Three of the sweetest words to many auto enthusiasts are mid-engine-Italian. But, as Nice Price or Crack Pipe has found out, those words sometimes can sting.
Bitter sweet was yesterday's vote. When the dust settled, it was 50/50 for the Opel with a ‘tude. Bitter came and went in the U.S. market leaving behind a few orphan cars scattered like Lose Weight Now, Ask Me How! flyers littering a Hometown Buffet parking lot. Another brand that gave America a drive-by, peppering the landscape with cars that began rustling even before they left the assembly line was Lancia. The Beta series, introduced here in the states after Fiat swallowed the company whole, was an attempt to create a brand that would slot between Fiat and Alfa Romeo. The Betas- fastback sedan, three box coupe and HPE two-door wagon brought Fiat levels of quality with an even smaller and more disinterested dealer base. Added in 1976, the mid-engine Scorpion shared the 1776-cc 81-bhp wheezer with its front-drive brothers, but the Pininfarina-styled body was much more appealing.
The Scorpion had debuted at the Geneva Auto Show a year earlier as the Monte Carlo, celebrating Lancia's win at that venue. The Monte Carlo was initially going to be a Fiat- a replacement for the 124 Spider. Envisioned as a bigger brother to the X1/9, the car was to carry an X1/20 badge. Fiat realized that people were still buying the Spider, so they gave the X1/20 to Lancia. A lot of owners eventually came to wish that Lancia had given it back.
The differences between Monte Carlo and Scorpion are numerous and most evident in both bumper design and engine bay. The Scorpion eschews composite lamps and wrap-around bumpers for raising-eyebrow sealed beams and battering rams. Also, while the Monte gets a 1995-cc 120-bhp DOHC four, that engine's dirty rotten scoundrel-ness required it to stay home while the Fiat 1776-cc engine made the 1801 U.S.-destined Scorpions emissions compliant.
One thing that the American cars shared with their European-sold brethren was horribly over-boosted brakes which made driving the car treacherous and forced a halt to production for a couple of years until Lancia could figure out how to put a positive spin to understeering into a tree. Other problems were shift-linkage wear, interiors that fell apart like a Chippendale's dancer's pants and rust, oh the rust. The cars were assembled by Pininfarina who added the rust as a sort of planned obsolescence- like the replicant's end date in Blade Runner.
This '76 Scorpion has managed to make it 33 years without acting like a giant alka seltzer tablet in the rain. Despite its apparent survival against the tim worm, it has been lain siege by other vermin and is offered with the Hantavirus at no extra cost. The large nest in the front trunk may be that of a large family of rats or a single angry troll, it's difficult to say. Other than the need to have someone in a haz-mat suit literally blow the crap out of it, the car looks like a good starter for a project. The Pininfarina body remains molto bello and no one would look at you with distain should you choose to drop an MR2 turbo under that cross-ways hood. I'm just saying.
So, $1,500 for a mid engine, low-production, Italian sports car from a company with a long history. Does that price make you want to be the Scorpion King? Or do you think that for $1,500, you'd be the one getting stung?
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