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One Family Owned: 1978 Lancia Beta 1800 Coupé

As Lancia was ruining itself financially while producing fabulous cars, Fiat waited in the wings, rescue-ready. The marriage was consummated in 1969 and after considerable duress, Lancia’s first model under its new owner rolled off the line: the Beta. Development was stymied by a lack of funds and an exodus of engineering talent. To reduce manufacturing costs, Fiat engaged in parts-bin construction and a swap with a Soviet steel company: we give you Fiat 124s to rebadge as Ladas, and you give us steel. The steel swap proved unwise. The steel was so thin, and rustproofing techniques so medieval, that Betas effectively disintegrated, especially in the damp UK which was unfortunately Lancia’s largest export market. On the heels of this costly problem, the Montecarlo cropped up with a brake issue that took two years to fix (and involved simply removing the booster). That said, surviving Betas offer a quirky but worthwhile solution to: I wanna take something different to Cars ‘N Coffee this year. Here on eBay is perhaps one of the finer examples available, this 1978 Lancia Beta 1800 coupé, bid to $11,212, reserve not met. The car is located in Sarasota, Florida.

Unlike most Fiats but in keeping with Lancia’s traditions, the Beta was architected as a front-wheel drive car. Fiat contributed its dual-overhead-cam, inline four-cylinder in varying displacements; Lancia reworked these to fit transversely. The engine and the five-speed gearbox are front-mounted on a subframe – a favorite place for rot to take up residence. This car has a 1756 cc motor, good for about 118 bhp. The odometer indicates 72,274 miles; the car has been owned by one Italian family since new. A move back to the home country prompts this sale. The car is said to start, run, shift, and drive very well.

Lancia excelled at providing its buyers with luxury: leather seating with contrasting door panels, wood dash accents, air conditioning. This car has a sunroof, and while we’re up there, the headliner is in great shape. The same can’t be said for the sun visors, as they have that “I’ve been baked so I bloated” appearance. The seats, gauges, and windows are said to work as they should, and the AC even blows. Well, maybe not cold, but “blowing” is a start. Accompanying the car are service records, a tool kit, and the original jack.

Reviewers of the day generally loved the driveability of the Beta; some variants successfully rallied. Meanwhile, though more than 435k examples were made, a Beta of any ilk is a rare find today. This survivor is in exceptional condition, but even so, I’m thinking the price is nearing its theoretical top. This nice example sold for just $14,600 recently. What do you think it will take to find this one a new garage?

Comments

  1. Andy Frobig

    There were still a few of these on the road when I was a teenager, and I always thought they were handsome. The price doesn’t seem out of line for a rare Italian sports coupe in this shape, but it could also be an expensive ticket to heartache…if you want one of these, though, they don’t get a lot nicer.

    Like 13
    • Jim

      I’m with you. They are beautifully designed cars esthetically, but I’d really worry about how much tim I’d spend driving it vs working on it.

      Like 1
    • GLemon

      This one looks good in white, and I usually don’t like white cars. I think the HP quote is for a rest of the world car. US versions were quoted at 108 HP.

      I remember seeing a few of this generation of Lancias around in the early eighties. They had an interesting range of body styles, this coupe, the Zagato with the targa top, a kind of bulbous sedan, and the neat little HPE estate. There were one or two of each sold in my small college town except maybe the sedan, or maybe I just don’t remember the sedan. The interior on the coupe looks nice.

      Like 2
      • SubGothius

        North American market Betas did get detuned engines for emissions compliance, but 108 HP was for the ’81-82 fuel-injected 2-liter engines here; before that, they only had about 87 HP for both the ’75-78 1800 and the ’79 2-liter carbureted engines, tho’ the latter had about 15% more torque.

        Few sedans were sold here, and that body style was pretty forgettable, the only Beta variant designed at Fiat Centro Stile to save time while Lancia designers worked on the coupe and HPE.

        Pininfarina designed the spider variant from the B-pillars back, but conversion of coupe bodyshells into spiders was contracted out to Zagato, hence the US model name for that variant, IMO likely in part changed to avoid confusion with Fiat and/or Alfa spiders that were often sold at the same dealerships.

        Like 2
  2. Frank Sumatra

    I am curious about the “thin steel” comment. The steel has a thickness specified by the Engineering group. The steel is purchased with the expectation it will meet the thickness noted on the purchase order and agreed to by the steel supplier. The steel is inspected for dimensional adherence before it is introduced into the production stream. How does ‘thin steel” get by so many inspection points?

    Like 2
    • alphasud Member

      I think they might have specified a thinner steel than other makes might have. I know with other Italian cars they would do that to save weight. With Alfa Romeo they had an issue with the quality of the steel purchased in the 70’s. That steel was more susceptible to corrosion. In addition they stored the car bodies exposed to the elements before a primer was applied so rust already had a foothold when the car was new.

      Like 5
      • Martin Horrocks

        I asked a Swiss metal broker about this once. It is not often you get the chance.

        Lets recall, that all cars rusted badly everywhere and all the time, US, Japanese, UK, French, German . All cars.

        His answer was complex. Steel in these quantities is bought in advance. In the mid 60s, Japanese car industry was looking to ramp up its production by going big time into US market. For other OEMs, how this affected your supply chain was the volume of your need and quickness of response. Italy was late to the party and forced to take lower quality steel. Usually described as Russian steel, Fiat could access the supply via tjeir LADA deal apparently. Poor transport and storage management also reduced quality.

        But Michelle is correct, the specific problem which applied to the BETA, (corrosion regularly dropping its front subframe on the floor within 36 months) was a design fault.

        Much to like about these cars if in excellent condition. Nice Bertone lines and excellent Fiat Lampredi drivetrain.

        Like 7
      • SubGothius

        AFAIK the story that Russian steel was especially rust-prone or poorer quality has never been established with any credible documentation, so that “common wisdom” remains as dubious lore at best. More credibly, as you say, bodies were poorly rustproofed and often left unpainted for too long, in no small part due to frequent production disruptions and delays from labor unrest rife in Italy at the time.

        The specific subframe rust-out issue only affected the very earliest run of Beta sedans, where the subframe rear mounting points had a design flaw that trapped water, often leading those mounts to rust apart after their first winter in heavily salted UK roads. This flaw was fixed by the time the coupe and other variants entered production.

        Like 4
    • AUSTIN GWIN

      This story about the “thin” or bad steel is hotly debated by Lancistis. The supposed proof of this has been thrown about uncounted times but the actual basis for it seems to elude research. It didn’t help that Jeremy Clarkson quoted it as truth without any real basis either.
      Cars in the 70s rusted, no matter where they were made. Rust proofing wasn’t an exact science and in efforts to reduce weight, thinner steel was one approach.
      No matter, the Lancia Beta remains one of the best handling FWD cars ever made. The rear suspension was a breakthrough that they should have patented.
      I absolutely loved my 81 Coupe and would still have it except for a move to a climate it didn’t enjoy. But this is an absurd price.

      Like 2
  3. alphasud Member

    I like the Beta models however the best of Lancia happened in the 60’s before Fiat took the reins. These cars were known for their long travel suspension. Really nice drivers. I would certainly entertain ownership and then promptly look for the euro bumpers.

    Like 2
    • SubGothius

      Unfortunately, that “best of Lancia” era up through the ’60s is what nearly put them out of business, such that the marque’s survival depended on getting bought out. To paraphrase a line in one of Jamie Kitman’s columns, Lancia may be the only car maker to nearly go out of business, twice, by paying too much attention to quality.

      Luckily, the Agnelli family who owned Fiat had a fondness for Lancia and orchestrated gov’t approval of their buyout for a token 1 Lira per share in 1969. Say what you will about Fiat’s creeping influence over Lancia from the ’70s-onward, we have Fiat to thank for the fact of Lancia’s continued existence at all.

      Like 3
  4. Stan

    Sharp looking car. Add some big Hella lamps upfront, rugged tires..Rally time 🏁

    Like 0
  5. Novar

    Is it hard to change the timing belt?
    Non interference motor?

    Like 0
    • SubGothius

      The 1800 engine is an interference design, so if the timing belt age and mileage are unknown, the new owner would do well to replace it forthwith. The belt should be replaced every 30-35k miles and at least inspected for condition every 3 years regardless of mileage.

      It’s not a difficult job, just a bit fiddly and with tight spaces to work in, the way everything’s Tetris’d in there underhood. I’ve done it a few times on my Beta Zagato spiders and wrote up the procedure as an article on the Lancisti forum.

      Like 0
    • DaveR

      I worked in a Fiat repair shop in Southern California in the mid 1980’s, and timing belt replacements were our money makers. We could do the job in much less time than the flat rate book allowed for. So, not a hard job. We also had Lancias and a few Alfas come through. I would imagine with the transverse mounted engine the timing belt replacement would be a bit more difficult, but should still be an easy job.

      Like 0
  6. Sean M Sinkule

    Cool little cars, had a couple of them years ago. This is OVER the top money for A Beta. Maybe if it was a Zagato or a Scorpion.

    Like 1
  7. t-bone bob

    I have always liked these

    Like 1
  8. Jamie

    I never owned one of these, but I always liked them and wanted one. They used to rust so badly. This one looks great and it was certainly well cared for. I think you might have a hard time finding a better example.

    Like 1
  9. Tirefriar

    The first item of business would be swapping the front and rear “overbite” federal bumpers with Euro spec units. This will be a major visual enhancement to an already attractive design with an added benefit of few pounds shaved off the weight.

    Like 0
  10. John

    I’m glad it’s not the HPE wagon or I’d need to find space in the warehouse. I had 2 of them back in the day and thoroughly enjoyed them. Magically unique and so much fun to drive. I like the coupe also, but I’m a wagon guy and the sport wagon HPE is my weakness. I can’t remember how long it’s been since I saw any Beta this nice. I hope it finds a good home because it certainly deserves someone that will carry forth the proper stewardry it has obviously had. Beautiful car.

    Like 1
  11. Robert Woodward

    I owned on these in the mid 1980’s. It was a fun little car although it understeer a lot. It was a shame it was designed as a front drive. Unfortunately the engine caught fire while I was driving it due to one of the high pressure injector lines leaking fuel where it shouldn’t go. The car burned from the windshield forward and was totalled.

    Like 0
    • SubGothius

      While the Beta does understeer, it comes on in the form of a gradual and neutral 4-wheel drift wide of the line as you exceed the limits of tire grip, rather than any nose-heavy plowing like you’d get in many other FWD cars.

      This actually makes for great fun as the drift is very even, predictable and controllable, so you can go in hot and take a line slightly tighter than required, ride the drift out to where you want it, ease off the gas or tap the brakes to scrub speed and lock it down, then stomp the gas again to power out and away. “As if on rails” never meant so much until I got mine.

      Like 1
  12. Lawrence Smith

    I have a Lancia Zagato 82 one of the last ones made ,its in RED .Its nice to see the prices of these going up ,they drive great . When i bought it i dropped the subframe & engine , rebuilt the engine because the previous owner let it run low on oil, checked out the subframe & repainted it with a under coating.
    The body etc. is in great condition i have never thought of selling it ,but for 15k I might consider it, LOL

    Like 3
  13. Frank Barrett Member

    Dare to be different. A Lancia is not just another Ford, Chevy, Volkswagen, or even a Porsche or Ferrari. My ’72 Fulvia is a predecessor to this car. It’s great fun to drive and to explain to the curious exactly what it is. That said, before you buy it, find a good local Italian mechanic.

    This exceptionally nice example will not last long. Considering the cost of restoring another, this price is a pittance. I just re-posted it on the Lancia club’s forum.

    Like 1
  14. Richard Martin

    I had two of these in Australia followed by a HPE – all purchased new in the 70s in Australia. Incredible handling and enormous fun but quality control was a dirty phrase for them.
    I have no idea about what the US market was supplied with but by 1978 which this car claims to be, the 1800 version had been replaced by the 2000 for about three years.

    Like 0
    • SubGothius

      All US-market Betas were 1800s from ’75-78. The 2-liter engine arrived here for model year 1979, along with the newer-style interior.

      Like 0
  15. SubGothius

    The Lancia Beta is remarkable as the very first model mass-produced to the overall engineering formula that eventually prevailed across the industry worldwide — FWD with a transverse DOHC powertrain, 5-speed full-syncromesh transaxle, rack and pinion steering, 4-wheel disc power brakes, and fully independent strut-based suspension with an elegantly simple multilink rear — all common features nowadays, but few cars had any of that, let alone all of that, when the Beta debuted in 1972, nor many more when it finally retired a dozen years later.

    This makes the Beta a surprisingly “modern” car to drive, with refined and unflappable road manners, a supple yet taut ride, and superb handling that the late, great Lancista Ed Levin once described as “utterly viceless” (having owned and loved at least two Betas himself in years past).

    Like 1
  16. t-bone bob

    Bidding ended on Mon, Jan 29 at 9:37 AM
    US $11,212.00
    12 bids
    Reserve not met

    Like 0

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