Beta Living Through Chemistry

 Beta musings.

As first shown. ruoteclassisiche.quattroruote.it

“To create an unfavourable impression, it is not necessary that certain things be true, but that they have been said. The imagination is of so delicate a texture that even words wound it”. [William Hazlitt (1778-1830) – Writer, critic, philosopher]

With a now unassailable position within the annals of infamy; derided and patronised by legions of uninformed writers and journalists, has sufficient time elapsed to speak dispassionately about the Lancia Beta? It’s difficult to be certain, but the point of today’s exercise is to consider some of the anomalies and areas of received wisdom which have surrounded the car since its inception.

Speed: Frequently a desirable trait, especially when it comes to the motor car, but like most matters in life, context is all. In the case of the Beta, it would come to frame a negative, insofar as the initial gestation was by industry standards, staggeringly short[1]. Following Fiat Auto’s takeover of the failing Lancia business in 1969, the situation at Borgo San Paolo was dire, not just in financial, managerial, or engineering, but crucially in product terms.

With no new models in hand, Fiat’s appointed engineering leader, Sergio Camuffo had to work fast. But to take a new from the ground up design from concept to announcement in just over two years, while on one hand a staggering achievement, and one deserving of high praise, was likely to have been root of many of the Beta’s later well-publicised maladies.

The speed at which the Beta – not simply one car, let’s not forget – was conceived has lent many (this author included) to ponder exactly how this could have been achieved without recourse to some pre-existing handware. Yet power unit apart[2], there seems to have been little or no technical or structural carry-over from any existing Fiat group product.

Is it possible that the original Beta could have been derived from a mothballed front-drive Fiat Auto programme – a not impossible hypothesis, given that Mirafiori was already edging in this technical direction? A curtailed joint effort under the PARDEVI agreement with Citroen?[3] Little of a meaningful nature appears to have been documented (in English anyway) regarding this aspect of the Beta’s origin, so must remain in the realm of conjecture.

Also anomalous is the matter of scale. It is almost universally agreed that the Beta was intended to succeed the entry level Fulvia, a car which not only looked a good deal more compact than it was in reality,[4] but was also starting to look rather dated by the early 1970s. This optical illusion suggested therefore that the more rakish and modernist Beta was a significantly larger motorcar.

Fulvia berlina. motoimg

Bigger it was, in most dimensions, although not as much as one might imagine. 205 mm separate the cars in overall length, while the Fulvia is 153 mm narrower. Counterintuitively, it is the Beta which is the taller, by a mere 3 mm. The Beta has an additional 63 mm in wheelbase, allowing for the fact that the Fulvia at 2477 mm was already on the generous side. While successive models always tend to grow in size, these dimensional differences, while not vast, are nevertheless of a greater magnitude to that of an expected iterative step.

A further inconsistency regarding the Beta saloon was the decision to employ a two volume body shape. Granted, this silhouette was somewhat in vogue at the time amid European design circles, largely on the basis of Pininfarina’s earlier Aerodynamica studies, not to mention Citroen’s much-lauded homage in the form of 1970’s GS-series, or indeed the following year’s Alfa Sud.

However, Lancia’s customer base was largely conservative in taste and with the three volume saloon still very much the favoured silhouette for an upmarket saloon, it was a curious choice. Did Lancia’s new masters wish to make a clear demarcation within the Lancia bloodline, or simply preview the forthcoming Gamma – one wonders whether the Beta saloon was subjected to much customer consultation?

It would appear that the necessity to get the Beta quickly onto the market was driven largely by Fiat Auto’s impatience to amortise what must have been a considerable investment. But given that the Fulvia berlina was a proven, well-regarded model, why was it rushed into a premature grave, rather than freshened and at least temporarily retained?

It is likely that for Fiat, the discontinuation of the Fulvia allowed the Chivasso plant to be repurposed for Beta production while eliminating an undesirable model – if viewed purely from a cost of production perspective. But actions have consequences and this precipitated a market void for a more compact-sized Lancia product in the domestic market, one which wouldn’t be meaningfully addressed until the advent of the Delta in 1979.

One of the defining qualities of the Beta was the level of proliferation which the model line essayed. Saloon, 2+2 coupé, 2+2 Spider, four-seater shooting brake hatchback, and mid-engined two-seater. Later of course, there was also the tre-volumi Trevi. While on one hand, it was a symphony of choice; there really being a Beta model for just about everyone, but there is a strong case to be made to suggest that Lancia engineers stretched themselves too thinly by developing so many stand-alone versions.[5]

As a Fulvia replacement, equipping the Beta with engines of 1.4 and 1.6 litres capacity was entirely logical, especially as both in saloon and coupé form, they were larger, heavier motorcars. However, as the Flavia itself moved upmarket from 1971, (with its mid-decade replacement intended to be more upmarket still), it was also deemed expedient to offer the Beta with a 1.8 litre engine. This placed the model closer to its larger sibling, lending further uncertainty as to the Beta’s true position in the hierarchy. As the Beta became Lancia’s core offering, the range would encompass 1.3 to 2.0 litres, the latter nudging the lower reaches of what had been the Flavia’s market – a lot to ask of one car.[6]

autoedizone

The Beta was built at Lancia’s Stabilimento Chivasso manufacturing plant, a factory which had produced the Fulvia to admirable standards of assembly and finish. However, build and material quality was not a notable feature of the Beta, pretty much from the outset. Although well appointed, the Beta’s dashboard moulding and instrumentation for instance, like so many Italian cars of that era, was not a particularly enticing visual prospect; neither looking nor feeling like a quality product, while the soft furnishings were neither as durable nor finely specified as of yore. Paintwork too was a weak point, with owners complaining of degradation and surface corrosion within a very short time.

While there was an obvious drop in quality brought about by the change of ethos after the Fiat takeover, there was also the fractured labour relations of the 1970s to consider – a situation affecting virtually all Italian carmakers to a greater or lesser extent. But while it is quite likely that much of the Beta’s woes stemmed from inconsistencies in production engineering – which we know was likely to have been rushed – we must not discount the quality of workmanship which took place on the production line, especially when it came to the preparation of the body-in-white.[7]

By the time the ‘Beta rust scandal’ hit the UK airwaves in 1978, Lancia’s press and PR functions appeared to either be asleep or simply in bunker-mode, hoping the clamour would die down of its own accord. Certainly, back in Turin, the initial feeling seemed to be that this was a local issue of little concern – it only being after the whole thing had blown well out of proportion that any meaningful action was taken. It’s highly likely that Lancia UK’s failure to control the media narrative early on allowed the more sensationalist aspects of the story to take hold and become embedded.

Similarly, after the event, the UK importers were far too slow in  communicating positive change and getting across to customers – existing and prospective – that Lancia remained a sound purchase. By the time they did, too much ground had been lost, hardly aided by the glacial pace in supplying the improved new models in RHD form.[8]

But all this aside, and despite the fact that the press (both national and specialist) were all too willing to keep the story alive (they propagate it still), the Beta debacle alone did not destroy Lancia in these markets. That came about as a result of a whole slew of factors, much of which lie outside the scope of this article.

There is however a hypothesis that the Beta/ Trevi models comprised a market sweet-spot for Lancia, being an ideal size for a broad swathe of buyers. Once the model became discredited however, not only was its rationale lost, but because Lancia never directly replaced it, so too was this market itself.

So, where does this leave us? On one hand the Beta was a terrific achievement by Sergio Camuffo and his engineers – a finely and intelligently conceived series of car designs, encompassing a broad swathe of markedly different, yet closely related cars. In this regard, the Beta programme was rather clever. Couple this with the speed in which it came into being, not to mention the cars’ many fine qualities and the Beta should be better regarded – but for its Achilles Heel.

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Whether it represented the correct path for Lancia at this point, or indeed one it could afford however is another question. But fundamentally, its fitness for purpose, its market success, or indeed whether Lancia could ever have replaced it like-for-like was not predicated upon its own fortunes, but those of its Fiat master. And because Fiat Auto remained a rather unstable vessel throughout the 1970s and the decades that followed, it became inevitable that Lancia too would founder.

William Hazlett’s eloquent thesis on reputation can be brought to bear upon the Beta story, at least if one views both it and Lancia’s retrenchment in narrow terms. But in taking a broader view, not only was the Beta rust scandal ultimately a matter of inconsequence; in the overall scheme, so too was the Beta itself.

[1] The Beta’s development was amongst the shortest ever, second only to that of the 1962 Chevy II, which allegedly took a staggering 18 months from approval to job one.

[2] While the Lampredi twin-cam was a Fiat engine in principle, it was greatly changed in detail, with little parts commonality.

[3] Surely there would have been some documentation had this been the case?

[4] An illusion consequent of its somewhat upright and rectilinear styling theme.

[5] The Beta Spider was designed at Pininfarina, but built by carrozzeria Zagato, while the Monte Carlo was not only built by Pininfarina, but designed and largely developed at Cambiano – itself a stillborn Fiat concept.

[6] This can be rationalised to some extent by Italy’s punitive taxation of large capacity engines.

[7] The Gamma Berlina was built at Lancia’s Borgo San Paolo plant in Turin to a high standard, lending further credence to labour-related issues at Chivasso.

[8] An example of this being the fact that it was over a year after launch that the Trevi reached the UK market. Ditto the Delta.

Author: Eóin Doyle

Co-Founder. Editor. Content Provider.

41 thoughts on “Beta Living Through Chemistry”

  1. Having been around Betas and Betaphiles for getting on for two decades now, my personal view is that it was the right car at the right time for Lancia. When Fiat bought it for one lira (plus debts), the fact is that the company was on the verge of collapse – and the final stages of the decline had happened sufficiently rapidly that even most people in-the-know within the Italian industry didn’t quite appreciate how bad it had gotten. As Sergio Camuffo (who was then engineering the 130) told the story, he was shocked to read the news about the takeover in La Stampa one morning.

    Camuffo was asked within days of the takeover to move to Lancia as technical director and decide on the long-term product plan. By that stage, much of the long-standing engineering talent had already departed, there was no semblance of a product plan, morale was through the floor, and the entire range was old and cost between twice and three times as much to build as the equivalent Fiat models.

    There were essentially two options. Option 1 – ironic in view of later events – was basically to merge Lancia into Fiat, put the flag and shield on the more upmarket Fiats, exploit the dealer network, and convert the then-still-new Chivasso plant to Fiat production.

    Camuffo, however, pushed strongly for option 2. He asked for – and received – two years to develop a new mid-sized model, pitched into the heart of the marketplace, and simultaneously sought to stem the talent outflow. He managed to persuade the chassis engineer Romanini to stay on, and likewise Ettore Zaccone Mina to oversee ‘Lanciafication’ of the Fiat twin-cam.

    I have never seen any evidence at all, conjecture or otherwise, that suggests the Beta was a dusted-off old Fiat project. It is true that because of time constraints the berlina was styled by Gian Paolo Boano (son of Felice Mario) at Centro Stile Fiat, because Castagnero was busy designing the coupe. But I think anyone who has owned a Beta and an equivalent-era Fiat product appreciates that they really are very different in feel, sophistication and quality of finish.

    I would just mention, I think it’s altogether tempting to view all these issues of ‘replacements’ and ‘follow-on models’ through today’s lenses, where everything ‘must be’ replaced like-for-like as the capitalist machine dictates. The reality is that the Gamma was a joint replacement for the Flavia/2000 and Flaminia, but in truth, rather closer to the former; and the Fulvia’s traditional market (bearing in mind changes in tastes, fashion etc) – a quality, upmarket alternative to more compact Fiats – was met more squarely by the Delta. In my view, Camuffo understood the evolving market very well and he took the clean-sheet opportunity to really nail the brief for a quality, well-bred sedan that retained a lot of the traditional Lancia essence. I don’t actually think it is coincidental that for all its increased sales off the back of the new generation in the 1980s (Y10, Thema, Delta/Prisma), Lancia seemed to lose the plot a bit when it came to real strategy when it dropped the Beta floorplan without a true direct replacement. I quite like the Prisma but in no way was it as successful as Lancia would have wished as the Beta replacement they tried to pitch it as, either in character or in ability. Functionally, Lancia lacked a true D-segment contender between the Prisma and Thema – a huge problem for a company that was nominally trying to take on rivals that pretty much invented the premium model hierarchy that we know and loathe today.

    1. “Lancia seemed to lose the plot a bit when it came to real strategy when it dropped the Beta floorplan without a true direct replacement.”

      Good morning Stradale. That is absoultely true. There was plenty of potential in the Beta platform and the loss of a proper D-segment contender was far more injurious to Lancia’s prospects than the Beta corrosion issue per se. Tomorrow, DTW will conclude its series on the Beta with an ‘alternative reality’ look at how the berlina could have been developed into a full model range in its own right.

    2. Not only Prisma and Thema were a bit between the segments, I think it was true for all Fiat Group cars at that time. The ‘D-segment’ offerings like Tempra, Prisma, later Dedra and also Alfa 155 were actually C-segment cars with an added boot – much closer in size to a Jetta or Orion than to a Passat or Sierra. Likewise the larger Croma and Thema sat a bit between the chairs.
      While this might have been beneficial in Italy’s narrow towns, People north of the Alps who were used to bigger cars probably didn’t quite know what to make of these cars. (That said, the Thema for example was still quite successful in Switzerland, in a way never seen before or again at Lancia)

    3. Presumably the large Italian community in CH meant there was a ready market for Italian cars and the small local roads and alpine conditions suited Lancia very well too. I always think of Lancia as a car for dealing with inclines; the VX engine was particularly torquey.
      Wasn´t the Thema not fairly close to class size norms? The other cars you mention were clearly a bit in-betweeny though.

    4. Stradale, you’ve raised something extremely interesting: essentially, the Beta was left without a replacement. The Prisma was a nice car, but it was a C-segment sedan; size-wise (and engine-wise), it wasn’t competing with the Audi 80 B2, the second-generation Opel Ascona/Vauxhall Cavalier or the BMW E30, but with the VW Jetta and the Opel Kadett E/second-generation Vauxhall Astra. Ditto the Dedra, which was built on the Tipo/Tempra platform.

      I’m of a good mind to say the Beta floorpan was ritually sacrificed due to some sort of panic. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if it was confirmed that Lancia or Fiat administration ordered this floorpan to be axed in order to disconnect future Lancias from the Beta in the public mind: the car’s reputation was ruined. Car “journalists” have never been above reproducing and amplifying falsehoods, especially if they know they can get away with it, after having built a Ben Shapiro-esque cult following with their “edgy” writing that appeals to their readers’ need to feel superior (both in terms of nationalism and in terms of snobbish tribalism as car aficionados) – and British car writers of the time were the authorities for their counterparts in other European countries. If they wrote something, it was viewed as some sort of gospel. The same applied for That’s Life!, which, as mentioned earlier, was on the BBC. Therefore, in the public mind, if it was said by a BBC host, it was true.

      Speaking of which, the Beeb is among the many media that have played a very detrimental role regarding public health, with the way it’s amplified frauds like Andrew Wakefield, and we’ve yet to see anyone apologize, much less get fired for this:

      So yes, I can understand why Fiat would panic and try to put the Beta in the past and never mention it again. This, however, doesn’t mean the Beta’s floorpan needed to be axed completely. It could be redesigned to remove the water traps that sent so many Betas to the scrapper, and quietly reused in a new model – perhaps even touted as an “all-new” platform that “leverages Lancia’s innovative suspension technology”. I’m just throwing in my $0.02 here.

    5. It´s been years since I watched BBC news but when I do I often see false equivalence on all but the most clear cut cases. There are exceptions (the late evening radio show on R4) but the TV news often includes either both sides where one side consists of loonies (Christopher Monckton allowed to get away with a remark like “Africa needs to burn plenty of coal”) or else one side and the journalist´s questions are weak.
      I used to accept Car magazine´s opinions uncritically. Often there was excellent reasoning and some genuinely interesting articles. Too often (Richard Bremner springs to mind) the aim of the game was to deliver full-strength overstatements.
      Yes – the Prisma, Dedra and Lybra were more like offerings for the Jetta market. Then again, the Thema and Kappa were more like Passat-sized cars. Fiat´s Tempra was definitely not a Mondeo/Passat competitor yet was presented as such. Fiat didn´t offer a proper Sierra/Passat/Ascona type car for decades. After the ill-starred Croma they gave up in 1991. The Tempra took up the reins (sort of).

    6. Richard: …and then, Lancia launched the underdeveloped and rushed 2008 Delta III, whose wheelbase put it somewhere between the Audi A3 and A4.

  2. Good morning Eóin. A very thoughtful and fair assessment and conclusion, thank you. I think it is right to celebrate the Beta family for the tremendous design and engineering achievement it represented in the circumstances. Far from being a rushed, underdeveloped tin box (to paraphrase a comment I read elsewhere) the Beta was a fine car, undermined by one fatal flaw.

  3. One point I should probably clarify – I am not necessarily sure if the Beta platform had a whole lot of development potential past 1984 – in some ways it was starting to look a bit tired and a new replacement platform – perhaps a scaled-down Tipo Quattro – seems in hindsight like a wise idea.

    In many ways the Beta’s technical specification was way ahead of its time and well up to speed even for the mid-1980s, but in other respects the car was was very much a product of the early 1970s. Probably the most significant failing was in overall body rigidity – as has been discussed before here at DTW, torsional strength was never a particular strong point of the first-generation Camuffo Lancias, which is probably the single thing that most dates the driving experience of a Beta or Gamma. This also has ramifications for the (slightly) higher expectations for safety that were starting to emerge in the 1980s.

    But another significant point is that the Beta was also very early ’70s in the way it was engineered for production. That is to say, it was designed before a time when robotics were mainstream. If you look at the way any Beta variant is put together compared to a Thema or post-1982 Delta, it’s clear there is a huge amount of labour-intensive finishing work that might have been okay during the 1970s but would have been chronically inefficient for the 1980s – the 10 or 12 years the Beta was on the market were a time of really rapid gains in manufacturing efficiency and consistency, and I am not sure that platform as such would have been viable for another generation.

    1. A downsized (perhaps merely in terms of wheelbase) Tipo Quattro platform does sound like a nice idea. Mind you, a floorpan can always be reinforced where necessary: especially if you have a CAD/CAE/CAM solution at your factory, you can specify thicker or thinner steel, you can change the shape of all sorts of sections, you can specify different steel alloys, and the only real limitation is cost (computational and related to testing and manufacturing). So, either your idea or a re-engineered version of the Beta’s floorpan could work – perhaps even allowing for a 4WD version, why not?

    2. Stradale: An interesting point regarding the Beta/ Trevi platform’s torsional rigidity. I recall reports that during the Tipo Quattro programme (which was lead by Lancia I believe) one of the areas where Saab was unhappy was the level of body rigidity – (this being more critical one imagines with a hatchback bodyshell). As we know, Saab went their own way with the 9000. Lending further credence to this are reports at the time of the second-series Thema’s launch that the bodyshell had been beefed up to ‘improve refinement’. This suggests the problem was somewhat endemic amid the ‘Camuffo Lancias’.

      As to the Beta’s genesis, I totally accept that its unlikely that Fiat Auto had a suitable platform simply knocking about, but surely you would concede that the timescale for the Beta was by any standards, let alone a sophisticated and complex programme like this, staggeringly short.

      Given the importance of the domestic market to Fiat Auto/ Lancia, and the failure of the Gamma to make any discernible impact upon the E-segment (as it is now known), it does seem somewhat counter-intuitive to have developed a larger car in the Thema, when something closer to Beta size was probably closer to ideal, in Italy at least. Yes, the Thema sold well in other European markets (and Fiat clearly had ambitions in this area), but with hindsight, it does seem a bit of a waste of resources.

      I do feel that one of the nails in Lancia’s coffin (under Fiat) was a lack of consistency. The customer rarely knew whether he was coming or going.

    3. “As to the Beta’s genesis, I totally accept that its unlikely that Fiat Auto had a suitable platform simply knocking about, but surely you would concede that the timescale for the Beta was by any standards, let alone a sophisticated and complex programme like this, staggeringly short.”

      Yes and no. Bear in mind it was more like three years total gestation – the closest I can find to a consensus on a start point for the program was January 1970, and presentation was at the Turin Show in November 1972. Clearly, while this isn’t an unlimited amount of time, it is also sufficient – and Camuffo et al. were well aware that they couldn’t do everything themselves, hence why certain shortcuts were taken (like the adoption of the Lampredi twink). They also borrowed the gearbox – in the Beta it’s taken from a CX, with an extra gear added. Just under three years seems tight-ish but feasible to me to develop a new car if you aren’t having to design an all-new mechanical package from scratch for it. Back in those days, of course, there wasn’t an endless checklist of regulation that needed to be met and signed off on, either…

      I do think the Thema made sense at the time – and to be fair it was a reasonably successful model. As much as anything, I think the Thema was important to re-establish credibility for the Fiat Group in the upper echelons of the marketplace. It wasn’t just the Beta rust issue that had tarnished the reputation, but the Gamma’s jumping belts, too (and various other foibles to boot). Recall that all of this was undertaken with Lancia positioned in the Fiat hierarchy essentially as Toyota’s Lexus – Ferrari was in the Fiat orbit, of course, but essentially its own little universe, particularly with Enzo still calling the shots; Alfa was still state-owned and struggling; and Maserati was jumping from warranty claim to warranty claim with, probably, a generalised assumption in Turin it was not long for this world. Back then I suppose it would have been internally unthinkable for Fiat – Europe’s largest producer at that point – not to have a presence in the executive segment, when literally everyone else did.

  4. Would agree that the Beta / Trevi hit the market sweet-spot only for the issues to cause Lancia to retreat from the segment.

    There is some appeal in the idea of a shrunken D-Segment sized Type Four platform being developed to replace the Beta, in place of Lancia restoring to C-Segment derived saloons. Yet maybe there was some potential for the Beta platform to have been further updated to remain in production towards the late-1980s up to the early/mid-1990s, similar to the Chrysler L (Horizon/Omni) platform, Chrysler K platform (a number of models remaining in production till 1994-1995) as well as the Alfa Romeo Alfasud / 33?

    Do wonder what would have been the best way to resolve the conundrum of the time period between the Fulvia (from its demise in 1973 despite some variants continuing until 1976) and the introduction of its 1979 Delta / 1982 Prisma successors?

    Did the Fiat’s problems with the fuel crisis and Beta’s issues unnecessarily prolonged the development gestation and introduction of the Delta / Prisma? Could the aging Fulvia have been given a short-term update / rebody (if not something more extensive) to help tide Lancia over in this segment until the appearance of an earlier Delta / Prisma?

    1. “Could the aging Fulvia have been given a short-term update / rebody (if not something more extensive) to help tide Lancia over in this segment until the appearance of an earlier Delta / Prisma?” In principle yes but I expect Fiat´s counters of beans didn´t like the fundamental construction methods. But if they´d held their nose a rebody might have worked. Lancia customers would not have minded and it would have kept them in the fold – better lose some rather than all!

    2. That also leads to the question of whether it would have been more expedient for a rebodied Fulvia to have carried over the V4 or if feasible (and on cost grounds) somehow modified to accept Lanciafied Fiat-based engines, be it the Twin-Cam as already used in the Beta or (slightly enlarged) Lancia fettled versions of the smaller likely lighter 128 SOHC (possibly featuring 16-valves and DOHC like on the mid-1990s Bravo/Brava)?

    3. I have some misgivings regarding the idea of facelifting or rebodying the Fulvia. For starters, in places outside Italy, people have always prefered larger, more spacious and, most importantly, more impressive cars. People do tend to think bigger is better, you know – that’s why the SUV came to rule the roost. Another problem with this idea is that the Fulvia could perhaps be viewed as “too upright” in terms of styling, which wasn’t exactly what buyers were looking for at the time. So, something would need to be done to make it appear lower, longer, and sleeker. Then, there were safety considerations that weren’t there when the Fulvia was introduced: the B-pillars now needed to be thicker in order to provide a more secure anchoring point for the seatbelts. Richard is 10000% right when he mentions Fiat’s bean counters. Myself, I’m no “reduce cost at all costs” person, but both the V4 and the way the Fulvia’s body were constructed were very costly. Redesigning either of them would perhaps be as costly as developing a brand-new model, if not more. Mind you, the V4 also seemed to be limited as to the maximum displacement it could have. Would a mere superficial facelift cut it? I’m afraid it wouldn’t – people would see right through it. Finally, the Beta’s rear suspension set-up was country miles ahead of what the Fulvia and the Flavia had.

    4. I thought the Fulvia and Flavia had quite well-worked out suspension? Fulvia: “An independent suspension in front used wishbones and a single leaf spring, while a beam axle with a panhard rod and leaf springs was used in back.” The Flavia had unequal length wishbones at the front. Wikipedia doesn´t say what the rear had. The Beta achieved a lot with its McPhersons all around. Boring but very effective, seemingly. I´ve tried the Trevi and it is satisfactory.

    5. Richard, people tend to look at McPherson struts and say “ew, that’s too pedestrian”, but they’re usually fine. I remember the piece you guys had on the Lybra, which didn’t feature the Alfa 147/156/GT’s double wishbones and went with McPhersons instead.

    6. I don’t think there was any feasibility in rebodying or even canopy-lifting the Fulvia (it wouldn’t have made any economic sense), but even allowing it to soldier on until 1973 or so would perhaps have given Camuffo’s engineers a little more breathing space with Beta development, which may have benefitted the finished product. (Not that this always works out, but still…)

      Richard: The Flavia also employed a beam axle at the rear. It was quite well located and seemed perfectly satisfactory. Not what you’d ideally specify, but since the rear wheels were neither driven, nor steered, it sufficed. Lancia had a long and illustrious record with making leaf springs work well, going back to the Aurelia.

    7. In the Fulvia Coupé cutaway I posted earlier, I see a steering column that doesn’t look like it’s collapsible. This doesn’t look like it’d cut it in the 1970s, when passenger protection during an accident started becoming a desirable quality in a car.

    8. Konstantinos: true, we do have a bias for fancy solutions when ordinary ones work well. Here we are pouring out affection for Lancia and forget the Opel and Ford offer perfectly good cars for reasonable money that run and run and run. The Lybra has Mackers at the front and a multi-link suspension at the back. It rode very well.

    9. In the absence of a substantial Fulvia rebody, the only other alternatives to replace it earlier on would have been either via a shortened C-Segment sized Beta platform or a slightly enlarged 128 platform (both of around Fiat 124-size).

      And while it is easy to envision such a car featuring a similar length to both the FWD Autobianchi A111 and previous Fulvia Berlina to slot below the Beta, wheelbase is a much trickier question since the 128 apparently had a 96-inch wheelbase while the Beta’s wheelbase was around 100-inches (depending on model apart from Montecarlo) with the Fulvia Berlina’s wheelbase being about 97.6-inches.

    10. Is there some reason one could not add 4 inches to the 128 wheelbase? It´s a FWD car so all one does is add some length to the floorpan; the bulkhead and engine are not affected. Maybe width is a problem – the 128 was from 1969 so must have been narrow enough. I had to google it to remind me which one the 128 was. There are 5 for sale on Autoscout and one of them is a 3-door estate (that most marginal of variants!). The 3 door estate could easily be revived and sold as a sporting shooting brake. Imagine a Ford Focus 3-door estate? Or a Golf 3 -door estate. I reckon Kia or Hyundai would do it. They seem to be a fun pair of brands. Or Suzuki.

    11. I think the short answer is that while anything is ‘technically’ possible, updating the Fulvia in any meaningful way wouldn’t have provided any return and would have just been a distraction for an already-pressured and relatively small engineering team. Not only was Lancia losing money on every car it sold (I suspect, the real reason the Pesenti cars were axed so quickly), Fiat’s budgets were under pressure during this period – the late sixties were a time of ongoing strikes and wage inflation for the company.

      Basically, I think Fiat’s initial approach to Lancia was to be relatively hands-off in terms of interference, but with a clear underlying message – we have given you the money to develop the Beta, we trust you know what you are doing, but ultimately, this is a business, not a charity, and we expect to see a return. Similar to BMW with Rover, in some ways, only we know what happened there.

      The whole V4 thing was also starting to get to the end of the development road by 1970 as well. There never was any real way around the restricted breathing issues inherent in a narrow-angle V4 so even if Lancia had managed to stay independent and solvent, moving to an in-line layout on engineering grounds would have only been a matter of time.

    12. Fiat indeed ran a cost saving programme on the Fulvia Coupé to create the S3. Reduced thickness for the sheet metal, a single row timing chain and many more cost cutting measures. What they could not change was the expensive front suspension (identical between Flavia and Fulvia, as was the rear suspension) with cast aluminium turrets carrying the wishbones and leaf spring that in turn were bolted to the subframe.
      The need to carry over the Flavia’s front end was the reason for the breathing restrictions of the V4 – there simply never was enough room for a free flow exhaust manifold and even the competition cars had to make do with sub-optimal exhaust systems and lack of room for carburettors.
      The V4 must have cost an enormous sum to build. Working on the bores needs special machinery and painstaking positioning of the block, the way the crankshaft carrier and the block are stitched together with numerous bolts, the multitude of small parts in the valve gear, all that is time consuming and needs specialised manual work. And yes, the engine could not be further enlarged because the 1,600cc versions already had wafer thin material around the bottom ends of their bores despite of the smaller V angle because those bores were set wider apart at the bottom.

  5. Thanks Eóin, and of course Daniel, for these generous pieces
    on the so-near and so-far Beta, which just might have stabilized
    Lancia’s fortunes at a critical time. and thanks Eóin for reminding
    us that wisdom – here in the words of Hazlitt – lives mostly in the past.
    I first read about the Beta in the pages of Motor Sport in the 70s, and
    particularly admired the Coupé, its simple and pleasing proportions.
    In 1987, coming to end of my motorcycling days, I tried to find a 105
    series Alfa GTV, but couldn’t afford a good one, so settled for a Beta
    Coupé, a 1977 2000. In four years it clocked up 110,000 km, mostly on
    the then-notorious Calder highway twixt central Victoria and Melbourne.
    It handled foul weather and constant roadworks very well, always stable
    and relaxed, its engine – maximum torque at 2,500 rpm – flexible, grunty,
    if lacking Alfa zing and quick throttle reponse. I tired of the heavy clutch
    and heavy steering, and the unreliability of everything except the engine.
    Then Fate intervened. It had always been my understanding that when
    the Beta range was designed it had to comply with new European crash
    regulations (can anyone verify that, Dave perhaps?), so I was suitably
    impressed on the day, last in the queue at a railway crossing, a big Ford
    rear-ended the Beta at quite some speed (the three cars ahead also had
    to be towed away), and the doors still opened and shut properly and I could
    step out and abuse the villain. I had only mild whiplash – thanks to nicely
    supportive seats – very good lumbar support – and good head rests.
    So maybe the Beta platform was very good indeed.
    In normal times Lancia lovers find consolation every two years when
    many, many Lancias from all around Australia and beyond gather in this
    old country town, an extraordinary show. But not this year, another Delta
    has just now arrived. Thanks to all here for their thinking and writing.

    1. Lorender – I’m pleased that the Beta protected you. Much better than a motorbike, although these things can get out of the way in circumstances where there’s no possibility of 1½ tons of metal six feet wide avoiding the collision. I wasn’t long into my forties when I realised that I did fear death, and four wheels were the best policy.

      Apart from the widely reported drawing office error which unfortunately made it to production unchecked, it does look as if the Beta bodywork was well engineered. GM used Beta Berlina bodies for the early FWD X-body development hacks, and not just because they were around the right size.

  6. Thanks Robertas. I too was in my early forties when I decided
    that I’d used up too many of my nine lives and reverted to
    four wheels. I had sixteen years on a succession of Ducatis
    & utterly loved the whole experience, but enough was enough.

  7. Again, I’ve got nothing but praise for the articles. Would someone be so kind as to explain PARDEVI, though? Or at least point me to a reliable source? Clearly it’s some type of venture between Citroen and Fiat, but what was the context? Was Michelin involved? (ostensibly, as Citroen’s then-owner). There’s so much mystique yet I’ve nary a clue of the implications!

    1. Alexander: To put it simply, the PARDEVI agreement was a commercial alliance between Fiat Auto and Citroen/Michelin, where Fiat took a 49% share of Citroen’s business. Michelin was keen to reduce or eliminate their financial liabilities towards the French carmaker and Fiat was a willing suitor, for a variety of reasons. The intention, certainly from Agnelli’s side was to assume full control in the fullness of time. However, despite some early promise, very little in fact came of it, and owing to Citroen’s unwillingness to share hardware and technical intelligence, a change of heart in Turin and some alleged reluctance on the part of the French government, the agreement foundered in 1973 – Michelin subsequently buying back the Fiat-owned shares.

    2. Very kind, thanks! I see now why the implications of a Citroen-affiliated Lancia are so prevalent on this site! What a merger of minds that would have been, or clash of titans if things soured. With how Lancia’s withered, it’s hard to say if Citroen would have faced a better fate there than with PSA. A moot point now that they’re all part of mega-PARDEVI née Stellantis. It’s still so mid-century romantic to me that Michelin, France’s biggest tire manufacturer, once owned the world’s leader in smooth-riding automotive technology. What a pity that era had to end! Michelin saw Citroen through the best of eras and undoubtedly was the coolest parent.

    3. Alexander, a large part of the blame should be laid on Pierre Bercot’s door; rather than focus on developing a C-segment breadwinner for Citroën, he was obsessed with creating the SM. Despite its magnificent styling and its technological and technical brilliance, this car was irrelevant to the masses; its initiation showed utter blindness on behalf of Bercot and the rest of the Board, as it’s painfully obvious he wasn’t reading the newspapers regarding tensions in the Middle East and couldn’t be bothered to ask his country’s diplomats what these tensions would mean w.r.t. fuel prices and, therefore, the viability of cars like the SM.

    4. I cannot hate Bercot for the SM, otherwise it would not exist. It may have been a dismal sales success, but the world is richer for its existence. I don’t even feel bad saying that because the GS became a legend in its own right and finally provided Citroen with a ‘midliner’ entry which it has historically always struggled with. The real question is whether Fiat having control at Citroen would even have been good anyway, what with their ruination of Lancia. At least with PSA it’s got nationalism on its side if nothing else, though of course Stellantis has created this post-modernist PARDEVI for us all.

    5. The SM was a magnificent car indeed. However, there was a gaping hole in Citroën’s line-up of epic proportions – one that gaped so badly that it could only be compared to a certain well-known, but totally NSFW, internet meme. And this gaping hole was ignored for far too long. The way I see it, had Citroën introduced something that could serve as the GS’s predecessor (perhaps something with a Panhard body, a flat-four, and suspensions derived either from the 2CV or the ID), they could have more money at their disposal to develop the SM and its V6 to make it utterly reliable from the get-go.

    6. The loss of Panhard was pretty unreasonable, I’ll give you that, as they pretty well had that niche filled before Citroen swooped in and put an end to it; you’re right that they should have at least tried a rebadge of sorts to fill the market, but I wonder if the Maserati V6 would have always been a flawed project, given that it was done by a desperate Maserati and Citroen was rather flush with cash at the time (or at least not shy about spending it), even if that was merely an illusion.

    7. Given that later SMs were actually quite dependable, and their engine problems had been sorted, perhaps Citroën should have thrown cash Maserati’s way to make the engine reliable rather than just make it.

    8. Konstantinos: The Maserati 114 series engine was in general, quite robust. According to reputable accounts from those involved, the chain tensioner issue was identified quite quickly at Viale Ciro Menotti and engineers soon established a robust fix, but were blocked by Citroen management in actioning it – being instructed to simply repair the affected engines. Citroen appeared to have been riven by politics and once Bercot had left, the SM was out on a limb, unwanted by a large swathe of Quai de Javel management. Interestingly, the Maserati Merak engines used the revised tensioner and avoided these problems.

      The problem for Maserati was not a lack of money – Citroen had been rather generous in fact – but more that in the wake of Bercot’s departure, they were viewed with at best, indifference. And after October 1973, they became collateral damage to Citroen’s own agonies.

    9. That’s really interesting. Of course, the oil crisis certainly helped Bercot’s opponents make the SM into a bit of a scapegoat… Mind you, my view of Bercot isn’t favorable.

    10. Even before 1973, the SM proved a rather divisive programme within Citroen. Some of this was recounted in a DTW series on the subject. Bercot is an interesting one. He was certainly someone who one either admired or despised. I think there is a case to be made against his leadership, yet without him, Citroen might not have been the creative powerhouse it became during this period.

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