I have a great appreciation for rarity. To my eyes, this sole quality can often excuse several shortcomings. Just not in this particular case.
As most people who know me will testify, I have a profound love for all-things Lancia – possibly the greatest marque in automotive history. I’m also decidedly positively minded towards the at times controversial Zagato, and am thus often able to forgive even severe disharmonies from the provocative designer.
In a Lancia Beta Spider we have a combination of all of the above, so I probably ought to just about wet myself out of pure excitement! In America they even named it the Lancia Zagato. It could hardly get any better, could it?
Well, maybe it could, because frankly it’s not really that great: Zagato only built the bodies for the Spider – while the design saw the light of day over at Pininfarina. That should and could have been a good thing – but sadly, Pininfarina’s well-known elegant and flowing lines from the sixties and seventies appear to be several decades further away than what the calendar might suggest. In fact, with looks like this, it might be easier to believe that it was indeed Zagato who had one of his bad days in the office.
Furthermore, it is of course indisputable that the basis of the car is a Lancia Beta. Some – in fact, many– will thus claim that it’s not even a realLancia, as it stems from after FIAT’s takeover. Yet, I will claim that it still encompasses plenty of the traditional Lancia qualities. Beta is a big family. A family which I’ve always thought quite highly of. My personal favourite is the HPE – the sporting estate, which is of course very similar in concept to my own Reliant Scimitar.
But seeing as I already own a classic sporting estate, practically speaking I would probably be better off with the Beta Coupé, which I’ve always found alluringly cheeky with its sassy and pert rear-end. Or rather – if we’re talking about practical, it would of course be the funky Berlina which would be the right choice for me.
All the while, it goes without saying, I obviously dream of a Beta Montecarlo with mid-mounted engine and side-hinged bonnet. It’s the Beta which stands out the most – the extravagant and flashy moviestar – the one which all men dream of.
However, the Spider is the one Beta which I have never dreamt about. The earliest ones are said to be the worst of them: Apparently, bare Coupé bodyshells were given to Zagato, who then proceeded to cut parts out of them and subsequently fit a softtop. But unfortunately they forgot to strengthen the bodyshells sufficiently, so they flexed like a Russian Olympic gymnast. Though, odd as it may sound, I would have actually been able to accept this. Truth be told, I didn’t even know until I read about it in a very detailed and factual German magazine.
It certainly isn’t the drivetrain which is at fault either. All Beta’s have the Lancia-modified version of FIAT’s lovely Lampredi twincam which leaves absolutely nothing to be desired. And as Lancia were always good with velour, the interiors are usually quite funky. On the subject of that interior, it even offers seating for four which was quite a rarity for a convertible at the time.
But the one thing which I just can’t ignore is the design. Sometimes I can I fact put up with visually flawed bodylines – sometimes even admire them. “Deliberately Bonkers” can be a real attribute; and one which I hold dear. But when I look at the Beta Spider, it’s something very different that strikes me. I would rather call it a “Thoughtless Blunder”. It frankly appears inadequately designed, indecisively executed and as an inconsiderate undermining of the two concepts, coupé and convertible – all at once.
Despite some good basic ingredients, that makes it a cocktail which I truly struggle to see anything good in. Instead, it seems painfully apparent why they only managed to sell a disappointing 9,000 examples of their twincam’ed wind-in-hair four-seater Beta.
Or have I got it completely wrong? Have I missed something? In which case, I really hope you will share your wisdom with me…
Until you have convinced me otherwise, I’ll continue to advise anyone in the market for a four-seater convertible from the seventies to opt for the Triumph Stag. It has double the amount of cylinders, and when Michelotti penned its sharp lines, he clearly had (at least) double the amount of talent (or luck?) than Pininfarina had.