13 February 2012

BOTTLED IT!: Lancia Beta

In Lancia’s history, the Beta goes down as its biggest blunder to date.

A REPUTATION takes years to build and seconds to destroy. This is certainly the case for Lancia with the Beta. This was the car that tarnished the reputation of its maker.

In 1969, Lancia was bought out by Fiat. Some die-hard fans of the Italian marque would say that it was the beginning of the end. It wasn’t until 1972, when a new Lancia came along with the Beta since Fiat's takeover.

Lancia offered the Beta with a wide range of models and bodystyles. With the Berlina (fastback saloon, pictured), HPE (High Performance Estate to rival the Reliant Scimitar), Trevi (three box saloon), Coupe, Spyder (convertible) and Montecarlo (mid-engined sports car).

Contrary to the belief from some Lancia purists, they believed the Beta was a "Fiat and not a Lancia". This all lies within the fact that all Betas were powered by Fiat's engines. But despite that, the Beta was mostly Lancia's own work in the development of the car. Not only that, the name "Beta" continues Lancia's well-known tradition, of naming their cars after letters in the Greek alphabet.

It was also an advanced car when new. The whole Beta range were powered by lively twin-cam engines, shifted through five-speed gearboxes, had rack and pinion steering; disc brakes all round (front and rear) and rode on fully independent suspension, with MacPhearson struts front and rear.

The Beta got positive reviews from the motoring press. Many rated them on being a great driver's car. With excellent handling and roadholding, and the lively performance from the willing and sure footed twin-cam engines. It became Lancia's best seller.

The rot sets in...

Despite the complementary reviews the Beta got from the motoring press, and being Lancia's best seller. Betas suffered from quality issues that got Lancia in deep trouble.

The water drainage channels and the subframes on the Beta's engine mounts, were very vulnerable to rust. There was little or no protection on them against the tinworm. Not only that, Lancia used poor quality steel on the body panels of the cars. They were just as bad for rusting as the engine mounts and the water drainage channels.

The trouble with rust on the Betas became a huge scale problem in the UK. It even made the headlines with the severe rust problems, that escalated to being a major scandal Lancia got caught in. Major recalls were made to owners on their cars by Lancia. The cars were inspected for rust. If there was any corrosion on the vehicles, they were taken back and scrapped.

Lancia were keen to protect its image and reputation in the UK, as it was their largest export market. They made generous compensation offers to owners whose Betas were affected. By either offering with them to part exchange their cars, for a new Lancia or Fiat. Another option was to buy back their cars. Prior to that, Lancia also offered six year anti-corrosion warranties on their new cars.

But the damage was done, and Lancia never recovered from the rust scandal. Lancia gained a reputation of rust and frailty - something that generally lingers on Italian cars to this present day. The sales of their cars in Britain plummeted in later years. It lead to the inevitable happening in 1994, when Lancia pulled out of the British market.

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