Italian Berlinas – Alfa vs. Lancia

A lot of things have changed in the car market since 1978. For one thing, there was a vast selection of now-absent marques available… Peugeot, Renault, Lancia, Fiat, Alfa Romeo, Pontiac, Oldsmobile, Mercury, Isuzu, and probably more I am forgetting. Two of these in the foreign sector, but not directly competing with one another, were the Alfa Romeo Sport Sedan and the Lancia Beta sedan (to describe them by their US-market names). While both are Italian and share some the intrinsic qualities of Italian cars, they seem to have been targeted against entirely different competitors. You could say the Alfa was designed to face off against the BMW E21 3-series and Fiat 131, while the Lancia was a better competitor to Mercedes W123, Volvo 240, and Peugeot 505.

Let’s take a look at what they share, and how they differ. Having personal experience with both, I can give some insights. But first, let’s take a look at the Sport Sedan, which is listed here on the AlfaBB for $1000. However, the seller has included the old “if it doesn’t sell in a month, it’s going to the crusher”, so I’d imagine as you get closer to the deadline (May 12), negotiations would work out in your favor. Our other car, the Lancia Beta sedan, is a bit more rare, but in no small coincidence, one of those is for sale out of the Rusty But Trusty fleet for $1975.

1978 Alfa Romeo Sport Sedan front

Both sedans are arguably handsome in a 1970s kind of way, with the Alfa being more conservative, but also better looking. While both cars have sedan bodies, the Beta has been styled to look like a fastback, setting itself up for comparison to the Saab 99 and Chevy Citation. The Beta has a more luxurious, quieter interior, with double door seals, large armchair-style seats, and plenty of rear-seat legroom. The Alfetta lives up to its name with sporting appointments, except for the fake wood applique on the dash panel.

1978 Alfa Romeo Sport Sedan left

Pretty clean-looking car. Both cars had fairly innovative chassis for the time. The Beta featured front-wheel-drive, 4-wheel independent suspension, and 4-wheel disc brakes. The Alfetta had an independent front and deDion rear suspension, rear-mounted transaxle and disk brakes all around, inboard-mounted in the rear. Both have rack-and-pinion steering.

1978 Alfa Romeo Sport Sedan rear

Both are fun to drive in their own ways. The Beta is definitely more geared towards comfort, both in terms of its interior appointments as well as its suspension tuning. However, it still has powerful brakes and great handling. The Alfetta tends to understeer, but has a much more sporting feeling with stiffer suspension, strong brakes and sharper, unassisted steering, as well as more power from its engine.

1978 Alfa Romeo Alfetta Berlina right

And unfortunately, our Alfetta has suffered a little shunt. It does appear to be very rust-free, as the Avorio paint would show up any rust spots – plus it’s in New Mexico, so rust is a bit less likely. You can also assume there’s a bit of sun damage to the paint and the interior. The Beta has also suffered sun damage to its interior, but the exterior is in pretty remarkable shape for a survivor car.

1978 Lancia Beta left rear

You can find more pictures of the Beta on the flickr site I set up for the sale.

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2 Responses to “Italian Berlinas – Alfa vs. Lancia”

  1. Todd Schinell Says:

    Thanks for a great post! I had never quite gotten the lure of the Beta until now and suddenly it makes perfect sense. I can definitely see the parallels you made to the other cars having owned/driven most of them. Commenting on things like the double door seals and seats are what makes it clear to me. In your flickr pics I can see things like construction of the interior door panels and seatbacks to be more akin to the old w123 and w115 I owend than I realized. The dash appears to be of that ilk as well. (I daily drive a milano so I can perfectly understand the nature of the contrast to the alfa “sport sedan”.) A Lancia Beta has just made my list of cars to hopefully own someday.

    I dig the crazy retro “futuristic” interiors they made in them too:
    1978 Lancia Beta HPE S2 interior DSC_6452
    Somehow the voice of HAL9000 needs to be piped in.

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