Live Auctions

Undeserved Reputation: 1978 Lancia Beta Coupe

The seller of this 1978 coupe asserts that “Lancia Betas are the true sleepers for collectors—as all Lancisti know.” That may be a charitable view; many fans of the imperiled Italian marque also look down on the Beta as the first Fiat-ized Lancia, an underwhelming performer that didn’t live up to the company’s innovative past and marked the beginning of the end. But any Lancia is better than no Lancia (in the abstract sense that I’d rather live in a world with Lancia in it than not, at least), and the Beta cleverly infused a distinctive character and style into its admittedly Fiat-influenced engineering. This example looks remarkably clean, too, under a layer of garage dust, and would make a unique and fun weekend cruiser; you can find it here on craigslist out of Petaluma, California, with a $3,800 asking price (archived ad).

The Beta’s reputation was also tarnished by a major recall in the UK to deal with rusting subframes and other components, but this California example is said to be rust-free. The Fiat claims aren’t entirely fair, either; the chassis and suspension were unique designs, and even the Fiat DOHC four, widely regarded as a piece of advanced engineering at the time, received bespoke cylinder heads and different carburetors, as well as the necessary modifications for use in the Beta’s transverse, front-wheel drive layout. While a Fiat mechanic should have no trouble with the Beta engine, it is not in fact interchangeable with one from a contemporary Fiat.

Betas were sold in the U.S. from 1975 to 1982 in five different bodystyles (four-door fastback sedan, this coupe, three-door sportwagon, convertible, and the Scorpion mid-engine sports coupe), and there are few survivors left with interiors this nice. There’s no indication of how long this car has been in its current indoor habitat—it’s shown wearing a license plate that dates back to 1989-1992, with no registration stickers—but this cabin shows little sign of exposure to the sun. The dash is unblemished and the leather looks very fine front and rear. A five-speed manual should help wring the most out of the emissions-choked 83 horsepower four.

The car rides on its original alloys, and is said to run and drive well—although the power steering is inop—but it doesn’t look like it’s been used much, so it may need some sorting. Once you’re on the road, a sunroof will add a little open air brio to the experience, and the cosmetics and potential problem areas on this coupe really do appear to be quite good from what we can see. The seller invites us to “give this car some thought and offer what you think is right for your interest.” I think there’s a lot of potential here for an affordable, unusual Italian classic that’s just about ready to roll—how about you?

Comments

  1. Pa Tina

    The “Lancisti” are a lovely couple.

  2. Klharper

    I have worked on these as well as a lot of vintage Lancia’s, and in truth they are pretty good. The coupes are more rigid than the zagato’s and it shows in the handling. The 2 liter versions have enough go to make them entertaining.
    The engines are strangled when stock but they have a ton of tuning potential.
    The rusty ones are pretty much gone, and the ones that I see left are in good shape.
    Trim parts are hard to get and the sunroof internal items are non existent.

  3. Chuck

    The US car mags liked these when they were new, but they rusted away and fell apart with a verve that equaled or exceeded that of their contemporary Fiat brethren. The coupe and Monte Carlo are pretty designs though.

  4. Solosolo KEN TILLY Member

    If it’s a Lancia, it’s a rust bucket!

    • abc

      Not in sunny and dry California! I have an ’81 that doesn’t have even a spot of rust on it anywhere. I actually went to look at this one too, and it has almost zero rust as well.

    • audifan

      The wisdom of the day. Always somebody who knows it all. Did you ever own one?

      • chad

        “Did you ever own one?”
        sure, after a handful of fiats, got 1 of these, same model.
        Kinda luxurious for back then, very nice driver and not too bad
        on maintenance…

  5. Adam T45 Staff

    Italian cars of this era were all prone to horrendous rust issues. This was largely due to the fact that Lancia, Alfa and Fiat were all sourcing their steel from the same supplier, and the quality was horrendous. The worst that I ever saw was a 12 month old Alfasud where the battery had started to fall through the bottom of the battery tray due to rust.

    Having said that, there are a number of ways that you could now protect these cars from further rust issues thanks to modern rust prevention technology. These are a lovely little car to drive, and if I wasn’t on the other side of the planet, I would be awfully tempted by it….just don’t tell my wife!

    • Pa Tina

      Who was the steel supplier?

  6. David Miraglia

    Despite the problems back then I always wanted one of those Betas

  7. Wayne

    I have a friend that had several. They could be bought for a song back in the late ’70s and early ’80s. The timing belt would let go and bend the valves. (Not an atypical Fiat issue.) So the owner would take the car to the neighborhood Italian car mechanic to be fixed. They would fix the bent valves, install a new timing belt and attempt to start the car. No start and bent valves again. The Lancia had it’s own alignment for cam timing. You use the old “normal” Fiat way and instant engine damage all over again. I remember that he bought one that has less than a thousand miles on it. It had not been driven regularly and the belt let go. After 3 head/valve replacements the owner gave up. (bought that one for $200 if I remember right) Drove that car from the Illinois/Wisconsin state line to Daytona speedway for the 24 hour race. in 15 hours! (that included a stop to see my grandmother in Tennessee on the way) That is a 1200 mile run with the jog east to Louden county. On the way back we were making even better time when we hit an ice storm in Indianapolis. They had snow, followed by rain and then it froze. The road was so rough that it blew out the float adjustment on the weber. I still remember trying to reset the float level while my hands were shaking uncontrollably from the cold.
    These things had great brakes! Huge rotors for the time.

    • Klharper

      I always wonder how to respond to these. I have done literally hundreds of 124 and many Lancia’s. The 124 is easier because of space, and it takes a different bearing, but the same belt. The procedure is the same though. If you can do a 124 you can do a beta.

  8. normadesmond

    People that have the make of their
    car on a set of vanity plates are lame.

    • Pa Tina

      Norma Desmond would agree.

  9. Pete

    These cars are brilliant long distance tourers while serving up enjoyable handling and roadholding on the twisty minor roads. Interior is very comfy for long hauls. As said above the steel sourced from Soviet as part of the Lada barter trade had a high sulphur content so with the non existent Italian rustproofing at the time the cars dissolved before your eyes. But if the importer or dealer rustproofed them properly before sale they are still rust free. I have had a few including a very nice original HPE a few years ago. I will have another one again for sure.
    Btw none of those I had were equipped with PS. Sure there is one on this coupe?

  10. Angelo

    Unfortunately rust was a big blame on many Italian cars in those years (Lancia, Fiat, Alfa, Autobianchi, Innocenti, and many other more expensive cars..)
    But when you come to Lancia I like to remember her like the queen of Rally Racing; hundreds of victories starting from 1954 winning the Monte Carlo Rally (Lancia B20).
    During the Fiat years Lancia won 10 World Rally Constructors Championships, 4 World Rally Conductors Championships and 11 European Conductors Rally Championships. The Lancia Delta model itself, from 1983 to 1993, won 51 World Rally Races.
    Unfortunately Fiat decided to switch off Lancia brand :( today Lancia only survives in Italy with the small city car Ypsilon sold outside Italy as Chrysler Ypsilon :(
    Vincenzo Lancia is probably turning in its grave😢

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