While a moot point in the era of digital downloads and DVDs, Panasonic's VHS did at one time beat Sony's Beta in the consumer video recording contest. Lancia's Beta also lost out to more reliable fare, but today's Nice Price or Crack Pipe Coupé could rewind all that. That is, if its price makes it a master Beta.
As unloved as the E21 may be in relation to its neue klasse predecessor and E30 successor, that didn't stop what yesterday was claimed to be the nicest 320i on Craigslist from winning your hearts. Wait, yes it did. Or was it the nearly eight grand price tag that served up all the haterade? Either way, 55.52% of you said 320-I wouldn't pay that much, and that was even with its gnarly sisal mats. Sisal mats!
You ever have one of those surprise sneezes, the kind that just plain comes out of nowhere? You know the sort, one that doesn't even allow you time to fortify your other orifices and hence can result in the unsupervised simultaneous horn section emanating from your southern hemisphere - which my friends, can be deadly.
Having an unexpected and uncontrolled fart - and I mean a real ass clapper - can prospectively threaten to make your pants look like GAME OVER on Asteroids. And once that noisy golem is released from its cave, it is with sinking heart and great trepidation that you have to do the giraffe lips thing with your butt cheeks to ensure the blast didn't just rocky road your shorts.
It is with similar apprehension that we consider today's 1976 Lancia Beta Coupé, as it not only comes with a brand reputation for abject and unremitting craptitude, but is also painted the color of poo. Despite that, Betas are pretty cool looking little cars, and while historically being made from materials sourced from the Lira Store, this one seems to have stood time's test.
We're all familiar with the Beta story - the line, including coupe, fastback berlina, hatcheriffic HPE, and Monte Carlo, was the first of Lancia's products to debut under Fiat's ownership. Front-wheel drive and sporting a variation on Fiat's twin-cam inline four, the Betas lacked much of the engineering interest of the precedent Fulvias with their jewel-like narrow-angle V4s.
Like most all Betas, this one has the five-speed manual backing its 81-horse engine. Parts for both transmission and Fiat twin-cam are relatively plentiful, however other consumables - things such as brake rotors and pads, struts and springs, and the various plastic bits may be more problematic. Fortunately, on this one, all the bespoke parts such as trim and molded rubber seem to be intact and in excellent shape.
Sure it has bumpers that can be seen from space, but those may have protected the ornate grille up front and tail lamp lenses in back, both parts that would be expensive to replace as these cars have mostly already made their pass through the pick-a-part yards. Amazingly, not only is this Beta seemingly free of body blemishes, but it also has - if the seller is to be believed - escaped the ravages of rust, making it the only Beta in history to have ever done so.
Inside it only gets better with a quartet of lovely to look at bucket seats in a rich caramel set amidst a cabin resplendent in ‘70s Italian ergonomic apathy. Yes, the dashboard plastic is thinner than a newlywed's nightie but amazingly it is free of cracks, deformations, or collections of banana brand stickers. The wooden shift knob sits atop a conical boot that sprouts right in front of a stereo head unit so old school it even has one of those freaky long-ways cassette slots.
The only alarming thing evident with this claimed 24K, single-owner Beta is the electrical tape wrapped wiring that hangs down below the dash like a jock-less jock's junk. Well, there's that and the fact that it's a Lancia Beta.
But that's not a bad thing. These cars have cool styling, seats that look like Alice in Wonderland's caterpillar, and were actually pretty engaging to drive back in the day - when they ran and weren't dissolving into piles of iron oxide and marinara sauce - and this one's clearly a time capsule from America's bicentennial year. What better representative of that celebratory year of what was a once fragile democracy than a car with a reputation for fragility that has also survived intact?
But what should such a survivor cost? The current owner, who strangely is offering his New Jersey plated Lancia in the Seattle Craigslist, seems to think $4,500 is a fair deal. You may however, disagree. What do you think, is this Beta worth that much bank? Or, should this Lancia go for lots less?
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* If you get this reference then you are definitely a Simpsons mother-effing jedi master and should probably find something else to fill the hours. Perhaps you should buy a cat.