The Lancia Beta was a car produced by Lancia. It was the first Lancia produced by the company after it had been taken over by Fiat in 1969. The company chose the name Beta for a new vehicle to be launched in 1972. The choice of name symbolised a new beginning as it reflected the fact that the company’s founder, Vincenzo Lancia (1881-1937), utilized letters of the Greek alphabet for his early vehicles (Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta, etc). Beta had been used before for Lancia’s 1908 car and again for a 1953 bus! Lancia had originally utilized the first letter of the Greek alphabet: Alpha. But this was not chosen for the new 1972 Lancia, due to the obvious confusion it might cause with a certain Milanese competitor called Alfa Romeo.
The Beta was available in a number of different body styles: 1. The most popular bodystyle was the four-door saloon or sedan, which had the wedge-shaped appearance of a hatchback but in fact had a conventional boot. Late in the saloon’s life it underwent a drastic reworking with assistance from Pininfarina and became known as the Beta Trevi. 2. The second style to appear was a two door coupé. 3. The next version to be launched was a two door convertible called the Spider (or Zagato in America). The Spider featured a Targa top roof panel, a roll-over bar and folding rear hood. The Spider was designed by Pininfarina but actually built by Zagato. 4. Then came a three-door shooting brake called the HPE. HPE stood for High Performance Estate and then later on stood for High Performance Executive. 5. The final variant was the Pininfarina designed and built two door Lancia Monte Carlo. This was a rear wheel drive mid engined two seater sportscar.
All versions of the car came with DOHC engines, five speed gearboxes, rack and pinion steering, independent suspension all round and disc braking on all four wheels. The front wheel drive models were available in a number of engine capacities ranging from 1.3 L to 2.0 L.
The different models all underwent various revisions and improvements over the years.Power steering specially produced by the German company ZF became available on certain Left Hand Drive models and was also used on the Gamma. Electronic ignition became available in 1978. Automatic transmission became available in 1979; the Beta was the first Lancia manufactured with an automatic transmission factory option. In 1981 power steering also became available on certain Right Hand Drive models. Late in the model’s life the Trevi, Coupe and HPE became available with a Rootes-type supercharger; these variants were known as Volumex models.
For some the Beta could never be a true Lancia, because of its use of the Fiat based engine. However, it must be remembered that the Fiat DOHC engine (originally designed by Aurelio Lampredi, who built engines for Ferrari until Fiat employed him) was one of the most advanced 4 cylinder engines in the world at that time. It is now regarded as a classic engine in its own right.
Nevertheless the Beta was well received by the motoring press and public when launched. The various models were praised for their lively performance as well as their good handling and roadholding. They were widely regarded as a “driver’s car” with plenty of character. The Beta was competitively priced and became the highest ever selling Lancia model up to that point.
Unfortunately a combination of poor quality steel, poor rust proofing and poor quality paint techniques at the factory lead to the Beta gaining a reputation for being rust-prone. Particularly the 1st Series vehicles. Whilst later Betas were better protected from the elements, these issues damaged the whole marque’s sales success on most export markets.
Production ran from 1972 until 1984.