I owned a '77 HPE a few years ago. It was a real rust-bucket, and had a few other things wrong with as well. Just about every spot-weld in the driver's seat had failed, but that wasn't too difficult to fix. But despite all the problems, I really enjoyed owning it. It was fast and handled beautifully. The interior room was very impressive for a car of its size, and it was very comfortable and well appointed. It was fairly thirsty for a 2 litre car, but then it had the performance of a much larger-engined car.
The Beta was an absolutely excellent car and in its day it was unrivalled. Nothing could come close to the Beta and it was a very well designed car. It was designed to have the brilliant Double Over Head Cam fiat engine right from the start and it was a great success until it got wet. The Betas were made out of cheap Russian steel because Fiat did a deal with Lada to help set up a car factory. Also the rust problem was blown out of proportion and it was only early cars that had the sub-frames dropping out of them. The Beta had a new type of multi link suspension designed by Camufo, which for some bizarre reason Lancia did not copyright. This type of suspension went on to be used on loads of Japanese cars even on the Subaru Impreza which is, lets face it just a Lancia Delta Integrale and Lancia Gamma combined. If the Beta was made out of proper steel then it would be held as one of the greatest cars of the century.
I own a Beta Coupe and have done for the last two years. It gets used every day to do the 50 mile round trip to work and is one of the best cars I have ever owned (and I have had a few!). The rust problem is over hyped, as if rust proofed and looked after properly they are no worse than any other car of the same period.
My car is 23 years old and still keeps up with modern traffic yet attracts interest wherever I go. It is reliable, cheap to own and stylish. What more could you want.
I have had the privilege of owning a 1984 Beta HPE 2000 I.E. By far the most enjoyable driving car ever made.
There was just something about this car that convinced me to pay ridiculous money keeping it going. What an engine! What a fantastic 8-clock dashboard-complete with oil level indicator! The handling! What perfect gear ratios and torque curve. What a pity it was a total rust-bucket that eventually collapsed on itself.
The steering wheel broke, the shocks died, the handbrake died, the engine broke the front of the body shell, the starter motor totally shattered, the chassis member cracked into two pieces. Sold it for $500.00. Still, I am such a sad human being, I was overjoyed to finally find a 1984 HPE VX to fill the void, but it just wasn't the same. Its far too thirsty on fuel compared to the I.E., but it is a very pretty car, and its got that Lancia smell...mmm...I think I'll keep it.
Reading these comments brings back memories. I had a 77' coupe with the 1800 engine and did it up to look like a rally car (big mudflaps, spotlights on the front, koni shocks and a larger muffler). Really loved that car, especially when it came on cam around 3000 rpm, great sounding! Did have to get the rust repaired around the front wishbone, apparently it was really bad and I was lucky it hadn't collapsed. Still, I stuck with the car for about 2 years (a long time for me) and it was an addiction. I remember that I lost the oil cap for a month or so and so stuck a plastic one on with a cloth washer, it used to drip oil onto the exhaust when you idled at traffic lights causing heaps of smoke to come through the two bonnet vents, passsers by always pointed to it saying "Mate, your car's on fire!!"
Was very reliable though considering I was a 20 year old who drove it like I was racing on the Monte Carlo Special Stage...
I have owned many cars over the years, including three Lancias - a 1977 Beta Spyder, 1978 Beta sedan and 1969 Flavia 2000 coupe.
The one that I truly regret selling to this day above all was the Beta sedan. It's not as glamorous as the sports cars and yes, it had periodic mechanical problems, but on the other hand I drove it to/from work 120kms a day every weekday for 4 years with bare minimum servicing. It was pretty, fast, comfortable and surprisingly capacious for rear passengers and boot space.
The Spyder was fabulous to drive, but was poorly built.
The Flavia was great in a very different way to the Betas.
But a good Beta of any body style is a very good car.
The Beta was ground breaking when it came out in the 1970s. A lively twin over head cam engine and a car with full independent suspension McPherson struts, which have been copied by pretty much every single car manufacturer since.
Its road holding was far beyond it's time. I started driving a Beta 2000Es saloon when I was 18, then had a selection of normally aspirated HPEs, my favourite of which was a cherry red burgundy, which just seemed to bring out the beautiful lines of the HPE body before the heavy bumpers and air dams of the VX were added making it more muscular.
Suffice to say my addiction had to be suspended due to other priorities, and the Beta that I now have since 1996 some 13 years now is an HPE VX. It was 100% reliable for a period of 2 years. I drove it between London and the North approximately once a month. Comfortable, elegant and stylish, it was perfectly behaved and very much able to keep up with modern traffic.
It has now been treated to KONI suspension, poly bushes all round, full stainless straight through exhaust, although it did already have a std stainless steel one, and an ever so slightly tuned engine...
It doesn't get used as much as it should, but when it does... it makes one glad to be alive and driving a Beta.
BTW Betas weren't ever galvanised.
My first European car on a very small budget was a silver '81 Beta Coupe 1.8. As expected from the age (bought it in 1996), the seat foam especially at the back was starting to pulverise and the cloth was tatty. The automatic choke could be a nuisance in winter.
The first car that I've had where people stare and smile at the lights, and while filling at a service station, even young whippersnappers who I thought don't recognise the car, come over and ask me about it. Drop-dead gorgeous. Sold before it rusted through. Sure, it had a few mechanical maladies, but cheap enough to fix, and never had electrical problems at all.
This car taught me so much. First -- I never really had a twincam before this, and always thought it was needless complication. Boy, when I overtake and it revs to 4000, it pulls like a stone in a slingshot. The only car too where I turn my radio off because I couldn't hear the engine! Most cars these days have engine noise that drone and stresses me out and fatigues me when driving. Not the Beta. Music!
The handling too, admittedly with upgraded suspension courtesy of the last owner. I have driven the car fast into corners, and been in tricky situations, and the car simply steers where I point it, no drama. The steering was superb.
Since then, I've had more sensible cars -- five Audis and a Galant, and none of them felt as tactile, sonorous or engaging as the Beta. Nor as beautiful. It's still my benchmark. Will I ever find that in a modern car, complete with stunning good looks from every single angle? Maybe I should try for a Boxster.
From http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lancia_Beta#Features (no reason to think it's not correct):
"On the front-wheel drive Betas, Lancia designed a particularly original independent rear suspension with MacPherson struts"
"Unfortunately the design was never patented by Lancia, and consequently inspired similar rear suspension system layouts in other manufacturers' vehicles during the 1980s and 1990s."
Posted by the original poster of the first article. Over the years, and after numerous other cars, I've come to the conclusion that these cars were a lot better than is generally realised. I too miss my beautiful, fast and comfortable HPE, and when funds allow shall treat myself to another one.
The Beta was a great car. Cars like these actually showed us the way forward in what a FAMILY MOBILE should be in Australia back in the seventies. 1.8 to 2.0L motor and front drive, and a very acceptable size. Where did Ford and Holden go wrong, in that time where Lancia, Alfa and Volkswagen got things right?