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 — such as Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta, and so on. "Beta" had been used before, for Lancia’s 1908 car and again for a 1953 bus. Lancia had previously 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 Alfa Romeo.
The most common body style was the four-door berlina (sedan), with a wheelbase of and the wedge-shaped appearance of a hatchback (certain models even had a rear wiper), although in fact it had a conventional boot like a saloon.
As with a number of previous front wheel drive Lancia models, the engine and gearbox were mounted on a subframe that bolted to the underside of the body. However, in the Beta the engine and gearbox were fitted transversely in line. This Fiat inspired configuration not only enabled neat engine bay packaging, but also, by tilting the engine 20 degrees rearwards, the Lancia engineers achieved improved weight transfer over the driven wheels and towards the centre of the car, as well as lowering the centre of gravity. The rear-wheel drive Lancia Montecarlo employed a similar layout except the subframe was mounted at the rear.
On the front-wheel drive Betas, Lancia designed a particularly original independent rear suspension with MacPherson struts attached to parallel transverse links that pivoted on a centrally mounted cross member bolted to the underside of the floorpan. An anti-roll bar was fitted to the floorpan ahead of the rear struts with both ends of the bar trailing back to bolt to the rear struts on each side. This unique design went on to be used in later Lancia models. Unfortunately the design was never patented by Lancia, and consequently inspired similar rear suspension system layouts in other manufacturers' vehicles during the 1980s and 1990s.
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 the same year; 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. Also in that year a fuel-injected version of the 2.0 litre engine became available on certain models.
Late in the model's life Lancia released the Trevi VX, with a Roots-type supercharger fitted between the carburettor and low-compression two-litre engine; the Coupé VX and HPE VX followed soon after. These three variants were known as Volumex models and had the highest performance of all the road-going production Betas, with and substantially increased torque over the normal two-litre . The Coupé VX and HPE VX can be distinguished from the normal cars by the offset bulge on the hood which is required to clear the new air intake, a spoiler fitted below the front bumper and the rubber rear spoiler. They also have stiffer spring rates. Lancia produced 1272 Coupé VX, 2370 HPE VX and 3900 Trevi VX. Most were left-hand drive (only 186 right-hand drive HPEs and around 150 RHD Coupés). Only one right-hand drive Trevi VX was made. A small number of Trevis were built to run on LPG rather than gasoline.
The main reason for the Fiat label was that despite its unique Lancia chassis, suspension, interior and bodywork, the Beta used a Fiat-based engine. It is important to note 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 Europe at that time. It continued in production well into the 1990s and, in highly developed form, was used in performance road cars such as the Lancia Delta Integrale and Fiat Coupé.
The Lancia engineers made changes to the engines fitted to the Beta range. These included a bespoke cylinder head which incorporated hemispherical combustion chambers, altered valve timing, new inlet and exhaust manifolds as well as different carburation. These modifications resulted in higher horse power and torque figures for the engines as used in the Beta. In addition the mounting points on the engine block were different to allow for the transverse installation as opposed to the longitudinal installation utilised by the rear wheel drive Fiats. For these reasons the engines are not interchangeable between Betas and contemporary Fiats such as the Fiat 132.
|1400||1972-74||I4 DOHC||1438 cc||carburettor|
|1600||1972-74||I4 DOHC||1592 cc||-||carburettor|
|1800||1972-74||I4 DOHC||1756 cc||-||carburettor|
|1300||1974-75||I4 DOHC||1297 cc||carburettor|
|1600||1975-84||I4 DOHC||1585 cc||carburettor|
|2000||1975-84||I4 DOHC||1995 cc||carburettor|
|1300||1976-79||I4 DOHC||1301 cc||carburettor|
|2000 i.e.||1980-84||I4 DOHC||1995 cc||fuel injection|
|2000 VX||1982-84||I4 DOHC||1995 cc||carburettor, supercharger|
Unfortunately a combination of poor quality steel (allegedly Russian steel supplied to Fiat in return for building the Lada factory, a claim that has never been proven, but is still widely circulated; it is far more likely that the problems with the metal itself had more to do with the prolonged strikes that plagued Italy at that time than with the metal's origin), poor rust prevention techniques (typical of almost all automobile manufacturers in the 1970s), and inadequate water drainage channels led to the Beta gaining a reputation for being rust-prone, particularly the 1st Series vehicles (built from 1972–75). The corrosion problems could be structural; for instance where the subframe carrying the engine and gearbox was bolted to the underside of the car. The box section to which the rear of the subframe was mounted could corrode badly causing the subframe to become loose. Although tales of subframes dropping out of vehicles were simply not true, a vehicle with a loose subframe would fail a technical inspection. In actuality, the problem affected almost exclusively 1st Series saloon models and not the Coupé, HPE, Spider or Montecarlo versions.
In the UK (Lancia's largest export market at the time) the company listened to the complaints from its dealers and customers and commenced a campaign to buy back vehicles affected by the subframe problem. Some of these vehicles were 6 years old or older and belonged to 2nd or 3rd owners. Customers were invited to present their cars to a Lancia dealer for an inspection. If their vehicle was affected by the subframe problem, the customer was offered a part exchange deal to buy another Lancia or Fiat car. The cars that failed the inspection were scrapped.
Sadly for Lancia, on 9 April 1980 the Daily Mirror and certain TV programmes such as That's Life! got wind of what Lancia was already doing to help its customers and embarked on a campaign to exaggerate the issue and humiliate the manufacturer. There were false claims that the problem persisted in later cars by showing photographs of scrapped 1st Series saloons, referring to them as being newer than five and six years old. Other contemporary manufacturers (British, French, Japanese and German) whose cars also suffered from corrosion were not treated as harshly. This was possibly because Lancia was seen as a luxury car brand at that time and consequently expectations were high. Ironically, Lancia had already introduced one year previously a 6-year anti-corrosion warranty - an automotive first in the UK. Whilst later Betas (2nd Series cars) had reinforced subframe mounting points and post-1979 cars were better protected from the elements, these issues damaged the whole marque's sales success on most export markets. However, thanks to its strong driver appeal, the Beta still enjoys a dedicated following today. Surviving examples make an interesting classic car choice for the enthusiast.
Jeremy Clarkson chose to buy a 1981 Lancia Beta Coupé for £1500, the only Lancia of any sort in Botswana, on a 1000-mile journey for a Top Gear special. The Beta had only done 29,000 miles, but due to poor maintenance and harsh conditions it was in extremely poor shape at the outset, and virtually died several times due to mechanical failures. Remarkably, it survived to the end, proving that cheap 2WD cars can deal with rough conditions successfully. Much of the bodywork was removed to save weight on the salt flats, and Clarkson renamed it the Lancia Beta Coupé Superleggera.
Photos of the Botswana Lancia Beta Coupe and Top Gear filming at Stanford Hall(Auto Italia Italian car day) Michelotti] produced three concept cars on Beta mechanicals. Two were sedans based on the Berlina -- one unusual in having four gull-wing doors -- the other was an open top two-seater based on the Coupé.
In 1980, Giorgetto Giugiaro built a concept car on Montecarlo mechanicals, called the Medusa. Unusually for a mid-engined car it had four doors, and the body was shaped to have a very low drag coefficient for the time.
Lancia built one very special variant of the Beta themselves. The twin-engined Trevi Bimotore was used for tests related to Lancia's new four-wheel drive rally cars; it was powered by one Volumex engine under the hood driving the front wheels, and another in the back driving the rear wheels, with air scoops in the rear doors. The two gearboxes were linked, and an electronically controlled throttle replaced the mechanical system so the two engines worked together.
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