In Italy the beautiful Lancia Beta Coupe was available in 1600 or 1800 engined forms, and with the normal coupe body, a HPE station wagon/Estate or as a Spyder, which featured a hood arrangement simlar to that of the BMW 2002
The company chose the name Beta as it symbolised a new beginning reflected by 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 and Delta. Alpha was not chosen for the new 1972
Lancia due to the obvious confusion it might cause with Alfa Romeo
There were little differences between the 1600 and 1800. Apart from the obvious difference in capacity and output, the 1600 had a different final drive ratio, the use of a 200mm instead of 215mm clutch, and the fitment of SR instead of the 1800's HR rated tyres. In some markets, the 1600 was even fitted as standard with the 5H x 14 in. alloy road wheels which were attached only to the 1800 in Italy.
Mechanically the front wheel drive
Beta Coupe was almost identical to the Beta saloon introduced in late 1972
. But it was 105 kg. lighter, 295mm shorter, 40mm narrower, 115mm lower, 190mm shorter in the wheelbase and a whole lot sexier. In both cases Fiat's established and dependable twin-cam four-cylinder engine was used, fitted transversely and canted at 20 degrees towards the driver.
Raising the commpression ratio from 8.9 to 1 to 9.8 to 1 increased the power output from the 1600 saloon's 100 b.h.p. DIN @ 6,000 r.p.m. and 95 lb./ft. torque at 3,000 r.p.m. to 106 b.h.p. DIN @ 6,000 r.p.m. and 99 lb./ft. torque @ 4,500 r.p.m. for the 1600 Coupe. The 1800 Coupe gave 117 b.h.p. @ 6,200 r.p.m. and 111 lb./ft. torque @ 4,500 r.p.m. Both engines were fitted with single, twin-choke, downdraught Weber or Solex carburetters.
Chosing the coupe over the sedan did not mean the rear seat passengers were downgraded to second class, the shaped rear bucket seats being comfortable enough, with each having its own headrest. One cause of concern with several road-testers of the day was with the low gearing of the steering, making it a toil for around-town work, and lacking adequate castor return and so necessitating rapid feeding on and off of lock.
Strangely, this low gearing did not help with low speed parking, where the steering
remained fairly heavy. Parking was further hampered by a tail-end totally hidden from the driver. Rapid getaways resulted in prodigious wheellspin as weight transfer lifted some of the load off the front wheels. Torque reaction through the driveshafts under hard acceleration, particullarly out of sharp corners and between gears, could create some pull on the steering
and slight snaking.
"Arm-Strong" Steering At Low Speed Better Suited To The Twisty Stuff
The engine noise was another disappointment, as when working hard the twin-cam shouted its presence with induction and mechhanical noise, made worse by excessive tappet clearances. But to dwell too long on these few shortcomings does less than justice to the Beta Coupe. Like the more exotic Italian thoroughhbreds of the day, the Beta coupe was at its best when driven fast and properly. Out on the twisty stuff, the previously criticised rack-and-pinion steering
became light and very positive, and directional stability was excellent - although you still needed to fight some torque reaction. The Beta Coupe could devour very high cornering speeds, the McPherson strut suspension
exercising good wheel control. It was a very well-balanced f.w.d. coupe, almost indistinguishable from rear-wheel-drive on fast roads of gently sweepping bends, in spite of all the weight being up front.
Under normal circumstances the car understeered, less excessively than most f.w.d. cars, and the front tyres
had exceptional grip. Drive it hard enough on the right lines round the right radius bend and you could even find a touch of oversteer, something which can be artiificially induced at other times by lifting off the throttle momentarily. Its stability, "chuckaibility" and tremendous adhesion made for a very fast car indeed. And like the Fulvia Coupe
, this Beta inherited astonishiing fade free, four-wheel "Superduplex" disc brakiing, slightlly over-served on initial acquaintance. There was a pad wear/handbrake warning light on the facia.
The ride was stiff, but not unduly harsh.
The five gearbox ratios were all indirect and nicelly spaced, giving 31 m.p.h., 71 m.p,.h. and 94 m.p.h. in the lower gears. A ratio of 0.925: 1 fifth was technically an overdrive, but the low final drive suggested an even higher "cruising" ratio would have been preferable. The noise level was just about the only criticism that could be levelled at the 80 mm. bore, 79.2 mm. stroke, 1,592 c.c. engine, which has its clutch, gearbox and differential housed in a single unit co-axial with the crankshaft.
There was not a great deal of punch below 3,500 r.p.m. and a noticeable step in delivery occured at 5,000 r.p.m., yet it was flexilble enough to ensure it wasn't a chore at low speed. In spite of two gear changes, 0-60 m.p.h. came up in 10.2 sec. Maximum speed was about 110 m.p.h. and 100 m.p.h. a perfectly happy cruising speed. The Beta Coupe also came standard with some useful accessories, including an oil level gauge, oil pressure and temperature gauges; a rechargeable torch, underbonnet lighting, electric colling fan, Unus air-horns, four excellent Halogen headlights, adjustable steering
cdlumn, two-speed and intermittent wipers. Unfortunately this was somewhat let down by the low-rent plastic facia, and the instruments were poorly caliibrated.
The velvet-covered seats were more comfortable and gripped the driver better than the vinyl seats, but the backrests on both varities were too short for tall drivers. Style and performance were not all that this suave Italian offered, the fuel economy usually bettering 30 mpg on a country trip and not much under when in heavy traffic. Yes, the Lancia was not without its faults, but it featured beautiful lines, great all-round performance and quickly became a very desirable machine.
The Lancia Beta Coupe in Australia
The name of Lancia, then and now, evokes an image of spirited performance and Continental charm. That was the traditional base upon which the Italians sold their cars, and Lancia was no exception. Australians, though, had been turning away from Lancia in favour of products from the Nipponese. By the mid 1970s there had been a dramatic sales slump in Lancia volume, from 449 in 1979
to only 68 in 1984
. It was not a healthy sign for a marque that had never really enjoyed good sales in Australia. Lancia devotees might suggest the figures confirm the belief that Aussies had (and still have) no taste when it comes to cars. Tradition was one thing - and Lancia was steeped in automotive history - but when you were up against the Japanese juggernaught even maintaining a foothold was a difficult task.
The Beta coupe was the sportiest of the two Lancia models available in Australia, and remained on sale for over a decade. By the mid 1980s that made it something of an antique, particularly by Japanese standards, though since it first landed in Australian showrooms in 1975
it did undergo a series of modest engineering and cosmetic updates. The basic shape remained unchanged and weathered well. At launch the Beta boasted impressive mechanicals; a lively twin overhead-cam four cylinder driving the front wheels, four-wheel discs, fully independent suspension
and tenacious roadholding. Originally a 1.8-litre, the engine was stretched to 2.0-litres in 1976
. There was a revised dash in mid-1979
and then the circular quad headlights and new grille in 1983
The Beta Coupe was essentially a driver-oriented car, however in the early 1980s to keep pace with Japanese rivals Lancia were forced to introduce electric front windows and a Pioneer AM/FM stereo sound system. Another survival weapon in the Beta coupe's battle with the Japanese was its price tag. It was an example of the Lancia's diminishing appeal that the coupe was on the market for around $K17 in 1985 - significantly cheaper than the Mazda RX7
, Mitsubishi Starion
, Toyota Supra,
Honda Prelude and even its fellow Italian, the Alfa GTV
. Alongside slugs like the Nissan Gazelle and Toyota Celica
, many of the Beta's attributes shone like beacons. The venerable long-stroke 2.0-litre four with the familiar dual-barrel Weber was on the money in 1976
, however as the years passed it probably wasn't as efficient as some of the then new-generation 1980s engines out of Japan. But till the end the engine offered proven reliability and produced 84 honest kiloWatts.
Handy torque made it one of the more attractive 2.0-litres around and it pulled all the way from about 2000 rpm to the 6200 rpm red line. At launch the Beta's performance was impressive; by the end however there was some real competition, such as that from the mighty Mitsubishi Cordia Turbo
which set new standards for both price and performance. The Beta still managed mid-17s for the standing 400 metres - which wasn't so bad. Certainly the gearing, which made no real concession to economy, helped. A slight exhaust rasp was acceptable, even desirable, in a car with sporting pretensions. But primitive noise insulation allowed the sounds of the engine to intrude into the passenger compartment. It was a reminder of the Beta coupe's vintage.
There was a comforting robust feel about the manual five-speeder although the easy-glide action of the typical Japanese box was missing. Steering, braking and handling
were still benchmark material for a front-drive car. Firm damping and springs
meant most of the usual front-wheel drive
characteristics were obscured, and under heavy braking there was an absence of the awful nose dive often prevailing in many of the Japanese cars from this era. Grip, courtesy of Pirelli P6s, was splendid. Handling was almost neutral until the car was pushed to extremes. That's when the obligatory understeer appeared.
Give the Beta its head on a stretch of driver's highway, and its practical deficiencies could be temporarily overlooked. The belated addition of power steering in late 1984 banished two previous deficiencies in older Betas. Gone was the prominent torque-steer characteristics that marred driveability for the enthusiast, and too-heavy steering that alienated potential women customers. The steering transformed into one of the best of any front-wheel drive
car. Direct, but with plenty of desirable road feel, only a poor turning circle spoilt the total effect. Perhaps, then, the only reason to shop Japanese were the quality control problems associated with Italian cars. The quality of paintwork was a lingering criticism, along with a susceptibility to rust. Lancia claimed to have overcome both problems and the finish of mid 1980s Betas was claimed to be a vast improvement.