When Fiat took over Lancia in 1969, the company had ceased to be a technical director the year after the death of technical director Antonio Fessia. Ing. Sergio Camuffo was given the task of developing the new Lancia model in the early 1970s.
What is in a name?
The company chose the name Beta for the newcomer to be launched in 1972. The choice of the name symbolized new beginnings as it paid tribute to the company's founder, Vincenzo Lancia (1881-1937), who used letters of the Greek alphabet for his early creations - such as Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta, and so on. The name 'Beta' had been used before, for Lancias from 1908 and later for a 1953 bus. Lancia had previously used the first letter of the Greek alphabet, Alpha, but it was not chosen for the new Lancia from 1972 due to the clear confusion it could cause with Alfa Romeo. And only in politics is confusion a valued commodity.
In different flavors
The Beta was made in several body styles, a four-door fastback saloon (Beta berlina), four-door, three-door, sedan sedan (Beta Trevi), two-door coupé (Beta Coupé), two-door Targa (Beta Spider)
Although some of the technical staff had left the company in the difficult years before the Fiat takeover, Camuffo was able to bring together a hard core of Lancia technicians - who were tasked with getting the car into service by the end of 1972. production. Romanini did the chassis design, Zaccone Mina the engine development, with Gilio and Bencini for the testing. All this was done within a very short timeframe and the development budget was also relatively limited. These were key factors influencing the decision to use an existing power source: Fiat's four-cylinder engine with double overhead camshaft and its alloy head and cast iron block.
An optimistic calculation model
At the launch of the Beta in late 1972, Fiat chief Gianni Agnelli told journalists that Lancia production would be around 1972 units in 40.000. That was at a time when a volume of 100.000 units was needed to cover the fixed costs of developing and building the cars. Lancia's limited profitability and resulting capabilities were also evidenced by the lack of replacement models under development at the time of the Fiat acquisition. Much loved, the Lancia Fulvia was developed with little regard for its cost-effective manufacture. So it was expensive to make and expensive to sell. That didn't do sales any good.
The goal of the new owner of the company with the new Beta was to maintain the quality image and margins of existing Lancias, while keeping development time and production costs to a minimum by leveraging the technology and components of the Fiat group. In the project, a well-known existing Fiat engine was modified, mounted transversely and the front wheels were driven. The gearbox was a derivative of a transmission unit subsequently produced by Fiat partner Citroën was developed. But above all, and unlike the Fulvia, the Beta design was relatively inexpensive to manufacture in volumes significantly higher than predecessor Lancia sedans.