Yesterday’s specials…Lancia Beta Hi-Fi

Now let me make one thing clear from the outset. I love Lancias. My all time favourite car is the Delta Integrale (although I’m yet to sit in one, let alone drive one). The Stratos is generally just another way of saying “uber cool” in my language. The classic Fulvia is about as pretty as a car can get. And of all the cars my Dad owned, his Lancia 2000 Sedan is easily the pick of the bunch, oozing flair, style and individuality. So yes, I love Lancias.

Which is why it pains me to live in the knowledge that Lancia is responsible for what is perhaps one of the worst special editions of all time. Not only was it a crass marketing-led edition, but it also ensured the rot, (pun intended), started to set in for the brand in the UK. Lancia died in the UK in 1993, but this special edition, launched in 1981, led to a slow and painful death for one of the world’s greatest car brands. Even a stunningly successful legacy in world rallying did nothing to stop the rot.

The car in question was the Lancia Beta Hi-Fi, based on the rather beautiful Beta Coupe. Good to drive, pleasant to look at and with strong performance, but hideously overshadowed by an ongoing problem with rust. For years, Lancia lived under a cloud of rumours suggesting that their cars were built using low grade, Russian-sourced steel. In the UK, the corrosion problems and a media witch-hunt ensured that Lancia was on a downward spiral by 1980.

The result was that Lancia was left with a number of unsold vehicles, including the Beta Coupe. Many of these were simply parked up disused airfields, exposed to the elements. This would take its toll on any car. On a Lancia Beta, the results would be catastrophic.

So Lancia had a problem – it needed to shift the stock. In 2010, Lancia’s future depends on Chrysler. In 1981, it was Aston Martin. Or more specifically, Aston’s engineering arm, Tickford. Aston needed to springboard the newly formed Aston Martin Tickford company and Lancia needed support with shifting unsold stock. A marriage made in heaven?

The solution developed by Tickford was the Beta Coupe Hi-Fi. Now call me a cynic, but when a special edition’s name majors on the stereo system, surely alarm bells would start ringing. I mean, would you be fooled into buying an Austin Metro Goodmans? Or the Datsun Sunny JVC? Or maybe the Toyota Starlet AM/FM? No, thought not.

Lancia Beta Coupe Hi-Fi
Hi-Fi or Lo-Rent coupe?

As you might have guessed, the Hi-Fi’s key selling point was the sound system – in the shape of a Voxson, one of Australia’s biggest audiovisual companies. So, Italian car, British…er…special edition and Australian tunes. Kind of like Luciano Pavarotti singing Land Down Under at the Milton Keynes Bowl. It also came with an electric aerial (!), spoilers, gold side decals and black alloys. In my humble opinion, it actually looks pretty good. Just a shame the cars were doomed to fail.

The truth is, the cars were already rusting by the time Tickford got hold of them. Indeed, many had been sat dormant in their airfield home for up to two years. Only 300 were ever produced, but only a small number of these will have survived the end of the decade. A shame.

It is easy to poke fun at the Hi-Fi. It reeks of everything that is wrong with special editions – a poor attempt to boost flagging sales, usually by exploiting the buying public. But for me, the Hi-Fi represents a sad chapter for Lancia. Like a tired entertainer, once big and now merely seen performing in deserted seaside towns, the Hi-Fi is an unfitting legacy for the great badge. I’d much rather remember the Fulvia, Delta, Thema 8.32 or Stratos.

Would it stop me buying one if I saw one for sale tomorrow though? Not likely!

© MajorGav’s PetrolBlog 2010. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to MajorGav and MajorGav’s PetrolBlog with appropriate and specific direction

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ABOUT AUTHOR
Gavin Big-Surname
The chief waffler and founder of PetrolBlog in 2010. Has a rather unhealthy obsession with cars from the 80s and 90s, and is on a one-man mission to collect the cars nobody else wants. Also likes tea and Hobnobs.

10 comments

  1. April 2, 2010
    James Clark

    My first car, a black Beta Coupe. Looked great. Three weeks later it was put on a ramp and promtly condemned by the garage who refused to allow it to be driven away.

    Reply
  2. April 5, 2010
    Yesterday’s specials…Lancia Beta Hi-Fi – MajorGav’s PetrolBlog | World Estate site

    […] Now let me make one thing clear from the outset. I love Lancias. My all time favourite car is the Delta Integrale (although I’m yet to sit in one, let alone drive one). The Stratos is generally just another way of saying “uber cool” in my language. The classic Fulvia is about as pretty as […] Read more about: Yesterday’s specials…Lancia Beta Hi-Fi – MajorGav’s PetrolBlog […]

    Reply
  3. April 6, 2010
    Darren Leslie

    Quote: “Would it stop me buying one if I saw one for sale tomorrow though? Not likely!”. Mrs MajorGav should be worried, very worried indeed…..

    Reply
  4. July 7, 2011
    s w mc garry

    i had a hi fi 008 never had a car before or since as good.

    Reply
    • July 7, 2011
      MajorGav

      Did you buy it new?

      Reply
  5. September 9, 2011
    Ryan Kooken

    It is a shame that the Beta series suffer from such a bad rap. Truth is, Betas do rust.. but not any more than any other car built in the 70’s. The later series Beta variants are rumoured to have much better rust prevention than the earlier first series. The up side of the bad press is that the car is an outstanding value these days. Nice examples can be had for what you would spend on a 90’s era MX-5. Those serious about a Beta purchase would be wise to educate themselves on what to look out for.

    Ryan
    1982 Beta Spider (141k miles and still going strong!)

    Reply
    • September 9, 2011
      MajorGav

      I was fortunate enough to drive a Beta Coupé on a classic car magazine group test some years back. Against the 924, RX-7, Capri and Alfetta GTV, it was easily my favourite car. It was the most balanced of the five and also the best looking. I’m a big fan and when I have the guts, I’ll probably buy one! 😉

      141k miles deserves respect. I salute you and your Beta.

      Reply
  6. March 22, 2012
    James Kerr

    The HiFi designation refers to an Italian Lancia Owners club established in the late 50’s (the High Fidelity Club). Many Lancia models have been designated HiFi (rallying Fulvias etc) as an acknowlegement to this club.

    Reply
  7. July 5, 2013
    Simon

    Thought you might like this http://www.carandclassic.co.uk/car/C399348

    Reply
    • July 5, 2013
      Gavin Braithwaite-Smith

      Oh, that is a VERY good find, sir.

      Tempted?

      Or is it yours?!

      Reply

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