Lancias had previously been sold in the U.S. though the late 60s, through Hoffman Motors in the 1950s and Lancia and Fiat later, but the 1975 launch of the #Beta
was the first real attempt to mass-market the brand in North America.
Ultimately, Lancia’s U.S. adventure didn’t work out thanks to a combination of a high price, unfamiliarity, quality issues, and a patchy dealer network. Only 1,011 cars were sold that first year and U.S. sales peaked at 5,500 in 1977, sliding back to 1,600 cars in 1979. It was around this time that quality issues began to seriously erode Fiat’s reputation with American consumers, and these modern #Lancias
were inextricably linked to Fiat.
One way of reinvigorating sales was to bring in a fancier, sportier Beta despite the shortcomings of the by-then-withdrawn mid-engined Beta Scorpion (which had been sold in 1976 and 1977 only). The Beta Spyder, styled by #Pininfarina
but actually constructed at #Zagato
(sort of, the cars went back and forth between Lancia and Zagato during assembly) had been introduced in 1975 in Europe and came to the U.S. in 1979 as the #BetaZagato
The Spyder/Zagato was basically a Beta coupe with a new roof perfect for the “safety regs” era, with a big rollover bar integral to the design, a soft top out back and a targa hatch up front. From the A-pillar forward it was a standard Beta, front-drive with a sideways fiat twin-cam and five speeds. The Beta was an excellent design, if one let down by quality control. -
Earlier Euro versions had the 1600 and 1800 twin cams, but because the North American model only arrived in 1979, it came only with the 2-liter - and it had an optional Automatic.
The Zagato was quite nice - a good driver if more of a tourer than an out-and-out sports car, but it was also pricey - just under $11K in 1979, nearly Coupe DeVille territory; so it didn’t really help sales, which were so poor that Lancia imported no cars at all in 1980, selling leftover ’79s.
The coupe and Zagato returned in 1981 with updates and new trims - and improved quality - and carried on for another two years before Fiat withdrew from North America entirely in January, 1983.