for TEN YEARS. And then, the overrated Marchionne (whose sole talents were to postpone payments to suppliers and to blame workers in factories that made slow sellers like the MiTo for “not being productive enough”) acted all surprised when the Delta III (whose build quality is unacceptable even by bloody Lada Samara standards) proved to be unsellable, despite its fine styling. Then again, how could the Delta III get a proper ride-handling balance, or a proper build quality? Marchionne, in his infinite wisdom, had wasted way too much money on the failed 159/Brera/Spider trio and the further development of the utterly irrelevant JTS engines. And he was never held accountable for being a failure.

    7. Konstantinos

      Apart from Ford allegedly being interested in acquiring Lancia, were there any other candidates that expressed interest?

    8. Bob, I doubt it, and I’ll elaborate. To absorb a carmaker, you need to be BIG and have a need and desire to set foot in its native market; in those days of protectionism, such moves were often necessary to bypass import taxes. For instance, that’s why Nissan set up the Teokar assembly line in Volos, Greece – and shut it down when it no longer needed it.

      The only really big Italian company that could absorb a firm like Lancia was Fiat. Alfa Romeo, of course, couldn’t even entertain such thoughts. So, the only other candidates would have to be non-Italian. Let’s see…

      British firms? Hmmm… Nope. British Leyland, founded in 1968, had its own woes, so the last thing it needed would be a bankrupt company like Lancia, which also made cars that couldn’t be badge-engineered to fit in with the other offerings from Morris, Austin, Rover, Triumph, Wolseley, what have you; well, at least not without resorting to using applied phlebotinum.
      German firms? The (silent) Quandts were busy trying to develop BMW; Mercedes-Benz wasn’t fussed; VW was struggling, as its antediluvian Käfer was showing its age, and no amount of hippiewashing its origins and its chassis could help; Audi, DKW, and NSU were far too small back then.
      French firms, perhaps? Peugeot didn’t care. Citroën was entangled in talks with Fiat w.r.t. the PARDEVI accord, so no. Renault didn’t care, either.
      Spanish firms? As if.
      Japanese firms? They were busy getting their products right.
      Eastern Bloc firms? Yeah, OK, perhaps in that parallel universe where Sheldon Cooper appreciates Humanities.

      So, what are we left with? US firms, of course. They had incentive to set foot on European soil. But wait a minute: GM already had Vauxhall in the UK and Opel in West Germany – and it was reportedly losing money on Opel. I’m not sure they’d want to take Lancia in, especially knowing that its corporate culture was poles apart from GM’s and its appeal strange. Chrysler already was involved with the Rootes Group and about to absorb Simca, and they had shown no intention whatsoever to touch Lancia. Ford already had its UK and West German branches, and it is said that they wanted to buy Lancia, but I’d love to see some evidence to back it up.

    9. Konstantinos,

      I agree that, in the end, the French put the kibosh on Fiat’s acquisition of Citroen. But that decision must have blindsided the Agnellis; theirs was not a mere proposal. They had already bought a controlling stake from Michelin and they only gave up five years later when it became clear that the state was going to frustrate them at every turn.

      I didn’t know that Ford had Lancia in their sights. I had assumed that the Italian government put pressure on Fiat to rescue Lancia in order to stem job losses. My earlier point was on Fiat snatching Alfa from out under Ford.

      That Fiat has treated Lancia like a red headed stepchild after the initial flurry of investment that produced the Beta and Gamma is clear. And terribly unfortunate. The money they threw at AR could have been better and more safely spent by creating Lancia variants alongside the 159/Brera and then the Giulia. Lancia has proven its worth by outselling its more favored sister with only one model in one market.

    10. There are other factors to bear in mind regarding Citroen and Fiat. By the early 1970s, it was blindingly obvious to the Italians that Citroen’s engineers, who carried a lot of weight at Quai de Javel had no intention of sharing knowledge, platforms or componentry with Fiat, who they viewed as inferior. Most unfair, given the quality and depth of Fiat’s engineering legacy, but that’s another matter. Certainly, there was likely to have been French governmental pushback against a full takeover, but given the level of intransigence within Citroen it was probably deemed a dead loss by 1973. Then there was the whole Comotor business, which Fiat had been interested in. By then, that was also losing its appeal – not aided by Fiat’s own engineers being wholly opposed to the Wankel engine.

      From what I can glean, Fiat could not justify the huge investment required for Lancia in the wake of the fuel crisis, electing to fully integrate the two businesses, which they achieved in 1978. From that point, Lancia really existed in name only. Having said that, Lancia became a notable success during the 1980s, only falling back when investment was diverted towards Arese following Fiat’s acquisition of Alfa Romeo in 1986.

      I would however agree that Fiat Auto backed the wrong horse. Lancia deserved better. Still does in my view.

      As regards Ford being interested in Lancia in 1969, I have my doubts. However, I do recall reading that Alejandro de Tomaso made a number of attempts at enticing the blue oval to buy the company, the Flaminia-based Ghia Marica concept said to have been intended to pique their interest. Make of that what you will…

    11. That one fact, that the Ypsilon outsells Alfa in just one market is something nobody in Stellantis should forget. I expect the Ypsilon is a very profitable car whereas AR has almost certainly made next to nothing on AR since Pope Julian III was in the Vatican.

    12. Konstantinos

      Have seen it mentioned that both Ford (during the Cardinal project) and BMC also worked on Fulvia-style narrow-angle V4 OHC engines, none of which of course suggest either were interested in Lancia.

      Although Fiat was the only correct choice for Lancia, would have felt a competently managed (e.g. no Comotor, etc) Citroen was another possible option despite being entangled with talks on the PERDEVI accord, perhaps an alliance between Citroen and Alfa Romeo would have been more fruitful at the lower end of the range (with Maserati passed on to Fiat as a sweetener of sorts).

      The FWD Maserati Quattroporte II developed by the then Citroen-owned company was the sort of thing one would have expected from a Lancia Flaminia replacement (notwithstanding being slightly oversized and featuring the wrong V6).

      Otherwise agree with the view that Fiat screwed Lancia over in favor of Alfa Romeo, with the general charge sheet against Fiat and that the marque deserved a better fate. Turbocharged / Evo versions of the Prisma and Dedra Integrales in particular could have been more accessible Delta Integrale-derived saloon alternatives to the Maserati Biturbo (and perhaps even warranted similarly appealing coupe and convertible bodystyles as on the Biturbo), amongst other missed opportunities.

  12. Thanks to curbsideclassic.com, here are reprints of two articles from [em]Road and Track[/em] a “before and after” look at the federalization of the Montecarlo.

    1. Federalization wasn’t kind to the Montecarlo, which was called Scorpion in the US:

      In order to comply with minimum height regulations, the headlamps were of a semi-pop-up design:

  13. Yes, Daniel… but I think it looked fine in the context of every (legal) federalized car sporting the standardized sealed beams.

    However, Curbside Classic says that the ride height was also raised in order to bring the bumpers to the required height (as with the rubber-bumpered MGs among others), which of course compromised handling.

    1. Reading the R&T road test of the Scorpion, the droopy sealed beam headlamps were the least of its problems.

      Many thanks for posting the road tests, gooddog, much appreciated. 🙂

    2. And the 2 litre engine was switched out for the 1.7…

      This, I think was the biggest problem with the entire Beta range (all of it including the HPE and Targa called “Zagato” in the US)… After all, the X1/9 (branded as a Bertone) and the 124 Spider (branded as a Pininfarina) outlived Fiat itself in the US. The “X1/20” deserved better.

      I struggle though, to understand how the rest of the Beta range could have thrived in the US market. Although I am just noticing how the character line just below the door handle on the HPE descends so gracefully as it progresses rearward, like a Lynx Eventer… I can understand our collective love for the HPE, but I feel like the other versions still fall short of the heartfelt desire I still feel for contemporaries such as the 2002 Tii, GS, Mk 1 Scirocco, or Alfetta GT/GTV6.

    3. The Scorpion had the engine of the berlina 1800 emissions strangulated to no more than a ridiculous 81 PS.
      Even the Euro version of the Monte wasn’t overly fast with just 115 PS but by fitting the carburettors from the Ritmo 130 TC Abarth and a new exhaust manifold this could be increased to 130 PS.

  14. Regarding the Volvo, I am not familiar with the design language of Volvo and Saab. In our place we have convoluted the cars and the imaginary national identities. We see an Italian car, not a car. That is where it starts to be complicated in the mind. A BMW can not be parked outside a fine old Italian villa, it does not blend in with the architecture. A Lancia can. An Alfa also. An other issue is price. The Italian premium cars were from 1.x to 2.0 litres. They were occupying the mid upper segment of the market, alongside the German car brands. That is why you wouldn’t find a Thema here.

    1. Much as I like the Beta, this for me is the definitive Lancia Berlina, the 2000:

      That’s the one I’d park outside my (alternative reality!) Italian villa. The colour is also beautiful!

    2. Daniel, much as I love the way the 2000 embodied the finest incarnation of the Flavia platform, there still aren’t enough supplies of Maalox Plus and Tums on the planet for me to stomach the tail-lights.

    3. Good morning Konstantinos. Are the 2000’s tail lights really that bad? I’m not crazy about them, but don’t find them particularly objectionable:

      In any event, the rest is so lovely to my eyes that I’m completely smitten!

    4. Something like the Giulia Super’s tail-lights would have been preferable. The way they are now, they look like an afterthought.

  15. Thanks, many thanks for this article about a car that always seemed really interesting to me.
    I´ve never seen any Beta saloon, Spider or Montecarlo, but I´ve seen a few HPEs and coupés. The reason is clear, both were built in Spain by Seat between 1979 and 1980 in the Landaben factory, near Pamplona.
    (By the way, that factory has a curious record: it has churned out Minis, Austin 1100s, Betas, VW Polos…)

    1. Thanks for that historic detail.
      About the Lancia 2000 saloon, yes, it´s fabulous. The thing with Lancia is I would not like to have to choose just one. They made so many lovely cars. I have affection for the Lybra and Thesis as much as the Trevi and 2000 and the Dedra. And then there´s the Kappa which came in saloon, coupé and wagon and each of them is interesting. The one Lancia I don´t have any fondness for is the bleedin´ Delta Integrale. I´d rather a well-specced Prisma. I forgot the Fulvia coupe. I´d be happy parking the 2000 Berlina anywhere. If I had to dream up a scenario for it, I´d probably want it to be parked in the modest but utterly bare garage of my Swiss town house in Basel, which I haven´t managed to get around to affording yet. And then I have to find somewhere for the Trevi 2.0 and Dedra.

  16. Lovely article, Daniel. Nice build up to the horrors ahead. The Beta Coupé and Monte Carlo are certainly amongst my favourite cars (although I would probably park a Fulvia Coupé next to the Alfa Zagato Junior at MY imaginary Italian villa…). Of all the Beta models, I can only definitely remember seeing an HPE in real life, ages ago. Being very young (I encountered it whilst cycling to school), I didn’t really appreciate it, just thought it “weird”.

    That 2000 is fantastic, too. Hmm… boxy saloons… Hmm… chocolate…

  17. Was never really a fan of the Beta fastback’s (pre-mk2 Escort RS2000-style) slant-nose front end, surely the front end treatments of the other Beta bodystyles would have been better suited (apart from the exterior black surround on the Montecarlo’s front – unless its body-coloured or ditched like on other modified Montecarlos).

    The Beta (and the Gamma as well) would have likely benefited from ditching the fastback saloon bodystyle in favour of a more conventional three-box notchback saloon layout, as far as fastback hatchback versions go Fiat could have still used Autobianchi to test the waters in the larger segments as well as replace the A111 prior to having Lancia completely absorb Autobianchi.

    Did wonder if the Beta 2000 could have been an early recipient of turbocharging in place of the rather niche and underwhelming VX, basically featuring an output closer to the 148 hp 2.0 8v Turbo used in the Croma and Thema rather than something too excessive.

    1. The VX versions were sold at about the same time they used the 037 in rally sports which also had a supercharged engine. The charger was built by Abarth and maybe they just had some free production capacity or they didn’t want a turbo engine in their road cars when they had a blower in the rally car.
      The VX engine actually isn’t that bad. I had the opportunity to drive a VX HPE a couple of time and the engine had lots of torque and instand throttle reaction – the opposite of turbo engines at that time. But they could have used other engine options like the narrow angle Abarth head from the Fiat 128 rally Abarth or the four valve head from the 131 rally or 037. They also could just have put two twin choke Webers on it like the Ritmo Abarths. That would have given the same power as the VX but with less thirst and without the hot start problems.

    2. Agree with the Ritmo Abarth twin choke webers and and 131 Abarth 4-valve head options for the Beta for an output range of around 130-140 hp.

      Could the narrow angle Abarth head from the Fiat 128 rally Abarth have been adapted to the 2-litre Fiat Twin-Cam? If so, how much of an improvement would the head have had over the regular Twin-Cam?

    3. As the 1800 and 2000 engines had the same 84mm bore it should have been easy to adopt the Abarth head to the larger engine. The narrow angle design got rid of the unfortunately shaped combustion chamber which in the standard engines looked like a bathtub. Such an engine should easily have been good for 140 PS. The Fiat 131 rally Abarth had 140 PS from its four valve engine even with a single carburettor – the beta coupés from the Italian rally championship had four valve engines with around 180 PS which was about the useful maximum from the Lampredi engine as the 131s had very peaky power delivery and not much more than 200 PS.

    4. I think the VX motor is getting a bit of an unfortunate sledging here. Having driven one it is definitely noticeably quicker than the standard carb 2-litre – not massively quick by today’s standards but you drive on the surfeit of torque, as indeed you do in the naturally-aspirated car. It isn’t by any means lacking in performance either – quoted output (irrelevant, but it’s against motoring journalism law not to cite it) was 135bhp. I make that between 130 and 140bhp, which wasn’t at all bad for a family hack in 1982.

      The Volumex supercharger route was a very deliberate one pursued by Lancia, and specifically Lampredi, when they undertook it in the late 1970s/early 1980s. Like almost every other major manufacturer, Fiat/Lancia was throwing huge resources at turbocharging at that time, but it is easy to forget now how crude the early turbo installations were. We think of turbo lag as ‘old school’ and ‘fun’ now. Back then it was more usually considered ‘unacceptable’ and ‘annoying’. The road tests at the time tended to prefer the Volumex motors to Lancia’s own turbos for the instant-on power delivery, zero lag and far better refinement.

    5. The Volumex engine is very acceptable except formtwo factors: it is thirsty due to the inherent thermo dynamic ineffiency of a mechanically driven blower and the VX has problems with starts when the engine is hot because of fuel evaporation from the carb.

  18. I suspect the Fiat twin-cam head would have been more expensive.
    Plus turbo lag was a big thing in those days, while the supercharger was invitingly instant.

  19. In hindsight, how well resolved is that β berlina design? Light years ahead from the established Italian competition of the era (Giulia, 125), offered avant-garde and true contemporary aesthetics inside and out, not to mention the traditional as well as forward looking technical layout. Lancias were never about sheer performance in road trim, focused mainly on impeccable handling, comfort and unparalleled build quality (until 1969 at least). ALFA’s main competitor released in 1977 still looked unresolved and sloppy. The Nuova Giulietta was a desperate move to fill the void between the outgoing Giulia and the larger Alfetta using as many common parts as possible. The β was a clean sheet design, inline with the brand’s ethos. If only Turin stayed true to the original brief of saving Lancia…
    Betas were plentiful in Athens in the ’80s, mostly in 1.3, and the coupe was always a pleasant sight, usually parked amongst a 124 Sport Coupe and a Unificata 1300 Junior. Even though it wasn’t as capable as the biscione, it was more pleasant and relaxing to drive.
    Subsequent iterations were not as complete, as the brand’s glamour started to fade with bad decisions, FIAT became disillusioned and certain tabloids crying out for fictional monsters.

    1. Hi vikarikas. I always the Beta Series I (as it became known subsequently) design as a ‘work-in-progress’ as we shall see in Part Two shortly…stay tuned!

  20. thanks for insights on a car I always liked – and always had second thoughts about. I mean, the whole Beta range appears very attractive to me and it certainly was competitive at the time. I confess I have the HPE on my watchlist and would not hesitate to add one to my colllection if a good one came about.

    Where did it all go wrong? Is it really the Gamma that sank Lancia? Or is it FIATs silly love-affair with (always overrated, one-hit wonder) Alfa Romeo and resulting lack of funds, that lead to its demise? I think so (as is Konstantinos, I reckon).

    Really looking forward the second series, I am!

    1. Hi CX.GTi. Thanks for your kind words, and glad you are enjoying the story. The Beta range is a favourite of mine and, I think, unfairly maligned. There will be more on that in Part Two shortly.

  21. Daniel –
    First of all congratulations on stirring up such interest with your article. I’ve not seen such outpouring of interest in Betas before – you certainly struck a chord. Well done.

    Per your request for more detail, some further thoughts are offered. Thanks for noting that you meant to highlight the engineering focus of Lancia, not damn them for lack of business acumen.

    To be brief, Lancia is a difficult company to assess – both in its products and its business model. Its products varied between lightweight and nimble cars on the one hand, and steady, more conservative upper class cars that had a sense of stability and constancy. In all cases, they featured innovative engineering, while at the same time encouraging driver engagement with lightweight feel and nimble handling. I would argue that the conflict (if we can call it that) between their innovative, even radical side, and their conservative approach, is rooted all the way back to their beginnings, before the Lambda (and have written such elsewhere), and continued to work its way out in the decades and products that followed. For only this complicated interplay explains a medium sized company producing Asturas and Aprilias, Appias and Aurelias, and more recently, the Flaminia/Flavia/Fulvia lineup.

    The Beta is in part a continuation of this, with the 1300cc version is aimed for a very different market than the 2 liter. WIth four different body styles, the notion of different models for different markets was by the 1970s well established but where Lancia excelled was in their strategy for identifying niches and serving them. Thus the HPE.

    And that is part of their elusive heritage – they were extremely sensitive to the market and served it directly, historically nimbly working around the products of the Fiat giant nearby. As 10% of Fiat’s size, they did not cotton to the gods of production, but rather to a different agenda – more focused on design and quality. They were historically successful and large enough to use big-league production processes, with early uses of electrically welded very stiff chassis, etc. They were also the more progressive company, developing prototypes with all the suppliers based nearby, such as Weber and Marelli. And this combination of a smaller, industrialized, progressive mid-sized company has confounded those who have tried to “put” Lancia in a simple category.

    Forgive the long-windedness here, but its important to see the complexity in Lancia history, as it explains how they were profitable for so very long, and how fully developed niche products (with engineering and most all manufacturing done in-house) were central to their purpose. Their use of vertical integration to allow constant improvement and refinements were part of who they were. Bringing this up to date was always a challenge – in the 1950s, the 1960s with Fessia (and Pesenti money) leading the massive uptick in production with the Chivasso plant, and then again in the 1970s with Fiat’s ownership. Keep in mind that complicated variations to serve niche markets had an overhead complication, one which (prior to software management now in force) had its own complications; prior to 1969 Fiat believed in simplicity and more straightforward solutions and less variation, Lancia was totally self-sustaining, within its own cosmos in which it worked. That Lancia was running out of products c.1970 is its own odd story – that the company constantly reinvented itself is the surprise: think of the Stratos, the 037, and the Delta Integrale as regenerative, all done under Fiat ownership!

    Vincenzo was not an engineer; Gianni (who was only 13 at the time of his father’s passing in 1937, only taking control in the late 1940s) was an engineer, but served more as executive.Both were interested in making products for an appreciative audience that wanted something else. And it is this ability to spot, and then serve, those that wanted something different that is difficult to identify from a distance.

    As to their business acumen, note that Vincenzo Lancia identified from the beginning that the Italian market was not big enough to support his particular cars, and early on, developed an international market for his cars. The first road test of a Lancia was in England in 1908, and by 1909, just two years after starting production, cars were for sale in the US. Over the years, about half of Lancia’s cars were exported (a major difference from the Fiat-throttled situation today, where they are only sold in Italy); and a third of their production was commercial vehicles, well-regarded trucks. It was a pretty sophisticated business model up until the mid-1960s.

    Lancia (both the family and the company) were interested in making a particular kind of product – one that was well made, easy to use, lasted for decades, and easy to service. Fiat’s struggle throughout the 1970s to figure out how to handle the company is, to these ears, the heart of your article and an issue well worth exploring. One can look at their takeovers of Ferrari, Maserati, Alfa, and Lancia and see their evolving methodology of how to achieve their goals of rationalizing production and marketing, while at the same time, preserve the identity of each separate company. That they struggled most with Lancia is understandable – the two companies had totally opposite methodologies – Fiat being driven by production, Lancia by design. That some aspect of Lancia ethos still excites, with people trying to revive it, speaks well of its intention.

    1. Good afternoon Geoff. Thank you for your thoughtful and thorough exposition of the history and culture of Lancia, which provides an excellent introduction to the Beta story. Lancia is a company that is held in high regard here at DTW and features on it always elicit much worthwhile comment, including yours.

      Please do let your fellow Lancia aficionados know of our enthusiasm for the marque. I hope they would find much to interest and enjoy in the DTW archive. Part Two of the Beta piece and other related pieces will be published shortly.

    2. Daniel – Appreciate your kind thoughts. Happy to join the party! Have posted a link to your article on the Lancia Motor Club site, and will also put on my blog. Keep it going!

    3. Geoff: thanks for that very interesting insight on Lancia. It´s a marque I have a strong regard for along with Bristol and Citroen. What characterises these companies is a singular vision and perhaps also rather turbulent recent histories. For me one of the worst aspects of Fiat´s later management was to deprive Lancia of its own factory. I believe that much as regions have cultures, large places like factories have cultures that can transcend the people coming and going over the days, months and years. Lancia developed its own culture, probably a reflection of its founders and their successors. Company take-overs may be a matter of legal ownership and money but they also bring with them something of a cultural invasion. Factory cultures can survive such changes but I think shutting a plant and moving prodcuction elsewhere kills the culture and hollows out the brand. This happened at GM when management merged the divisions. It has happened at Citroen which, I imagine, now has no real factory home. Knowledge from the shop floor flows up to the designers and engineers just as information and instructions go the other way. That´s how Lancia developed and retained its Lancia way.

  22. Good evening to all, it has been a great discussion with the catalogue names of this colour, I did not know this plethora of details, thank you! I remember it visually like the one in the coupe in Daniel’s post above, and in the two cars in Stradale’s post. The beautiful Beta in Lee’s post seems more towards a red hue in my eyes, and is directly lit by the sun. In the other Daniel’s post, the four-headlight berlina is towards a slight purple hue. In the two photos, the paint appears different, and this is the element of beauty in my imagination. This colour is sensitive in the ambient light, and produces different image. It is light-biased, if there exists such a word? The colour team of Lancia were a group of artists. Is it possible to find out their names?

    1. Hi gpant. Lancias of this era did seem to feature some very pleasant exterior (and interior colours). I think that the quality of sunlight in southern Europe is much more conducive for showing colours well than the flatter, grey light we often get in more northern latitudes. I wonder if that was a factor in Lancia’s colour choices?

  23. Good morning Daniel. The light in southern Europe, is let us say, intense. In places where there are no tall trees, like here in Athens where most of trees are smallish, the light falls directly on the subject, the car, creating a uniform bright result. No shades. In middle Europe, not very south, not very north, there is just a little of both in terms of light. I imagine that the Italian car makers, situated in the industrial north, Milan, Turin, were designing according to the characteristics of the area they lived. There is rain, but not too much like Belgium, a lot of sunny days in the year, but not like Rome or Napoli, the countryside is very green and full of tall trees, that create shades “playing” with the colour.

  24. Happy news! The colour still exists. Discovered a new Alfa Romeo Giulia parked next to a block of flats, in this beautiful dark red colour. It is less chocolate than the Lancia version.

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