Like many CC readers I’m sure, I am a fan of Lancia cars, and after many years I finally made it to the Lancia Register rally which is held in the Victorian country town of Castlemaine every two years.
For the first article on this impressive gathering I will start with the newer cars and progress backwards; ok, this is because I will need to do some more research on the older and more obscure models, but that is a good a reason as any! Anyway, here is the newest car there, a 1993 Delta HF Evoluzione.
The badges on the rear (decal on rear window, badge on tailgate) are not shy about informing you about Lanica’s rallying success, as was seen on Lotuses and Jaguars during their heyday in F1 and Le Mans, respectively.
With such motorsport success these cars are revered and have a dedicated following which is why quite a few have been brought to Australia and converted to RHD when they were relatively young as was the case with the example above.
Speaking of right-hand drive, here is the interior of the Beta LX that was on display. Note the plastic is still on the door trims, with holes adjacent the grab handles – surely at some point you have to let go?
This is the engine bay of the LX – the HF’s had their bonnets closed! I gather the engines for the standard versions like this are based on Fiat’s smaller 1300-1600 cc SOHC 4-cylinder engines, revised by Lancia with different intakes & exhausts. There was a 1600 cc twin-cam GT version as well as a HF Turbo. The 4wd HF and HF Integrale had a 2.0 L DOHC Turbo, with power rising from 163-212 hp (121-158 kW) as development progressed from 1986 to 1993.
Because Lancia stopped selling cars in Australia back in the mid-1980’s with the Beta, and sold only Betas officially in its last 10 years, all of these newer models are private imports. That explains why I’d never seen a Lancia Thema sedan before that was not the special Ferrari-engined 8.32 model; after all if you are going to the expense and trouble of importing a car, there needs to be a reason! This one is from before the 1992 facelift, and has the 2.0 turbo which is not a bad option being essentially the same engine as the Delta HF Integrale. The shape of the doors of the Group Four car (Saab 9000/Fiat Croma/Alfa Romeo 164) are distinctive.
On the point of the lower-spec cars being overlooked, I had better not forget to include a photo of the Delta LX mentioned earlier. Without the flared wheel arches of the rally homologation cars it is still a sharp-looking car.
The Gamma Coupe is arguably one of the worst Lancias, having a few fairly significant teething issues, most notably a habit of shredding one of the timing belts and thus destroying its 2.5L flat-four engine when at full steering lock. It is not the most elegant design I’ve ever seen either, but does have a presence, and some interesting styling if nothing else. I doubt the few owners in Australia use their cars very often outside of Lancia club events; not that there is anything wrong with that!
On the other hand this 1981 Beta HPE is the (female) owner’s only car. The HPE combined the front styling of the coupe with the longer sedan wheelbase (100 in/2540 mm) and a unique shooting brake-style rear end. The roofline errs on the side of practicality over a sleeker fastback style, but I’m sure it makes for a more liveable car.
Next door was another private import, the Zagato-built (but still Pininfarina-designed) Spyder. The first glance at the ‘basket handle’ on this car will tell you it was developed during the early seventies when it seemed like convertible cars would be legislated away.
At this point I must include a ‘normal’ Beta coupe, if only to show the front end that I’ve referred to with the previous two cars. Almost the full gamut actually, complete with proof that they are not all red!
Here is a slightly closer look, this time a (non-red) 1982 HPE, wearing its original registration plate that indicates continuous registration from new. Judging by appearances, the car looks to be a well-cared for original, and I would not be surprised if it still has its original owner too.
Note the engine leans rearwards 20 degrees instead of the forward angle of the Delta, which must improve weight distribution. The first Betas we received in Australia in 1974 had the 1800 cc engine, and from 1976 this was replaced by a 2-litre. In other markets smaller engines were available, along with fuel injection from 1980 and a supercharged option that only gained 10% more power, from 1982-84. The engine was based on the Fiat DOHC engine but with a new cylinder head and different engine mounting points on the block to suit the transverse installation.
Here is an interior photo, albeit with a more modern aftermarket head unit and seat covers.
The Beta spun off another variant though, one that may be more familiar to US audiences under the Scorpion name although the rest of the world knew it as the Montecarlo. This was a mid-engined car featuring the Beta driveline.
The body was different enough to require a unique interior, that is a study in late-70s blockiness or in architectural terms Cubism.
Here is the rear view, where you may compare the rear of the Beta Coupe. As an aside, I don’t think a single Beta at the Rally had steel wheels, with the vast majority wearing the type shown above.
You may have realised that I had not yet featured the Beta sedan or Berlina that first launched the car in 1972, a year ahead of the Coupe. That is because although it likely was the highest selling body style overall, I doubt that was the case in Australia because the Coupe was offered for longer and certainly 30-40 years later the coupes and particularly the HPE’s have a much higher survival rate.
Personally I like the style of the Berlina, even if it is not the hatchback that the fastback roofline hints at. Like the Citroen GS or CX, early Alfa Romeo Alfasud or even Century/Cutlass Aerobacks it has a separate trunk lid. Unlike some of the others, this was not to change over the model run.
I will leave it at that for now, and next time we will go further back in time to the pre-Fiat days and the 1960s.
Curbside Classic: 1995 Lancia Dedra – The Name Tells You Everything (for a look at a Lancia after the era featured here)