How to Make a Boring Lancia Interesting – Instructions from Giovanni Michelotti

In the 1970s Italian coachbuilders were on the rise: Bertone, Pininfarina, Vignale, Ghia, Touring – no one sat without work. And often studios were approached not only by individual customers with deep pockets, but also by large car companies. Firstly, it is cheaper than to keep own staff of designers. Secondly, independent ateliers can provide a fresh, unshadowed perspective on the brand concept.

It was the second reason that prompted Lancia to ask Michelotti Studio to aesthetically improve the Beta Berlina (pictured), a car that would be called a four-door coupe these days. The public reaction to the fastback was quite cold, so Lancia asked Giovanni Michelotti and his subordinates to creatively play up its design without changing the very essence of the car. In fact, the assignment was as follows: “to create something fundamentally new in the field of four-door cars”.

The result of studio’s labors was presented at the Turin Motor Show in 1974. Not everyone will be able to identify in the concept Lancia Mizar yesterday’s Beta Berlina – the car has completely transformed. Nevertheless, the received concept car focused on the same values, as the usual Beta Berlina – maximum comfort and safety of passengers. Though at first sight it can seem that it is just a provocation from Michelotti’s side.

In terms of technology, the car has not changed – it’s the usual Beta 1800 with in-line four-cylinder engine rated at 110 horsepower and five-speed manual gearbox. But the body became completely different, having turned from a prosaic fastback to daring hatchback. Although in the ’70s, the body of Mizar concept car was completely made of metal. And many decisions were calculated in such a way that the car with minimal changes could be reborn as a serial model.

Take at least the most striking detail of the exterior: the doors – two pairs of “gull wings”. Each of the doors received gas struts, which facilitated the lifting process. And in each of the “wings” was integrated a massive aluminum safety bar, which prevented injury to passengers in the event of a side collision with a pole or a tree.

Huge side windows gave a gain in visibility, but caused another problem – they could not be lowered. To compensate for this drawback, Michelotti’s subordinates installed the most powerful air conditioner available on the market at that time on the Mizar. The history has not kept a name of the donor, who has presented the concept car with an air conditioner, but the press release spoke about a device from a premium segment. Most likely, it was about the Jaguar XJ12.

In general, the interior of Mizar was surprisingly well-thought-out as for a single prototype: four full-fledged seats, pliable material of a foredome design, a set of working instruments from Veglia, double locks on each door… The only fault was complete absence of seat belts. The studio considered installation of seats from Range Rover with integrated safety belts, but for unknown reasons it didn’t come to that.

As for the body design, even after 45 years, the Mizar does not look anachronistic – here’s a fashionable nowadays strip of lights across the whole width of the body, and mounted at a negative angle radiator grille, and lift-up headlights, which were popular until the end of the twentieth century. If the concept had been a bit lower, it could look even younger. But, again, the technical filling of the car didn’t change a bit – even springs and shock absorbers were standard.

At the Turin Motor Show Mizar debuted in silver with a lilac shade, although the car was originally planned to be painted deep blue. In general, the sketch of Michelotti is quite different from the one that turned out in the end, but this does not make the Mizar less spectacular. Lancia representatives liked the car and some of Michelotti’s ideas found their way into future Lancia models.

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