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Blunder Buses: Lancia Beta

8 months ago

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Richard Bremner | Journalist


19 October 2023

It must have been the autumn of 1979. Then a student, your reporter was a regular visitor to an Ealing flat-share, its occupants including a bloke with a (much-envied) Lancia Beta HPE. One day he told us his car was being recalled for a diagnostic check which would involve the forceful application of a lump hammer to its front subframe. He was told that if the subframe collapsed under the impact, the car would be bought back, and destroyed. A day later he returned: the Beta had survived the test. Many would not.

On 10 April 1980, the Glasgow Herald reported that so far, Lancia had bought back 504 Betas from their owners. That was the day after the Daily Mirror broke the tale with a front cover story curiously entitled, ‘Luxury Cars in Rust Riddle’, the paper speaking to Junior Transport Minister Kenneth Clarke (yes, the future chancellor and Hush Puppy fanboy), who described the development as ‘worrying’, and called for ‘an urgent investigation.’

But for some Beta owners there wasn’t much investigating to be done. That they had a troubled car was obvious, even if they couldn’t see its subframe. After weathering three or four salt-sprinkled British winters many early Betas resembled 40-year-old tramp steamers. Rust oozed from the decorative stainless steel framing their windows. Bonnets were peppered with pustules and scabs. Front wings took on strange new topographies as mud fought for freedom beneath the paint.

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