By on November 6, 2017

Image: 1976 Lancia ScorpionA pleasantly desinged Pininfarina body carves its way up the Amalfi coast in Italy. The sun shines down through the targa roof, highlighting your gold-rimmed aviators. Dropping a gear, you put all 120 mid-engine horsepower to use. The back of your car says MONTECARLO, and you’re winning.

But things in reality are a bit different, because this is America and we have regulations. I give you the Scorpion, by Lancia.

North America received Lancia’s Montecarlo model badged as the Scorpion, for 1976 and 1977. The Scorpion name was only for North America, as Lancia could not tread upon Chevrolet’s existing use for their small and sporty gigantic coupe.

Image: 1976 Lancia ScorpionAmerican emission regulations required replacement of the standard Montecarlo’s 2.0-liter engine with a 1.8-liter unit, which featured additional power-choking smog equipment. This combination resulted in an 80-horsepower power figure, down from the 120 in other-market models.

Image: 1976 Lancia ScorpionExterior alterations were required for the US market, including big rubber impact bumpers.

Image: 1976 Lancia ScorpionThere were also some sort of pop-up lamps.

Image: 1976 Lancia ScorpionAll examples for North America featured a retractable targa roof, which surely remains water tight in all examples.

Image: 1976 Lancia ScorpionThe interior of the Scorpion is in the style of “modern” late ’70s car design, with blocky shapes and angles that don’t make a lot of sense.

Image: 1976 Lancia ScorpionA rather unsuccessful run saw just 1,801 total examples of the Scorpion on the streets.

Image: 1976 Lancia ScorpionThough it remained a blip on the radar in the North American market, the Montecarlo would go on to a second generation elsewhere in the world. This second generation would form the basis for one of Lancia’s most important vehicles: the 037, which won the 1983 World Rally Championship.

Image: 1976 Lancia ScorpionThis particular Scorpion was on eBay recently, listed as a fixer-upper. Though the original owner put 124,000 miles on the odometer between 1976 and 1983, there were 18 years of neglect afterward. The present owner had been slowly restoring the Scorpion since 2001 before life changes forced a sale.

A lucky buyer spent $5,100 on our regulatory Rare Ride.

[Images via eBay]

H/t to commenter TMA1, who pointed out a Scorpion listing a while back.

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42 Comments on “Rare Rides: A Lancia Scorpion From 1976, Regulation’s Puppet...”

  • avatar

    I have a feeling that plenty of American models received non-U.S. market parts by mail order. Gotta wonder how many of these were sold in Canada and which engine the Canadian versions got ;)

  • avatar

    How lucky the buyer is will depend on how far he can go converting the Scorpion into a Montecarlo.

  • avatar
    MRF 95 T-Bird

    This is actually a fairly decent deal. It’s priced below 124 Spyders on the market which also have the Lampredi DOHC motor.
    Apparently Fiat considered badging these as a replacement for the 124.

    I’ve never been one to totally hate on the federalized bumpers. On some cars they add some definition and are well integrated into the body lines such as the MG.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    At the time, I thought this was one of the most beautiful cars ever.

    Guess I still do. I especially liked the 2-spoke versions, and no Federal bumpers:

  • avatar

    Thanks for putting this out, Corey. This one’s not quite as nice as that other Scorpion I found, which had half the miles. It’s probably a good thing I don’t have room or time for any more cars. Finding parts for a 40 year old Italian unicorn can’t be easy. And they rust fast too, making early 80’s Japanese steel look durable.

    • 0 avatar


      I was going to use your listing, but by the time I got around to writing it, it was gone.

      That’s an issue with Rare Rides generally. I want to stick with good examples, but listings disappear making it difficult to juggle.

  • avatar

    124,000 miles on a US spec Lancia in 7 years?

    That owner must have had mechanic skills on par with George Bignotti and Smokey Yunick.

  • avatar

    Neat car. Not something I’d seek out, but I’d welcome the opportunity to drive one.

  • avatar

    I’d love to see a “Vellum Venom” piece on this car.

  • avatar

    Bet y’all didn’t know this car was a movie starlet…

  • avatar

    No car got hit harder by US regulations than the Maserati Khamsin.

  • avatar

    I’ve had the chance to see one of these in person, they’re neat cars even with the regulation stuff. They kinda look like less exaggerated Deloreans.

  • avatar

    Given a choice, I would take the other Lancia coupe sold in the U.S. at the same time: the four-passenger Beta coupe. It’s better-proportioned and would be easier to see out of (or climb into and out of). Probably there are very few Beta coupes left in the world – in the Hemmings classifieds today there’s one Beta Montecarlo, in Europe, and no regular Betas (coupes or sedans) at all.

    • 0 avatar

      I found a Beta online out in Washington state a year or so ago. I agree, it was better looking and a car I’d actually like to have.

    • 0 avatar
      MRF 95 T-Bird

      I always see a few Beta Zagato’s for sale on Ebay. The final ones from 81-83 with the 2.0 fuel injected motor are somewhat better than the earlier ones.

      • 0 avatar

        I liked it so much, I saved a pic of it.

        The only thing I really miss about being on jalopnik is being able to post pics in comments. If I could, I’d share.

    • 0 avatar

      I owned both a Scorpion and two 1981 Beta coupes. The coupes were really nice cars and had the 2000 cc Bosch fuel injected engines- 120hp.I drove both Betas well over 100K miles and sold them to other Lancia owners doing restorations. The old timers in the Lancia Club did not like the Scorpion or Beta models because Fiat was involved in the design and provided components but the Lancias were nicer cars than the Fiats imported at that time.

  • avatar

    Back when I had a crazy fantasy that I was the kind of guy who could deal with a car like this, I had a 1977 Scorpion that I bought with 100K miles on it. The 1977 is significantly rarer than the 1976 in the US — only 400 were imported — and can be distinguished by the little glass windows where the giant C pillar is.

    Originally this was designed as a Fiat. It was supposed to have a V6 and be called the X1/20, a bigger sibling to the X1/9. The reality was a 1.8L 4-cylinder that produced 87 HP in the US version.

    To the author’s point about the car’s performance, the last straw in my interest in driving this car was when, in an attempt to keep up with traffic, I pushed a little too hard on the accelerator pedal and it broke in half. A few years earlier, the gearshift lever broke off in my hand while driving.

    By the way, I believe there’s a Chevy Chase movie called “Modern Problems” in which a series of similar events occur with a Lancia Beta coupe.

    My Scorpion could also only be driven about 20 minutes before the engine temperature would go into the overheating zone. A number of attempts to remedy this issue including rebuilding the top of the engine never managed to fix it. One aspect of the issue main was a notorious thermostat relay that was so in demand, a company in California started rebuilding them. I found this out when I tried to get the car except from smog tests due to the lack of parts availability and learned the State of California maintains a complete database of sources for every pollution control part for every relevant vehicle ever made.

    If you’re going to be serious about owning of these, you need at one more as a parts car, and it is strongly suggested you put a completely different engine into it. One guy I met opted for a Toyota V6. But don’t go too crazy, because the brakes are basically so terrible as to be unsafe.

    I can see that this example also has a messed up roof. Opening the roof causes the two hard plastic straps at each side to bend forward in an arc that puts way too much tension on them, and they will fail after a handful of such attempts. Other things that will almost certainly be broken on these cars will include the windshield wipers (the design has the motor hanging upside down in a pool of water), the air conditioning, the levers that open both the hood and the engine cover (you’re kind of screwed right there), and the window regulator mechanisms. There is also a water pump that began failing exactly 17 years after the car was manufactured, regardless of mileage.

    Yeah it looks incredibly cool, particularly after some restoration work on the interior, but it is best thought of a car that achieves its true purpose on display at a car show and is never actually taken out on the road. $5000 is an insane amount of money for one of these things although if you have been searching for something where you will be overjoyed the day it goes out of your life, it could be just the ticket.

  • avatar

    One of my college friends had one of these in the mid 1980’s What a piece of junk it was. It was given to him by family. I never asked if they loved him or not.

  • avatar

    As a kid I thought these were so cool. I would love to magically transplant the running gear of a Fiat 500e into one. Here’s your 130 hp back, son, and more torque than you’ll know what to do with. The digital dash could fit right into that big blocky binnacle, too. And regen eliminates those pesky Lancia brake problems.

  • avatar

    I never understood the use of round pop-up headlights on this car, which completely ruin the look of the car. Looking at the rectangular headlights on the European version of this car, it looks like there is enough space in the headlight housing to fit a standard rectangular DOT approved 6×7 sealed beam headlight. This setup would retain the look of the European model and not necessitate the pop-up mechanism. The downward facing round lights when the headlights are at rest make the car look kind of dopey.

    • 0 avatar

      IIRC, the first use of rectangular sealed beam headlights in the US was in 1975. FIAT probably didn’t know that they would be certified, or if the light they emitted would be acceptable, when they planned the ‘Lancia’ Beta Scorpion. The reason the Scorpion’s lights raised when illuminated was because they were too low for US lighting laws when retracted. The alternative to pop-up headlights would have been raising the front suspension, as MG did to the MG and Midget.

    • 0 avatar

      The single rectangular headlights did not appear on US-market cars until the introduction of the Pontiac Phoenix in the middle of the 1977 model year – too late for the Lancia.

  • avatar

    So much wedge. How about a review of the ultimate Italian car, the Cizeta Moroder with pop up and yes more pop up headlights. From here to eternity, but does it run?

  • avatar

    As always, thanks for the article Corey. It’s kind of cool how, in the top photo, the “C pillar wing” nearly disappears due to the camera angle.

  • avatar

    These Lancias had water-soluble bodywork. I remember seeing one running around Cocoa Beach, FL on occasion during 1978. The car looked like it had spent the last couple of years sitting in an acid vat.

  • avatar

    The 1st two paragraphs of this article are a masterpiece.

  • avatar

    This is what it can be turned into if you want to do some work. Here’s a turbo version:

  • avatar
    cimarron typeR

    Beautiful car. I can see it on a shelf in the background (as a ruse) of the new Top Gear. Myself, I’d play it safe and try to find a decent SC’d MK1 MR2

  • avatar

    One of our cheerleaders in high school was gifted one of these by her parents in her junior year. Everyone gasped – not because it was cool but because we’d just never seen anything like it. I know she had it at least until graduation, but I bet she went off to college in something else. (Her boyfriend had a, you guessed it, Monte Carlo!)

  • avatar

    Here in Oklahoma, an aftermarket dual Weber setup ( much of the smog gear is on the intake) and decent headers/exhaust system (this will get rid of the air pump) will get back most of the lost 40 hp. We don’t have any kind of car inspections here.

  • avatar

    I remember seeing one of these at the State Fair of Texas, in what was then called the World Exhibits Building. Back in those days (the ’70s), American cars were in the Automobile Building, and the foreign cars were in the World Exhibits Building. I remember being fascinated by all the Lancias (the Beta Sedan, the Beta Coupe, and the Beta Scorpion), and even picking up a brochure.

    Fortunately I never actually bought one.

  • avatar

    It would be so much better proportioned if the front axle was moved forward about 6 inches or so. I can’t image a reason not to, without the drivetrain up there.

  • avatar

    The Rest of the Story- 1976 Scorpion. Having owned a Scorpion and two Beta coupes I thought I would add some information. The 1976 Scorpion was Road and Track’s 1976 car of the year. Its list price was almost $15K. (1976 Porsche would have been a better buy.) I bought my Scorpion in 1983. It needed a little work but was a very good car which I owed for 18 years. These cars were mostly hand made. For example, the driver’s door latch was installed with six shims. In general body integrity and gaps were good. The interior was less polished and was not equal to the rest of the car. The canvas roof worked well and did not leak. The big con of this car was lack of power. With emission controls it had 86 hp. Most owners made modifications- 1) remove cat. converter (this was the type with a “Slow Down” warning light); 2) install larger carb.; and 3) install new camshafts. With improvements the car still had under 100 hp but any additional power was an improvement. Some owners later installed the 2000cc Fiat/Lancia engine with Bosch fuel injection- this was 120 hp. This would probably be a big improvement. The Scorpion drove very well and except for the lack of power was a good dependable car which I drove almost every day.

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