This year a number of cars are celebrating their fiftieth birthday. That's a decent number, because 1972 brought a lot of new car models. Traditionally, we put a number of newcomers from the past in the spotlight. Today we present part two, with two new Italians from then: the Fiat 126 and the Lancia Beta.
In October 1972, the new Fiat 126 made its debut at the Salone di Torino. The chassis technically leaned on the still beloved backpack. Contrary to popular belief, he did not follow up on the 500 in the first place. The Fiat 126 thus received its baptism of fire in Turin. This happened together with the Fiat 500 R. They both got the air-cooled 594 cc two-cylinder engine. In the 126, however, the air-cooled 594 cc engine generated 23 DIN hp, the version in the 500 R got a slightly tamer 18 DIN hp engine. You will read more about this 500 R soon. The Fiat 126 was in high demand and not only built in Italy. As a result of a licensing agreement between the Polish government and Fiat, the 126 was also built at FSM in Bielsko Biala and Tychy. For the Eastern European market the small car was called Polski-Fiat 126, for Western and Southern Europe it was called Fiat 126. The car was especially popular in Poland. Incidentally, the 126 was also made in Yugoslavia and in Austria (at Steyr Puch, with a modified engine). Furthermore, some Italian body shops interfered with the small 126, and made special versions of it.
In 1976, a year after the disappearance of the Fiat 500 R, the Fiat 126 was modified and sold under the equipment names Personal, Personal 4 and Economica, among others. Elsewhere he was called Bambino or Base. The Personal models were a bit more luxurious, and had thick plastic strips over the flanks and plastic bumpers. The Economica kept the chrome bumpers and did it without decorative strips. All versions featured 12-inch rims with new wheel hubs and larger brake drums (originated from the 900 T. The new 126 versions also welcomed completely new interiors. As with the first series of the 126, they were also available with a Sunroof.
Larger engine, Polish production will continue for years after 1982
For model year 1978, the 126 models received the larger 652 cc engine. And in 1980 special and luxury versions appeared: the Red, the Brown, the Black and the Silver. In 126 circles, the latter is said to have been particularly sought after. Italian production of the 126 stopped in 1982. The Fiat Panda had meanwhile taken over and was also available with the two-cylinder engine from the 126 for certain markets. Production in Poland continued unabated. In 1987 a BIS (with third door and flat-mounted water-cooled 700 cc engine) was introduced, which was also sometimes requested in Italy. and later Bosmal (a small convertible) followed. The Maluch was the last, and it continued into 2000. After this it was over with the 126 concept, which therefore caught on pan-European. In 28 years, total production rose to 4,6 million units. The lion's share came from Poland. This was the umpteenth Fiat that benefited enormously from the brilliant concept of combining minimum dimensions with maximum use of space.
Lancia Beta Berlina (1972-1981)
The first Lancia designed entirely under Fiat direction was the Beta, which appeared on the scene in 1972. It immediately stood out because of its Fastback-like and self-supporting four-door body with a continuous roofline. A beautiful car, which was equipped with modified Fiat technology, independently suspended wheels with coil springs and disc brakes all around, and the necessary luxury. The Lancia actually succeeded the Fulvia and the Autobianchi A111 at the same time and debuted as 1400 (with the engine that was fundamentally known from the Fiat 124 and the A111), 1600 and 1800, all of which were Fiat engines. In September 1975 a second series saw the light of day. The windows were now larger, the front was changed and the customer now had a choice of three new engines: the 1297 cc engine, the 1585 cc engine and the 1995 cc engine.
Changes for the last years
The last facelift followed in 1979. As far as the Beta is concerned, the 1300 entry-level engine (which had grown from 1297 cc to 1301 cc in the meantime) was retired, also because the Delta was clearly knocking at the door at that time. The other engine versions remained. The third Berlina series had a new front with large light units, and that change gave it a beautiful and mature appearance. The most striking change was found in the interior. The dashboard had numerous round accents and was equipped in a very non-conformist way. In addition, the furniture was designed differently. Various (and rather different) versions of the Lancia Beta were released that bore the name Beta. Examples are the coupé, the Spider and the Beta HPE. These are not discussed in this overview.
Difficult to place, yet built almost 200.000 times
Back to the Beta Berlina for a moment. He was always somewhat difficult in terms of market position. The Beta was considered by real Lancisti more like a luxury Fiat than a real Lancia. And potential buyers saw the Beta as an expensive alternative in its class. Yet the extremely beautiful Beta did not fall between the two. He was sold nearly 200.000 times in nine years. In this way the car remained somewhat exclusive, and for that reason alone it was entitled to bear the Lancia brand name.