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Tent Find: Cheap 1981 Lancia Zagato Project

Here in the United States, we’re used to a car market determined by the bean counters over at the Big Three. If it doesn’t sell, it isn’t made. This results in a lot of safe business decisions manufacturers make to guarantee their income, and subsequently, a lot of boring cars. Every now and again, a quirky Italian carmaker comes in and tries to make it in the States with one of their models homologated for U.S. regulations, and the results are often bizarre and downright cool. You can find this four-seater, front-wheel drive, Zagato-built, Pininfarina-designed, pseudo-convertible here on craigslist, with an asking price of just $3,600. Special thanks to Otto Matic for letting us know about it!

I say “Zagato-built,” when really only the bodies were built by Zagato. The rest of the car was built by Lancia, but came out of a partnership with Fiat, and is powered by an engine found in various guises in various Italian cars. Being located in California, I’m going to assume that rust isn’t really an issue with this car. The seller includes no images of the undercarriage, but you can see some nooks and crannies around windows, doors, and fixings, and they all look clean. The tops have a noticeable lack of rips, and will probably seal up as well as any 40-year-old Italian convertible.

Under the hood, you can see the Lampredi designed twin-cam engine, powering the front wheels through a five-speed manual gearbox. The seller states that the car needs some TLC to run, which is a bit of a red flag. That could mean anything from new piston rings and head gasket to just a valve adjustment and oil change. It’s a classic Italian car, if you want trouble-free, buy a Camry. A Lancia Zagato brings a certain feel to driving that can’t ever really be touched by a Camry, though.

Inside looks relatively clean, though I would be concerned about what those seat covers are hiding. They show the driver’s side seat without its cover in another picture, and it looks free of rips, but does have some wear on it. Regardless, black leather seats in a convertible is just asking for trouble. Don’t wear short-shorts in this when you take it out on a nice summer day, unless you want your legs to be cooked. Really, though, if you’re in the market for a project, this is complete, original, unmolested, and in excellent shape. Get it checked out by a mechanic to see what it needs to get running again, and join the exclusive club of classic Italian convertible owners.


  1. Avatar photo alphasud Member

    Car looks to be in good shape. If the car was closer I would consider looking at it. Could be a cheap classic to drive and enjoy. Plus all the Fiat go fast parts will work on this engine.

    Like 3
  2. Avatar photo Jim

    The seat covers and the steering wheel cover, courtesy the auto department at K Mart.

    Like 2
    • Avatar photo mark a schulze

      I think its JC Whitney…

      Like 2
  3. Avatar photo MrBZ

    “..if you want trouble-free, buy a Camry”. Great point, Ben. There is almost always a trade-off of some kind for a true driving experience, and often well worth it.

    Like 1
  4. Avatar photo Terrry

    Lancia should have been more popular in the U.S. They were a near-exotic but not that expensive. I think their partnership with Fiat is what did them in here, as Fiat had such a bad rep.

    Like 3
  5. Avatar photo Bill

    Other pics in the ad show the drivers seat cover pulled back… and it looks pretty darn good. I think the owner just likes sheepskin.

    Like 0
  6. Avatar photo Rick Member

    This is a Lancia Special Edition. Very very few were made in 1981. Black with gold striping and leather seats. This one still retains the original wheels, black with gold lip. A very special car indeed. I’ve owned many Fiats and Alfa’s, maybe it’s time for a Lancia. 1500 miles away from me in Texas. Checking transport services now. Thanks Barn Finds for the post!

    Like 10
    • Avatar photo PRA4SNW

      Please keep us posted if you end up with it.

      Like 2
  7. Avatar photo H2ONSNOW

    These are definitely rare cars, I used to work at a Fiat/Lancia Dealer in Houston. (Checker Imports) on 45. We picked them up from the port in Louisiana and Drove them to the Dealer across “The Bayou10”. Fiat Spiders, X1/9’s, Lancia Coups and Zagatos. It was a very fun time!!!

    Like 0
  8. Avatar photo Blackcat

    Looks like a well preserved survivor that could be worth the effort to revive. Cautionary notes are some rust apparent in right front strut tower, salt-air location on the coast, missing hose from air box to AFM, and last license plate tabs being 15 years ago. On balance, if one wants to restore one of these, this could be a good one to choose if one recognizes that even with such a good starting point, the end result will be “underwater”. Enjoy the process, just don’t do it expecting a positive ROI unless you measure it in smiles per mile.

    Like 1
  9. Avatar photo Will Owen

    I usually feel like a seller simply does not give a, uh, hoot if his ad’s list of mechanical features include “RWD” and the car is obviously FWD. Yes, I am picky, and I have uttered my share of erroneous assertions, but at least I do try to re-read everything at least twice.

    I’m looking at this an hour or so after drooling over a much earlier Lancia on another site, and after my usual “Lo, how the mighty are fallen!” reaction to this Fiat-powered, wrong-wheel-drive machine, I think that I’d allow it garage room if I had any to spare. It really does need mostly a cleanup, I’d guess, and a good going-over at my favorite semi-local Italian-car garage. But there’s another Italian in my garage that they need to do a bunch of stuff to, and She Who Must Be Obeyed has decreed a limit of three … which we have.

    Like 2
  10. Avatar photo BOP_GUY Member

    Although 60’s Buick’s and Pontiac’s are generally my thing, I’ve always been drawn to the unusuals out there. Someone in my neighborhood had one of these, and I was always interested and intrigued! If it’s anywhere near as fun to drive as my 86 Bertone X1/9 was, I’d love to have one, although I’d prefer one that’s already sorted out. But I’m in the middle of a 77 Dodge Ramcharger 440 project right now, so bad timing for me too.

    Like 1
    • Avatar photo SubGothius

      They’re absolutely fun to drive, a delight really, with a supple ride yet taut, light, communicative and precise handling, gradually transitioning past the cornering limit into neutral understeer as an even, progressive 4-wheel drift wide of the line rather than any nose-heavy plowing — “as if on rails” never meant so much until I got mine.

      Any Lancia Beta is probably the most “modern” classic one can still buy and maintain affordably, being the first car mass-produced to the full engineering formula that ultimately prevailed in the industry worldwide — transverse FWD, DOHC engine, 5-speed transaxle, rack-and-pinion steering, 4-wheel disc brakes, and fully-independent strut-based suspension with a multilink rear. Few cars had any of that, let alone all of that when the Beta debuted in 1972, nor many more when it retired a dozen years later, but in the decades to follow all that became standard equipment across models in nearly every marque and market segment.

      As such, a Beta gives you the familiar and reassuring driving feel of a completely modern car, yet with classic Italian style and sporting verve — IMO a combination unmatched in any other model.

      Like 2
  11. Avatar photo t-bone BOB

    Located in South Bay

    Like 0

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