14k Mile 1981 Lancia Zagato Project

As the saying goes, the cheapest project vehicles usually turn out to be the most expensive! Certainly, that won’t be the case with this $1000 1981 Lancia Zagato which can be found here on Craigslist and is located in Toledo, Ohio. Sure, this one pretty much ticks all the boxes for a potential project quagmire: low production numbers and questionable parts availability? Check! No title? Check! Italian? Lord have mercy, that’s a “check.” Still… just look at it!

Ah, nothing like the sweet Siren’s song of an Italian automobile… it lures you in with its Pininfarina design and then dashes your hopes, dreams, and wallet on the rocky shores. The body is probably the best thing going for this Zagato as it appears to be in largely solid condition, with the major exception of the front passenger fender which was damaged and removed – seller indicates they have a good condition replacement which is included.

In the US, the Zagato was originally equipped with a carburated 2.0L 4 cylinder engine designed by Fiat, but he 1981 model year did see an improvement in the addition of a Bosch fuel injection system. This engine is, naturally, not in running condition and has sat dormant for somewhere between 5 and 25 years depending on when the original owner finally parked it for good in their garage. The seller indicates that compression tests good, and the engine does crank by hand. They also inserted a camera into the head and reportedly did not detect any rust.

Which brings us to the interior, which is… pretty rough. Of course, it is, it’s a $1k project car. You’re not worried though, right? You got this. Where others have tried and failed, you will persevere. After all, what’s the worst that can happen, it sits around for a couple years and you offload it for a grand?

Hell, maybe I should buy it…

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  1. Shaun Dymond

    In Europe they were called Beta, and were pretty much the nail in the coffin for Lancia here in the UK due to appalling reliability and an incredible ability to rust in front of your very eyes at the first sign of rain. A truly beautiful car to behold, but almost the architect of Lancia’s downfall. Good luck to whoever takes this project on.

    • Larry Smith

      sorry your wrong in europe they were call Lancia Spyder,amit it was still part of the Betta family.I have one an 82 with no rust & in great condition

  2. stillrunners

    Whale….out of all of my sister’s husbands….little sisters hubby talked her into co-signing for one of these. Not a surprise he was gone soon after and worth her coming home in a Vega – that made it !

  3. Steve A

    Wouldn’t touch it with a 10′ pole.

  4. Tim

    And gone already…….

  5. Rex Kahrs Member

    It also checks the box of crappy ugly Italian POS cars from the early 80s. Check!

  6. k

    How Lancia has gone to such ugly stuff in their later yrs is beyond me – really sad to see – just another boring, troublesome, rustable car…….has none of the pizazz of its early models.

  7. UK Paul 🇬🇧

    Make a fortune breaking for parts?

  8. christopher swift

    My apologies to fans of Italian cars, but the backend of this car has an amazing resemblance to my old 1988 Nissan Sentra. Even had same silly strip on the side.

  9. PRA4SNW PRA4SNW Member

    Gone, of course.
    It probably answered someone’s Zagato parts car dream.

  10. T-Bone Bob

    These are really pretty nice.

  11. Wayne

    You generally find Lancias with low miles because of timing belt failure. (Yes, interference engine) No problem, it is a Fiat engine, replace the bent valves and put it back together. Wrong! cams and cam timing are different. Once you set the cam timing with your newly refurbished cylinder head with Fiat specs and crank it over. You now have bent valves again. (And you never even heard it cough or sputter!) I have a close friend (who no longer plays with Lancias) who had several. He was able to pick them up cheap with non-running engines. He kept a rebuild cylinder head in stock. We could strip it down, (removing smog parts that never worked anyway and contributed to overheated exhaust manifolds that cracked) and replace the head and timing belt and have it running in about 3 hours. We lived in the rust belt, so he only would buy non-rusty cars that had been sitting in a garage. He even found one that only had 900 miles on it. (age, not miles are the death of Fiat/Lancia timing belts) He would address the problems that came from the factory and drive them a few years until the tin worm would come calling. Drove a Beta Coupe from the Illinois-Wisconsin line to the Daytona 24 Hour race in just under 15 hours. (that included a 1 hour stop to see my grandmother in Tennessee) That is just at 1200 miles. On the return trip we were making even better time when we hit an ice storm in Indianapolis. The vibration of the frozen slush caused the Weber float to go out of adjustment. Ever try to adjust a float while the carb isin your lap, it is 20 below zero and you are shivering so bad you can’t keep your hands steady?
    Ah, good times!

    • Booya

      You have truly lived.

    • SubGothius

      The ’79-on 2-liters had a non-interference top-end, though the vestigial fuel-pump drive lobe on the aux shaft could still contact the #2 conrod cap nut if the aux shaft was badly mis-timed, usually sending the aux shaft out the side of the block permanently ruining it, and of course the Haynes manual omitted any mention of proper aux shaft timing.

      Valves can also contact each other for all years/models/displacements, so turning the cams without proper cam timing can nick or bend the valves. The timing mark on the crank also varied for different years/models, so overlooking that could account for mistimed reassembly of earlier 1800 engines with interference top ends.

      Aisde from all that, cams and cam timing are actually the same as Fiat twincams, though the Lancia cam towers do differ, with differing oil drains to account for the engine being tilted over by about 20 deg.

  12. Doyler

    is that paint from the factory?

    • SubGothius

      I can’t vouch for it being the original coat, but this black’n’gold livery was indeed a factory option. First offered for ’79 as a “Limited Edition” of 500 cars, they proved popular enough that dealers demanded it remain available by special order, so for ’81 (no ’80s were imported at all) an unclear number of “Special Edition” Zagatos were produced as well.

      Despite the “Limited/Special” moniker, black’n’gold is probably the most common color for US-market Zagatos, as only about 2000 Zags in total were imported from ’79-82, and the rest were available in a range of at least 4 other colors (red, white, silver, and metallic blue).

  13. Ike Onick

    I like the “To Do” list left on the back of the car. The owner took a hard look and said “to hell with it”

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