Upon assuming control of Lancia in 1970, Fiat tasked the storied marque with replacing its aging Fulvia line with a high-volume product. In response, Lancia introduced the four-door Beta Berlina in 1972 with a 100-inch wheelbase, and shortly thereafter came the Beta coupe, which sat on a 93-inch wheelbase. Both cars were smart looking, styled in-house, and affordably priced.
The Beta used a Fiat-sourced transverse 1.4-liter DOHC I-4 engine that was slanted 20 degrees rearward and mated to a five-speed transaxle that drove the front wheels. Though the motor was based on Fiat’s 1.3-liter I-4, Lancia's version of this Lampredi-designed motor had its own hemispheric head and all the Beta models had suspension componentry that was Lancia's own and not Fiat based. Engine size increases followed for all models (1.6 and 2.0 liter) as well as the HPE being introduced in 1975, this being an estate-type three-door hatchback that was based on the longer 100-inch wheelbase of the sedan, but with the coupe's forward bodywork delicately blended with a hatchback rear.
All three of these cars were available in America throughout the 1970s with the limited production and range-topping Pininfarina styled Beta Zagato Spyder arriving in 1979 (odd nomenclature yes, but so named in deference to the fact that Zagato completed the bodyshells for Lancia), this time with a 2-liter version of the motor making 83 hp in U.S. trim. What this car lacked in performance was made up for in road manners as well as the fact that open-air motoring could be enjoyed with a unique roof that placed a Targa panel in front of the integrated rollover hoop and a convertible section behind the hoop over the rear seats. No cars were imported in 1980, but when the car returned in 1981 it now had Bosch fuel injection that raised power to a more respectable 108 hp.
After 2,100 Zagatos had been imported to the U.S. out of 9,600 built, Lancia departed America in 1982 and by 1984 the Beta line had ended altogether after hundreds of thousands had been manufactured. No surprise to any enthusiast is the fact that rust was the main enemy to these cars even when they were new, and those looking today should not pass up a rust-free example if they can find one, as a well-sorted Beta in any guise is a fun drive. Other problem areas lie in the electrics as well as rust in the area of the front subframe that mounts the engine and transaxle to the unit-body type frame.