Imagining a brighter alternative future for the Beta, and for Lancia.
In an alternative reality, the Beta berlina would not have suffered the structural corrosion problems that proved catastrophic to Lancia’s reputation and prospects. Instead, it would have evolved into a full range of models in its own right.
Lancia attempted to distance itself from the Beta by dropping that name from its coupé, spider, HPE and Montecarlo derivatives and choosing a new name, Trevi(1), for a three-volume saloon version of the Beta, launched in 1980.
Unfortunately, the styling of the latter was, in this writer’s opinion(2), handicapped by the decision to retain the Beta’s existing rear door window frame, the trailing edge of which was rather too upright to blend easily into the new C-pillar. A rear quarter-light window might have resolved the mismatch, but the designers instead chose to install an angular ventilation grille in this space.
Perhaps a four-light bodystyle was regarded as more prestigious than a six-light design because of the additional privacy it typically affords rear seat passengers? Moreover, the new rear windscreen was rather flat and angular, and sat uneasily against the rounded contours of the Trevi’s new front and rear end treatment.
Here is an alternative and more conventional proposal for a new three-box Beta II berlina, utilising the Trevi’s rear end, but with a six-light DLO and more curvature to the rear windscreen:
This would have lent itself easily to conversion into a handsome and capacious estate car:
By 1980, large five-door liftback designs were becoming more popular, following the launch of models such as the Rover SD1 in 1976 and Audi C2-generation 100 Avant in 1977. Lancia could have tapped into this growing market by adding such a version to the Beta II range:
Finally, four-seat pillarless formal coupé and cabriolet variants could have been built on a shorter wheelbase platform, similar to the one that underpinned the 2+2 coupé and spider models. This pair would have been natural competitors for the BMW E30 convertible and the (larger) Mercedes-Benz C124 coupé and A124 convertible:
Stylistically, the Beta II range would have sat comfortably alongside the smaller 1979 Delta hatchback and 1982 Prisma saloon, providing 1980’s Lancia buyers with an opportunity to trade up and remain faithful to the marque. Having a broad range of models based on a common platform in three different wheelbase lengths and sharing a high percentage of components would have ensured the economies of scale that had previously eluded Lancia.
This is, of course, now all just fantasy, but it is not difficult to imagine how the Beta, a handsome, comfortable and dynamically accomplished car, could have been evolved successfully. Lancia’s (over?) reaction to the corrosion issue was to scrap the Beta platform and abandon the D-segment completely(3). This decision(4) was arguably even more injurious to the company’s prospects than the corrosion issue per se and was one of a series of missteps that resulted in the company’s subsequent decline and near-extinction, a tragedy for Lancia and its many admirers.
(1) This was initially used as a suffix to the Beta name, but the latter was subsequently dropped and the model simply called Trevi.
(2) I must acknowledge that the Trevi has many admirers, not least amongst DTW’s contributors and readers.
(3) The Beta and Trevi’s nominal replacement was the Prisma, which was simply a booted version of the C-segment Delta hatchback. It was 140mm (5 1/2″) shorter, 90mm (3 1/2″) narrower and had a wheelbase 60mm (2 1/4″) shorter than the Trevi. The reduced width is the real giveaway that the Prisma was a smaller car trying to punch above its weight.
(4) A decision that may well have been taken by Fiat rather than Lancia, of course.