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Lancia Beta saloon and HPE (1972-1984)

Published: 30th Apr 2012 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

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Ask a hundred classic car fans to name a great Seventies driver’s car that’s also affordable, and the Lancia Beta would barely register. Yet with this infamous Italian celebrating its 40th birthday this year, demand is on the rise and so are values - but it still offers much for relatively little. Word has finally got out that rot wasn’t necessarily any more of an issue with the Beta than with many of its contemporaries, while this was also one of the most innovative cars of the seventies, with its advanced twin-cam engine, rack-and-pinion steering (a first for Lancia) and all-round disc brakes, along with independent supension at each corner, a collapsible steering column plus crumple zones front and rear along with a strengthened bodyshell that incorporated a roll cage. Isn’t it about time you took a Beta look?

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What to look for

As with any 1970s car, rot can be the Beta’s Achilles’ Heel. But any car that has survived this long is probably going to be OK for a long while yet. Focus on the usual areas first (valances, sills, wheelarches, A-posts, floorpans) and on series 1 cars make sure the subframe mountings are OK. Carefully check the rear suspension turrets. Corrosion here is expensive to repair and awkward to access on the saloons.

Engines last 200,000 miles or more if maintained, but the cambelt should be replaced every three years or 30,000 miles. Head gaskets can fail on 2-litre engines because the head retaining bolts stretch, while supercharger belts fail. Poor-running engines can be down to dir t in the Weber carb’s idle jets, while fuel injected cars can suffer from corroded wiring loom connections. Poor running or stalling at tickover can be the hose that runs from the brake servo to the inlet manifold. It splits and allows air in, weakening the mixture – replacing it is easy and cheap.

Gearboxes are tough, but poor gear selection is down to worn bushes – a kit is available. Second gear synchro can prove weak however; live with it or fit a used gearbox, available for £100 or so.

Wheel bearings aren’t weak, and replacing them is not an involved job so long as you have the correct tools. The steering rack gaiters, which split after they’ve been cooked by the exhaust for years are more tricky to replace; there should be a heat shield fitted to the exhaust, but there rarely is.

Interior and exterior trim is scarce, so check that everything is present and correct – it often isn’t. All the electrics need checking, especially things like electric windows. The main problem is poor earthing through corrosion of the terminals, so while fixing things isn’t necessarily costly, it can be a time consuming pain.

Values

The saloons are the least desirable (and valuable) of all Betas, with restoration projects worth a pint of beer (decent beer, mind). Even the nicest ones fetch just £3000-4000, with HPEs worth a bit more, although they’re few and far between. A reasonable HPE can be picked up for £2000 (if you can find one), while usable Beta saloons fetch anything between £750 and £1500. Obviously a restoration is a labour of love rather than economically sane.

Driving one

Of all the Beta variants, the saloon is the most comfortable to drive, with a ride that’s better than that of many modern cars thanks to soft suspension and high-profile tyres. The steering is sharp (but weighty when PAS isn’t fitted), the brakes are strong and the gearchange is precise too. The 1600 variants of both HPE and saloon will easily keep up with modern traffic, and the 2-litre (in carburetted or injected form) feels only a little bit swifter. The admittedly smooth 1300 and 1400 versions (saloon only), have to be worked hard for cross-country motoring, and a bit undergeared for fast motorway cruising. The motoring press raved about the Beta when new – drive one and it’s easy to see why.

Evolution

1972

Beta saloon launched at Turin motor show, with choice of 1400, 1600 or 1800 engines.

1975

Three-door HPE (High Performance Estate) arrives, in 1600 and 1800 forms.

1975

Series 2 Saloons introduced. 1300, 1600 and 2000 engines, revised interiors and bodywork.

1978

All HPEs and Coupes get new interiors and 1300 gains capacity increase from 1297cc to 1301cc.

1980

Lancia introduces Trevi saloon in 1600 and 2000 forms, alongside the Beta saloon.

1981

Production of Beta saloon ceases, replaced by the Trevi, with new grille and bumpers.

1983

Right-hand drive 2-litre HPE now fitted with fuel injection and power steering.

1984

Supercharged HPE (badged VX) introduced. Last Trevis and HPEs are built.



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