Why you’d want a Lancia Beta
Fiat backing finally gave Lancia the resources to develop an all-new range, launched 50 years ago as the Beta Berlina.
Lancia did the coupé job properly: this was no cut-down saloon. It boasted its own chic styling (created in-house by Aldo Castagno and Piero Castagnero) and no panels were shared with the Berlina.
A foot shorter, 2in narrower and 5in lower, with a 9in shorter wheelbase, the Coupé was sharp, lithe, lively and distinctive, and would have a long, healthy life spawning both Spider (convertible) and High Performance Estate variants, all looking great and selling well.
The engines were based on the Fiat twin-cam, but Lancia engineers were allowed considerable freedom – to the extent of changing the cylinder-head configuration to hemispherical combustion chambers. The engine, with the gearbox on the end, was mounted transversely in the front subframe.
The suspension was developed in-house, with MacPherson struts all round and a unique rear set-up using the anti-roll bar as fore-aft location alongside twin transverse links: it worked well and would be much copied.
‘There are no cars in the class that are more fun to drive along twisty roads,’ said Motor, ‘nor any that create more interest among bystanders.’
The Spider conversion was designed by Pininfarina and built by Zagato: completed Coupé shells were cut up and shipped back and forth several times between Lancia and Zagato, making them expensive both to build and to buy.
The longer-wheelbase HPE was the product of the same in-house team as the Coupé, and the most versatile of the three.
All were exceptionally well equipped, with standard spec on the HPE even including automatic headlamp levelling controlled via small struts on the rear suspension.
The UK was Lancia’s biggest market outside Italy, but also the one where corrosion issues cost the company a fortune and tarnished its reputation. Thankfully, surviving Betas have mostly been well protected and looked after – though it’s still a vital aspect to check.
Development brought ever more appealing models, with 2-litre grunt optional from late ’75, fuel injection from ’81, then the supercharged Volumex two years later on the Coupé and HPE.
These ultimate ‘VX’ cars are rare and desirable: 1272 Coupés and 2370 HPEs were built. They were distinguished by an offset bonnet bulge, front and rear spoilers, and stiffer springs.
Images: James Mann
Lancia Beta: what to look for
See above for what to check when looking at Lancia Betas for sale.
Check the engine maintenance has been kept up: the cambelt should be replaced every three years or 36,000 miles and an inhibitor is vital to avoid corrosion-induced head-gasket failure.
The supercharged 2-litre is higher stressed; check for oil smoke from the exhaust and listen for noise indicating worn bearings.
Look for front suspension strut leaks and worn bushes top and bottom, plus for seized calipers and snapped bleed screws. Check front subframes for rot.
The rear suspension is light and effective: watch for corrosion, strut leaks, and especially seized brake calipers and handbrake mechanisms.
Switchgear, stalks and dials are hard to find in good working order, so ensure everything operates as it should, and is correct for the car.
Check the seat trim (early cars vinyl, later examples cloth) for wear and damage. Recaros are unique to VX Coupés; BetaBoyz is sourcing new fabric.
Lancia Beta: before you buy
The Fiat twin-cam improved by Lancia is a great recipe, and all sizes of the engine are durable and fun to drive.
The layout is very modern, with a transverse engine, end-on five-speed gearbox, front-wheel drive, all-independent suspension and all-disc brakes – remarkable for a car that, in saloon form at least, is now 50 years old.
All models should feel taut and lively: the 1600 and 2000 were most common in the UK, the smaller engines sweeter-revving but the larger torquier, especially if injected or supercharged. The 1300 has to be revved, but thrives on it.
Key checks are neglect; failure to replace the cambelt; alloy head corrosion; head-gasket leaks; oil and coolant leaks; clogged/leaking radiators; weeping water pumps; excessive breathing, knocking or rattling indicating internal wear; plus worn or noisy superchargers on the Volumex.
Carburettors suffer spindle wear, but otherwise give little trouble if set up properly and left alone. Bosch fuel injection is reliable.
Transmissions are very strong, but check for oil leaks because any gearbox will fail without oil. Gear-linkage wear is common (giving a sloppy change), but an inexpensive kit of parts should put it right.
The rare AP-derived automatic gearbox is similar to the Mini ’box, but only a three-speed – parts are scarce, so be wary. The all-disc brakes suffer most from the infrequent use that is inevitable with classic cars, especially if bone-dry storage isn’t available – check they all work as they should, including the notoriously vulnerable handbrake.
Lancia Beta price guide
- Show/rebuilt: £18,000/20,000/22,000
- Average: £6000/7500/850
- Restoration: £1000/1500/2500
*Prices based on 2000: +50% for VX, -20% for others
Prices correct at date of original publication
Lancia Beta history
1972 Nov Beta saloon arrives (UK Jul 1973)
1974 Mar Coupé 1600 (108bhp) and 1800 (120bhp) launched
1974 Sep Spider 1600/1800 introduced; Coupé 1600 comes to UK
1975 Apr HPE added Jul Spider 1600 in UK
1975 Sep Second Series: 2000 (118bhp) replaces 1800
1977 Mar Coupé 1300 added
1978 Sep Third Series: trim changes
1981 Sep (UK May 1982) Fourth Series: more rust protection, power steering, new trim, grille and bumpers, injected 2000IE (122bhp), electric windows, steel sunroof
1982 Spider production ends
1983 Jun Volumex, with Recaros on Coupé
1984 Coupé/HPE production ends
The owner’s view
Former Lancia mechanic Steve Dodge can’t resist a low-mileage Beta: “I’ve had my Spider for 19 years and, as well as this 37,000-mile Volumex, I have an S1 Coupé, an S1 saloon with less than 10,000 miles, and a Volumex HPE.
“I enjoyed them more when they were cheaper – I paid £700 for my Spider and it passed the following 10 MoTs with no problems. It’s going through a full rebuild now, which is 90% finished.
“I don’t like the rise in prices – I like using the cars, and my wife Amanda and I organise local club meets, but I’m reluctant to leave them anywhere.
“Don’t slam the bonnet (the plastic clips break), don’t clean the Recaro logo on VX Coupé seats, and don’t over-polish the black window surrounds!
“Parts are scarce, but BetaBoyz makes panels and can get most things. The bearings on the supercharger went, but Guy Croft rebuilt it.”
Light, compact and lively, especially in GTI form, the Giugiaro-styled and Golf-based Scirocco was priced well below the Beta Coupé at launch. It far outsold the Beta and has a keen following.
Sold 1974-’81 • No. built 504,153 • Price now £3-12,000
OPEL MANTA B
Rapid in GT/E trim, the Ascona-derived Manta sold well in coupé and hatchback forms thanks to sporty styling and rear-drive fun. Prices are strong now, but watch for rust and past neglect.
Sold 1975-’88 • No. built 557,940 • Price now £5-15,000
Lancia Beta: the Classic & Sports Car verdict
Over the years, Lancia Beta HPEs were used the hardest and relatively few survive as a result; Coupés tended to be cared for better and Spiders best of all, so numbers are not as disparate now as when built and VX Coupés are the most valued of all.
Be prepared to look long and hard for the right car, ideally one that has been properly looked after: even with higher values they’re still expensive cars to rebuild.
- Stylish, usable and modern to drive
- A great package to own
- Supported by hugely enthusiastic owners’ groups and specialists
- Rebuild costs are high due to extensive rot and limited panel/trim availability
- Buying a project is not advised except for expert restorers
Lancia Beta specifications
- Sold/number built 1974-’84/111,801 Coupés, 71,261 HPEs, 9400 Spiders
- Construction steel monocoque
- Engine iron-block, alloy-head, dohc 1297/1301/1366/1585/1592/1756/1995cc ‘four’, with twin-choke Solex/Weber, Weber/supercharger or Bosch L-Jetronic injection
- Max power 85bhp @ 5800rpm to 133bhp @ 5500rpm
- Max torque 79.5lb ft @ 3300rpm to 152lb ft @ 3000rpm
- Transmission five-speed manual or three-speed Lancia/AP automatic, FWD
- Suspension independent, at front by lower wishbones rear twin lower transverse links; MacPherson struts, anti-roll bar f/r
- Steering rack and pinion, standard power assistance from ’81
- Brakes discs, with servo
- Length 13ft 1in-14ft 1in (3990-4290mm)
- Width 5ft 4-6½in (1630-1690mm)
- Height 4ft 2-3½in (1270-1310mm)
- Wheelbase 7ft 7in-8ft 4in (2310-2540mm)
- Weight 2182-2635lb (992-1195kg)
- 0-60mph 12.3-8.9 secs
- Top speed 101-124mph
- Mpg 22-33
- Price new £7046 (HPE 2000, 1979)
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