CA Blue Plate Special: 1976 Lancia Scorpion

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Lancias are always a subject of intrigue for me – especially when you review what they once made, compared to the sole Ypsilon that’s in production today. I assumed that Sergio Marchione would have killed the brand off back when he was CEO of FCA but the iconic 100-plus-year-old marque has continually defied rumors of its demise. Today’s find is a 1976 Lancia Scorpion, a model that has graced BF webpages before, but as is often the case, it’s a model that registered a blank in my recall. Located in San Francisco, California, this Scorpion is available, here on eBay for an opening bid of $12,000.

Known as the Lancia Montecarlo, the moniker “Scorpion” was adopted for American export versions to avoid a potential copyright infringement/dust-up with GM and its Chevrolet Motor Division’s Monte Carlo. Production started in ’75 and continued through ’81 though there was no ’79 model offered. Total production of the Montecarlo exceeded 7K copies and the federalized Scorpion, ’76-’77, saw a scant output of only 1,800 units.

Last registered in ’93, this Lancia has experienced 91K miles and the seller claims it to be a “0 rust California car” that has been in dry storage. The finish is said to be original with just a bit of bubbling near the rear section of the bonnet. Some touch-up has occurred, but the exterior is in non-restored original condition and shows excellently. Even the black rubber trim bits appear as new and non-faded. Note the way the boot cover (engine compartment lid?) opens, it hinges on the driver’s side of the car.

Mid-engine power is what moves this Scorpion, specifically an 81 HP, 1.8 liter, in-line, four-cylinder, DOHC engine that is crammed into a very tight engine compartment. The seller states, “The car does run excellent but does have some motor noise and I think it may be a loose lifter but I am not sure..“. Hmmm…It is also suggested that the timing belt should be replaced, and, if a new owner wants to register this Lancia in the Golden State, they’ll have to come up with a catalytic converter – the original is long gone. You row the gears in this Scorpion thanks to its five-speed manual transaxle.

The interior, like the exterior, is certainly a high point, the buckskin leather upholstery is in like-new condition, as are the carpet, dash, and door cards. The instrument panel is a simple, clean, boxy affair with clear, easy-to-read gauges – nothing shows like it needs no attention. Of note, the A/C is not working but the seller will include four cans of R-12 for a recharge (probably get arrested in California for harboring contraband!).

And unless my eyes are deceiving me, this Lancia appears to be radioless. Rather than refer to this car as being a “radio-delete” model, I imagine it’s just a Lancia where the original acquirer decided to forgo the unit and its associated expense.

I can really appreciate a car like this Scorpion, and I regret that there aren’t similar models still made. That said, I’m a bit of a Nervous Nelly when it comes to more “unusual” pieces like a 47-year-old Lancia, so I wouldn’t be inclined to chance it. But that’s just me, how about you?

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  1. alphasudMember

    The technician who worked next to me at the Alfa dealer had one. It was originally gold but color changed to black which really looked nice. I considered buying it but he said I wouldn’t want it. Very underpowered and had a horrible brake set-up. That didn’t deter me from still wanting to own one if I could sort the brake issue and maybe do a powertrain swap. That Lampredi engine was the base for the Integrale with a 16V head. If it would fit that would be an awesome combination with a turbo and keeping the Lancia pure Lancia. I think they are beautiful cars. Too bad emissions choked them so bad. Also dealer network was poor which did nothing for their reputation in the US.

    Like 10
    • SubGothius

      Yes, unfortunately whereas the Montecarlo debuted in Europe with a reasonably potent 120 HP 2-liter, they only had a detuned and smog-choked 1800 version certified (from other Fiat and Lancia US models) for US/Cali emissions compliance at the time, making a woeful 81 HP. Luckily, these Lampredi twincam engine respond very well to tuning, especially when rebuilt with higher-compression pistons that can take good advantage of hotter cams, dual Weber carbs, etc.

      As to that “horrible brake set-up” you mentioned, the initial series of Montecarlos and Scorpions were inexplicably equipped with vacuum-boosted power disc brakes only in front, leaving the rear discs unboosted. With the engine, fuel tank, and spare tire all in the rear, the front wheels didn’t have much weight keeping them planted, allowing those power front brakes to lock up a bit too readily when driven in anger in the wet or when road traction was otherwise marginal, which the motoring press made great sport of, more than was likely to actually affect most owners day-to-day.

      Fortunately, it’s a fairly simple matter to bypass the vacuum boost if one is so inclined, and X1/9 brake upgrades such as the popular Whoa! Brakes retrofit kit using Wilwood calipers are an easy nut’n’bolt swap. Second-series Montecarlos omitted the brake booster entirely and upgraded to larger 14″ wheels allowing for larger discs, though the US Scorpion variant sadly would not resume production by that time.

      Like 11
      • JoeNYWF64

        I don’t see how the rear brakes would not be power assisted & the front would be! – all the brakes lines just HAVE to be coming out of the same boosted master cylinder! Or am i missing something?
        I bet the proportioning valve was not designed properly, like on the early
        ’80s Chevy Citations, etc.

        Like 1
      • alphasudMember

        Here is a link that shows the Lancia brake circuit on the series one cars.

        Like 4
    • Shaun Martin

      Hi Alphasud, the16v integrale engine tilts the other way, so I don’t think it’ll fit under the lid. What someone (American named Tom) has done is fitted the 2 litre volumex engine with a 40dcoe.

      Like 3
    • SirRaoulDuke

      I’d be fine with keeping it Italian and going with a Busso swap. It’s been done before…and sounds glorious.

      And doesn’t look too shabby in engine the bay either….

      Like 4
  2. Tom Asher

    The first car I ever sold in my 40+ years in the business was a 1977 Scorpion. In those days, we had 49 state and California versions of most vehicles. But with such low sales projected, Lancia only offered the lower emission/lower HP California version for all 50 states. Still, it was a lot of fun to drive and I’d love to have one now!

    Like 5
  3. SubGothius

    These have a rather fascinating development history — in a nutshell:

    Fiat wanted a replacement for their aging 124 Sport Coupe, so they solicited proposals from Pininfarina and Bertone, under Fiat internal development project codes X1/8 and X1/9 respectively. Bertone’s X1/9 proposal got approved, retaining its codename for the actual production model.

    Pininfarina wasn’t ready to give up however, as their X1/8 bid had become a bit of a pet project for them, being their first attempt to fully design and develop an entire car (not just body shells) for in-house series production, aside from the powertrain and running gear to be provided by Fiat. Originally intended to have a 3-liter V6, this was scaled back to a 2-liter plan when the ’70s oil crisis hit, and the project was re-designated as X1/20.

    Fiat had also recently acquired Carlo Abarth’s tuning/racing shop, which they tasked with developing a couple early prototype X1/20 bodyshells into racers to compete in the Giro d’Italia for promotional and “racing improves the breed” purposes. These became the Abarth 030, equipped with an Abarth-tuned version of the 3.2L V6 from the Fiat 130, mounted longitudinally to a ZF transaxle. One of these finished the competition second only to the mighty Lancia Stratos; the other 030 was a backup car and never raced. This project would continue, ultimately culminating in the Lancia Rally 037.

    That racing effort aside, the series-production side of the X1/20 project was eventually transferred under Lancia’s wing, Fiat having saved that storied firm from looming oblivion in late 1969 by acquiring it for a token 1 Lira per share. As the X1/9 had proven the viability of putting a series-production transverse FWD powertrain (from the Fiat 128) into a rear-mid engine configuration, Fiat recognized they could do the same with the new Lancia Beta’s FWD powertrain for the X1/20 and thus market it as a Lancia, which would also justify other comfort, equipment, and refinement upgrades to better distinguish it from the X1/9 and position it upmarket for a more profitable price tag.

    Ultimately, the production car debuted as the Lancia Beta Montecarlo, to lend some extra sporting cachet to the Lancia Beta line which provided its powertrain (though the rest of the running gear under the skin was mostly shared in common with the X1/9), and became the first series-production model to be fully manufactured to completion entirely in-house at Pininfarina, just as they’d hoped and planned for all along.

    Like 15
  4. Martin Horrocks

    Nice cars, though the US spec is least dedirable and ugliest variant. Other commentators have pointed out the flaws are essily fixed, so a 150bhp Monte Carlo with upgraded brakes now is a good value weekend sports car.

    Ref the brand, the plan is to bring it back under Stellantis. I can’t see the sense in this as the brand means nothing to those who do not have a real interest in motoring history. Also, Stellantis has too many zombie brands already, discuss!

    Like 2
    • SubGothius

      Lancia has remained viable for two primary reasons:

      1) The Agnelli family, whose company has always been the largest shareholder in Fiat, then FCA, and now Stellantis, has a fondness for Lancia as one of the oldest surviving marques in the world, and as a hallmark of glory days when Italy fielded a marque with the build quality and engineering innovation, sophistication and excellence to rival (arguably even surpass at the time) Mercedes-Benz;

      2) Lancia’s sole remaining model, the upscale supermini Ypsilon (mechanically derived from the Fiat 500), outsells all Alfa Romeo models combined worldwide year after year, despite being an aging model sold only in Italy.

      After the Stellantis merger, their management has given every marque in their now-combined portfolio a decade to make a business case for their continued existence. Last I’d heard, they formed a joint subgroup comprising Lancia, Alfa Romeo and DS (an upscale spinoff from Citroën) to co-develop new premium models together.

      My suspicion/hope is that, rather than any cynical “badge engineering”, new models would be engineered cooperatively across Stellantis’ various divisions worldwide wherever domain expertise resides (e.g., large engines here, small engines there, suspensions yonder, etc.), with model-specific styling and tuning distinct to each marque, which in turn would be chosen and tailored to market wherever that marque holds strong equity in existing public recognition and reputation.

      As such, IMO we’re probably unlikely to get, say, Peugeots sold here again, nor even existing Peugeot models merely rebadged as Dodges or the like, but we could see Dodges related to Peugeots (and other Stellantis marques) engineering-wise under their differing skins, yet without being able to say in any meaningful way that any given model is “really just” a rebadge or restyle of another marque’s model.

      Like 6
      • MikeH

        Unfortunately, the Lancia name has already been besmirched. In northern Spain, in 2019, I saw a Dodge minivan badged as a Lancia. I took a picture and sent it to friends with the title: How far the mighty have fallen.

        Like 0
      • SubGothius

        MikeH yes, that along with the Chrysler 300 and 200 being rebadged as a new Lancia Thema and Flavia respectively, besmirching not just the marque but also those storied model names.

        They did something similar in reverse as well, rebadging the last-gen Lancia Delta as a Chrysler Delta for sale in the UK and Ireland (and tentatively in America, but that never panned out), due to lingering ill will against Lancia there from bad press after they bought back the earliest run of Lancia Beta saloons due to a design flaw causing premature, catastrophic chassis rust (TL;DR: Lancia did the right thing there, but “no good deed goes unpunished”).

        Fortunately, rebadged models those were all short-lived and poorly received aside from the Delta, so let’s hope Stellantis has learned from that debacle, as I proposed above.

        Like 1
  5. JoeNYWF64

    Odd that the pop up headlights are not covered at all in the “down”/angled position.
    IMO, it would have been a lot easier to fit 4 smaller(2 hi beam & 2 low beam) sealed beam headlights for the USA market. The low fenders & hood could be retained & no need for eventual troublesome popup mechanisms.

    Like 0
    • SubGothius

      I once read someone describe the Scorpion’s headlight arrangement as lending an unfortunate “death in the family” expression with the headlights down.

      This solution was necessary to meet US-DOT headlight regulations of the time, not just as to type (round sealed beams only at the time), but also the minimum-height requirement without jacking up the suspension on taller springs. Other Fiat and Lancia US-market models of the era suffered the latter solution, which is why they appear to ride high on their stock suspensions with unsightly large gaps between their tires and the tops of their wheel arches.

      Many owners have resolved this by retrofitting the Euro-market Montecarlo’s handsome flush-mounted rectangular units (UK Monte units are unsuitable, as the low-beam cutoff angles up on the wrong side, dazzling oncoming traffic here), or by converting to a quad-round setup, either sourced from a FWD Beta or other cars and improvised to fit, or with a ready-made conversion kit such as provided by The Monte Hospital (an invaluable resource for model-specific rare, NLA, and reproduction/upgrade parts).

      Like 3
  6. scottymac

    You might Bing search for a New Zealand company that produces panels to upgrade the Scorpion to 037 Rally looks. If you don’t like getting your hands dirty, you don’t have to be like Jim – “I regret that there aren’t similar models still made.” Just deep pockets:

    Like 1
    • SubGothius

      My gripe with the Kimera EVO37 is that they overlooked a key (and my favorite) design signature of the original Montecarlo/037 — the way the beltline (where the body meets the side windows) angles slightly downward from back to front, then “swoops” up in a graceful curve to meet the base of the A-pillar.

      Like 0
  7. scottymac

    Can’t get these out of my mind!

    Like 2
  8. Chris A.

    The 1980 Lancia Beta MonteCarlo FIA endurance racer appeared to use the chassis tub with tube subframes front and back with a turbocharged engine in a linear mounting. Wicked fast when I saw it race at Watkins Glen. The best part was when the car braked at the end of the straight going into the esses. The backoff flames from the turbo went well beyond the end of the car. One beat the Porsches to win the 6 hour race. Wild paint job too. Fast, loud, wild looking and Italian, it doesn’t get any better. I’d love to see a tribute version.

    Like 2
  9. scottymac

    Which is cheaper, freight from New Zealand, or from Spain?

    Like 1
    • MikeH

      I imagine that, of the overall cost, freight will be a minor concern.

      Like 0
  10. PRA4SNW

    Ended with 0 bids.

    Like 0

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