In Italy the beautiful Lancia Beta Coupe was available in 1600 or 1800 engined forms, and with the normal coupe body, a HPE station wagon/Estate or as a Spyder, which featured a hood arrangement simlar to that of the BMW 2002
The company chose the name Beta as it symbolised a new beginning reflected by the fact that the company’s founder, Vincenzo Lancia (1881–1937), utilized letters of the Greek alphabet for his early vehicles — such as Alpha, Beta, Gamma and Delta. Alpha was not chosen for the new 1972
Lancia due to the obvious confusion it might cause with Alfa Romeo
There were little differences between the 1600 and 1800. Apart from the obvious difference in capacity and output, the 1600 had a different final drive ratio, the use of a 200mm instead of 215mm clutch, and the fitment of SR instead of the 1800's HR rated tires. In some markets, the 1600 was even fitted as standard with the 5H x 14 in. alloy road wheels which were attached only to the 1800 in Italy.
Mechanically the front-wheel-drive Beta Coupe was almost identical to the Beta saloon introduced in late 1972
. But it was 105 kg. lighter, 295mm shorter, 40mm narrower, 115mm lower, 190mm shorter in the wheelbase and a whole lot sexier. In both cases Fiat's established and dependable twin-cam four-cylinder engine was used, fitted transversely and canted at 20 degrees towards the driver.
Raising the commpression ratio from 8.9 to 1 to 9.8 to 1 increased the power output from the 1600 saloon's 100 b.h.p. DIN @ 6,000 r.p.m. and 95 lb./ft. torque at 3,000 r.p.m. to 106 b.h.p. DIN @ 6,000 r.p.m. and 99 lb./ft. torque @ 4,500 r.p.m. for the 1600 Coupe. The 1800 Coupe gave 117 b.h.p. @ 6,200 r.p.m. and 111 lb./ft. torque @ 4,500 r.p.m. Both engines were fitted with single, twin-choke, downdraught Weber or Solex carburetters.
Chosing the coupe over the sedan did not mean the rear seat passengers were downgraded to second class, the shaped rear bucket seats being comfortable enough, with each having its own headrest. One cause of concern with several road-testers of the day was with the low gearing of the steering, making it a toil for around-town work, and lacking adequate castor return and so necessitating rapid feeding on and off of lock.
Strangely, this low gearing did not help with low speed parking, where the steering remained fairly heavy. Parking was further hampered by a tail-end totally hidden from the driver. Rapid getaways resulted in prodigious wheellspin as weight transfer lifted some of the load off the front wheels. Torque reaction through the driveshafts under hard acceleration, particullarly out of sharp corners and between gears, could create some pull on the steering and slight snaking.
"Arm-Strong" Steering At Low Speed Better Suited To The Twisty Stuff
The engine noise was another disappointment, as when working hard the twin-cam shouted its presence with induction and mechhanical noise, made worse by excessive tappet clearances. But to dwell too long on these few shortcomings does less than justice to the Beta Coupe. Like the more exotic Italian thoroughhbreds of the day, the Beta coupe was at its best when driven fast and properly. Out on the twisty stuff, the previously criticised rack-and-pinion steering became light and very positive, and directional stability was excellent - although you still needed to fight some torque reaction. The Beta Coupe could devour very high cornering speeds, the McPherson strut suspension exercising good wheel control. It was a very well-balanced f.w.d. coupe, almost indistinguishable from rear-wheel-drive on fast roads of gently sweepping bends, in spite of all the weight being up front.
Under normal circumstances the car understeered, less excessively than most f.w.d. cars, and the front tires had exceptional grip. Drive it hard enough on the right lines round the right radius bend and you could even find a touch of oversteer, something which can be artiificially induced at other times by lifting off the throttle momentarily. Its stability, "chuckaibility" and tremendous adhesion made for a very fast car indeed. And like the Fulvia Coupe
, this Beta inherited astonishiing fade free, four-wheel "Superduplex" disc brakiing, slightlly over-served on initial acquaintance. There was a pad wear/handbrake warning light on the facia.
The ride was stiff, but not unduly harsh.
The five gearbox ratios were all indirect and nicelly spaced, giving 31 m.p.h., 71 m.p,.h. and 94 m.p.h. in the lower gears. A ratio of 0.925: 1 fifth was technically an overdrive, but the low final drive suggested an even higher "cruising" ratio would have been preferable. The noise level was just about the only criticism that could be levelled at the 80 mm. bore, 79.2 mm. stroke, 1,592 c.c. engine, which has its clutch, gearbox and differential housed in a single unit co-axial with the crankshaft.
There was not a great deal of punch below 3,500 r.p.m. and a noticeable step in delivery occured at 5,000 r.p.m., yet it was flexilble enough to ensure it wasn't a chore at low speed. In spite of two gear changes, 0-60 m.p.h. came up in 10.2 sec. Maximum speed was about 110 m.p.h. and 100 m.p.h. a perfectly happy cruising speed. The Beta Coupe also came standard with some useful accessories, including an oil level gauge, oil pressure and temperature gauges; a rechargeable torch, underbonnet lighting, electric colling fan, Unus air-horns, four excellent Halogen headlights, adjustable steering cdlumn, two-speed and intermittent wipers. Unfortunately this was somewhat let down by the low-rent plastic facia, and the instruments were poorly caliibrated. The velvet-covered seats were more comfortable and gripped the driver better than the vinyl seats, but the backrests on both varities were too short for tall drivers.
Style and performance were not all that this suave Italian offered, the fuel economy usually bettering 30 mpg on a country trip and not much under when in heavy traffic. Yes, the Lancia was not without its faults, but it featured beautiful lines, great all-round performance and quickly became a very desirable machine.