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One Of 75! 1981 Lancia Zagato S.E.

Sometime back, I opined how Lancia was a part of a disappearing act at FCA. Well now that FCA is no more, Lancia is an even smaller speck of juggernaut Stellantis, which by my count is the overlord for twelve different brands. But Lancias, from the past, continue to surface from time to time and today we have another Zagato from 1981 for review. This Special Edition package equipped Lancia is located in  Phoenicia, New York and is available, here on craigslist for $9,900. Thanks to Chuck F for this tip!

The Hemmings article reference is quite helpful as it gives some detail and metrics around this one of only 75 Special Edition models sold. And that represents about ten percent of the total number of Lancia Zagatos sold worldwide in ’81 and ’82. To parse it further, this car is one of just six 1981 S.E.’s to make it to the U.S. that year.  I worked with an individual back in the late ’70s that had a standard ’79 model (non-special edition) and while my memory of it is fleeting, I do recall its go-cart-like point-and-shoot maneuvering capability. For such a rare model, Barn Finds has featured a couple over the last year or so.

Benched in ’99, this Lancia has only experienced 75K miles and the owner is in the process of thinning his collection. Its long-term slumber must have been in clean, dry storage, and therefore conducive to this Lancia’s appearance as the seller states, “Body and paint are in great original condition. Slight rust bubbling on a lower portion of the body and a small rust hole in the trunk“. It certainly presents itself well – the gold stripes, in particular, don’t appear to be thin, chipped, or faded as I have noted on other discovered examples. The black finished wheels are a styling trend that was ahead of their time as it seems every SUV, CUV, whatever-V today is wearing the same look.

The 108 estimated HP, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine provides this front-wheel driver with passable operational capability and the seller suggests, “The car runs drives and stops and can easily be fully roadworthy with little work“. He further adds, “Before being roadworthy the car should have a complete going over“. The front wheels channel power to the ground courtesy of a five-speed manual transaxle. How does a Lancia Zagato perform acceleration-wise? Autoweek claims a 1/4 mile dash saunter in the 19-second range.

Interesting to realize is the fact that this Lancia is a four-seater (it’s based on a Lancia Beta coupe) and the Hemmings article actually claims, “Rear seats are actually comfortable if you’re short and there’s no one in the front seat. With three people on board, a single adult human being can kind of curl up sideways in the back; you could almost cram two in there, but the roof bar prevents that” Maybe for some, I’m a long-legged lummox and I’m not about to fit in that tiger pit. That said, the interior of this Lancia is in fine nick. The seats are upholstered in leather and are showing just a bit of age and use. The rest of the environment, including the dash, instrument panel, and carpet check out and reveals normal use at best. One notable item is the fact that the A/C supposedly needs a charge – why not just do it, right? That way one will know for certain what’s really wrong with it. I also wonder why there is a hardware store toggle switch in place of the original that operates the fan/blower.

Does rareness translate into value? No, there’s such a thing as bad rareness. The Hemmings article puts an ’82 Lancia Zagato’s value at $3-4K but the article is almost ten years old (and this one is an ’81) so it’s not much of a measuring stick. Cars like this don’t seem to trade as much on rarity as they do on their existentialism – if you’re a Lancia fan, then this Zagao, which just happens to be rare, might be your ticket, right?


  1. Avatar photo way2nutz

    How does one get from “Body and paint are in great original condition.”


    “Slight rust bubbling on a lower portion of the body and a small rust hole in the trunk“.

    I know these glorified Fiats weren’t high end cars, but who checks the box to get the optional rust bubbles and holes?

    Like 2
    • Avatar photo Terrry

      Looks like it has some rust “bubbling up” in the floor areas too.

      Like 1
    • Avatar photo SubGothius

      Reckon they just mean it hasn’t had a respray nor any bodywork done, and only a few rust bubbles is pretty good condition for these by now.

      As for “glorified Fiats”, the only thing Fiat about these was the Lampredi twincam engine, which was one of the most advanced and efficient in Europe at the time, so a real no-brainer for Lancia to adopt in developing their new Beta model range. Engine aside, the entire rest of the Beta range was developed in-house at Lancia by old-school Lancia engineers who remained on-staff after the Fiat buyout, and built at Lancia’s Chivasso factory right alongside the last few years of Fulvias, tho’ of course these Zagato spiders took an extra trip to Milan for the body conversion.

      Like 4
      • Avatar photo Mike Hawke

        I had an 81 Fiat Spider and 82 Zagato Spider at the same time. They may have both had the Lampredi 2-liter, but the engines felt totally different. The Lancia had real power and revved towards 7K. The Fiat had some torque and it was pointless to rev past 5K. Now that I have a 1438cc Fiat Spider, it’s kind of amazing I just wrote “Fiat” and “torque” in the same sentence!

        Like 2
  2. Avatar photo SubGothius

    There’s been a lot of discussion among Beta Lancisti about that “1 of 75” claim that keeps getting parroted lately, seemingly out of the blue. As far as any of us are aware, there’s ZERO documented evidence for just how many ’81 Special Edition Zagatos were made at all, let alone documenting that figure in particular, and we’ve been debating the topic for well over a decade now, but most agree the actual figure was likely in the low hundreds.

    Seems the first time that “75” figure ever appeared in print was in the cited June 2012 article from Hemmings Sports and Exotics magazine, an offshoot publication of theirs that wasn’t exactly regarded as a paragon of meticulous research and fact-checking, typically just interviewing an enthusiast owner or two and reporting their word for everything verbatim, evinced by the hash of other dubious details in that article.

    What we do know is that 2,076 Zagatos were produced in US-market Series 2FL spec from ’78-81, and of those, a Limited Edition of exactly 500 were made in this black’n’gold livery for the ’79 model year. Those proved so popular that US dealers demanded it remain available by special order, hence the similar-looking Special Edition cars like this one for ’81. An additional 791 Zagatos were produced in Series 2FL2 spec from ’81-82 for model year ’82, apparently all exported to the US as a last-hurrah for Lancia’s departure from the US market, tho’ none of those came in this livery.

    Like 6
    • Avatar photo SubGothius

      Speaking of, all LE and SE Zagatos were only ever made for and sold in the US market, nowhere else, so it’s also a bit puzzling to suggest this was “one of just six 1981 S.E.’s to make it to the U.S. that year.”

      As to where any of these dubious figures may have originated, I can only conjecture they most likely came piecemeal from some subset(s) of production/import — such as one particular shipment of cars, one particular dealer’s allotment or sales records, one particular state’s registration records, maybe even the remaining US inventory that Consoldiated Stores (now aka Big Lots) bought up to liquidate after Fiat-Lancia pulled out of the US entirely — which someone later mistook for total production/import figures.

      There’s probably also some confusion between actual sale dates vs. the US-market concept of “model years”, whereas I gather the Italians only ever concerned themselves with actual production dates and series designations.

      Combine all of the above with plausible mistranslation/misunderstanding of Italian records and the “telephone game” of grapevine word of mouth, et voila.

      Like 0
      • Avatar photo Poconosteve

        Yes I have to agree on the ridiculous one of six claim as well. I’ve been looking at these over the years and have found 4-5 at least. Two in person.
        The 75? Maybe? Since they come up rarely. And I’ve been searching them out for 20 years.
        Would enjoy chatting with you since you know this marque.
        I am the new owner of this particular car from Phoenicia, NY.
        And I’m keeping the ‘hardware store’ fan switch just for fun, lol

        Like 0
  3. Avatar photo scottymac

    19 seconds? Yawn! Call me when a VX comes up for auction.


    Like 0
    • Avatar photo SubGothius

      The Volumex-supercharged Beta VX models were only introduced in ’83, after Fiat-Lancia had already exited the US market. If any were privately imported to the US since it became legal to do so in recent years, I’m not aware of them, and I’ve long been active in all of the Beta discussion forums/groups where any word of such would surely be a sensation.

      As for that 19 second 1/4 mile, I’d take that with a grain of salt given the hash of other dubious details in the cited magazine article. Seems likely that may have come from earlier carb’d models with only ~85bhp in desmogged US spec.

      The 2-liter injected Betas in US spec had 108bhp for ’81 and 106.5bhp for ’82 (vs. 122bhp in Euro spec) with 114 lb-ft of torque at 2500rpm, and the US Zagatos only weighed about 2700 lbs.

      Like 0

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