The cars we loved.
The Lancia Beta was the first new car developed by Lancia after it was bought by the huge Fiat conglomerate of Italy in 1969. The Beta, named after the Greek alphabet letter was actually available in no less than six body styles, ranging from a homely looking four door sedan to a sporty fastback coupe. It was intended to replace the Fulvia as Lancia’s high volume car.
The two most interesting and sporty variations called the Beta and the Montecarlo were actually two different cars altogether. Although they shared engines, the Beta was front wheel drive while the Montecarlo was rear. Both cars used parts sourced from Fiat, but were sold and marketed as upmarket sports cars complete with advance features for the time including DOHC engines, fully independent suspensions and five speed manual transmissions to name a few.
The handsome Pinifarina designed Beta Coupe introduced in 1972 was a standard four passenger two door setup with a 1.3 L four cylinder engine. The more aggressive looking two seat fastback Montecarlo was introduced in 1975. Modifications were made to the chassis of the Montecarlo to allow for a rear wheel drive/mid engine setup. Both cars eventually ended up with a 2.o L supercharged engine good for 133hp. A convertible version of the Beta called the Spider was also available. There was also a convertible version of the Montecarlo called the Scorpion with a manually operated roll back targa roof. It was only sold in the U.S. in the 1976/77 model years.
Initial reception was positive due to the car’s handling dynamics and lively performance. The Beta and Montecarlo were intended to be a premium priced cars competing mostly with BMW’s 3 Series and the Audi 4000s. It cost as much if not more than most of it’s rivals. Fortunately for Americans, the weak Italian currency of the time made it a competitively priced import in the U.S. market, although it was still on the expensive side.
As was the case with many European cars, especially Italian ones, the Lancias were dogged by quality control issues. Often small nagging ones but sometimes major ones like rust and loose subframes. For a Chevette, that might have been ok, but for a car costing as much as a Corvette, it was unacceptable. Word got out about quality issues. That combined with the effects of frequent factory labor strikes did serious damage to Lancia and Fiat’s reputation in America. After 1984 Lancia no longer exported to the US market, leaving Alfa Romero as the lone mass market Italian manufacturer in North America.
Despite the bad rep, Lancia Beta Coupes and Montecarlo’s enjoy a strong following by a small but devoted group of enthusiasts who appreciate the car’s design and performance. When they were new, I thought they were some of the best looking cars coming from Europe (the Alfa GTV6 being THE best). There were (and are) very rare and seemed to be they kind of car people today who would drive a BMW 3 series bought. I guess those same people got tired of the mechanical issues and now would be driving a Lexus unless they were die hards who like shifting their own gears (they perfer Audis and BMW’s).