So many cars; not enough time. Yohai Rodin has a seemingly endless stream of finds at the Cohort; they all deserve more time than I can give them at this hour, but I just can’t let this pristine US-spec Beta Coupe go unacknowledged. These were the first generation of new cars designed after Fiat bought Lancia in 1969, and were desperately needed to get the company back to profitability, something that had been lacking for way too long. Pre-Fiat Lancias, as exquisite as they inevitably were, inevitably were expensive to build. The Beta’s job was to change that equation.
The Beta sedan was the first of the family to appear. It used the Fiat DOHC four, now mounted transversely and driving the front wheels, as was the tradition at Lancia for some time in its smaller cars. As such, it was an innovative car; a modern roomy FWD sedan with a lively DOHC four. Here’s an interesting factoid: GM used Beta sedans as mules for its X-Body Citation during its development. And while they were at it, Chevy copied the design too.
The coupe arrived in 1973, followed by the Targa Spyder (Zagato, in the US). This one was caught by another Cohort poster, S. Forrest, in Canada, no less. The coupe in Israel looks a bit happier.
Here’s the back of the Spyder. Underneath the back end, Lancia used 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. The Betas were exceptionally good handlers for being FWD, given the times.
The final member of the family, the shooting-brake HPE, appeared in 1975. Inspired by other sporty wagons like the Volvo 1800ES and the Reliant Scimitar, it also sat on the longer wheelbase of the sedan, thus was reasonably roomy inside.
Unlike previous Lancias, these were marketed fairly aggressively in the US, and were quite common in Southern California during their run until 1984. It was an alternative to the BMW, and an attractive one at that. Interiors were handsome, with that inimitable Italian flair. Not surprisingly, they developed a bit of a spotty reputation, not unlike the Fiats (and a few other Europeans) of the times. It was undoubtedly a combination of factors, between the growing complexity of smog controls, the demand for air conditioning, and other new complex systems that smaller European manufacturers were challenged with, in their US-bound cars.
The basic mechanicals were mostly robust. The bodies not so much so, in terms of rustproofing. The first series Beta had serious corrosion issues, which were improved in the later versions. Lancia had to buy back some of the first-series cars, so bad was the problem. Which makes seeing a survivor like the coupe at the top such a treat. Most likely it came from Southern California.