Lancia Scorpion Essential History
Prototype Development From Fiat to Abarth
The Lancia Scorpion is a two-door, two-seat, mid-engine, rear-drive sports car that was originally conceived in the early 1970s as a slightly larger, upscale version of the 1974 Fiat X1/9. In fact, the Scorpion prototype was codenamed X1/20 under Fiat development, and much of the X1/9’s MacPherson strut suspension design was shared with the X1/20. Originally designed to carry the 3.2-liter V-6 engine from the Fiat 130 executive coupe behind the passenger compartment but ahead of the rear axle, the project was turned over to Abarth for more involved testing. Renamed the Abarth SE030, the development mule was modified for motorsports ran just a single race, the 1974 Giro d’Italia (a historic car race, not to be confused with the bicycle race of the same name), where it impressively finished second overall to a Lancia Stratos.
Scorpion Prototype Becomes a Lancia Project
Then came the oil crisis of the mid-1970s and demand for thirsty performance cars was at a low point. Besides, the Fiat X1/20 was proving to be too costly to build under Fiat’s economy name plate. Paolo Martin at Pininfarina (where the prototype was designed) subtly reworked the car to be sold as an upscale Lancia, part of the Beta series of front-wheel-drive cars despite the Scorpion’s rear-drive chassis. What the Scorpion did share with the rest of the Beta lineup was its engine: the popular Fiat twin-cam, four-cylinder “Lampredi” engine that was also used in the Fiat 124 Spider and Coupe. The production version was finally shown at the 1975 Geneva auto show.
Lancia Scorpion, a.k.a. Lancia Montecarlo
In global markets, the Lancia was brought to market as the Montecarlo, a suitably racy name that honored Lancia’s 1975 Monte Carlo Rally victory. However, Chevrolet held rights to the name in the U.S., forcing Lancia to come up with something different for that market. Scorpion was chosen, perhaps in homage to the car’s developmental years at Abarth.
Lancia Scorpion vs. Montecarlo: Differences
While European-market Scorpions were sold with stroked 2.0-liter versions of the Lampredi twin-cam engine, that engine had yet to pass U.S. emissions testing. American-spec cars received the 1.8-liter variant instead, in heavily smog-strangled form. While European cars claimed 120 hp and similar torque, U.S. cars made do with just 81 hp. Moreover, the sleek plastic bumpers of the European Monte Carlo were unceremoniously replaced with unwieldly metal 5-mph impact bumpers as mandated by the Department of Transportation, which added a further 120 lbs to the car, bringing curb weight to a not-quite-svelte 2,400 lbs. Shallow-rise, flip-up headlights were also required to raise the beams to U.S. standards. Scorpions were only available in open-top Spider form, while Montecarlos could also be had in closed coupe form.
Lancia Scorpion Performance & Handling
Despite handling qualities often mentioned in the same breath as the fabled Ferrari Dino by period journalists, straight-line performance of the American-spec Scorpion suffered. Published 0 to 60 mph times were over 10 seconds, versus the 8.5-second times Montecarlos boasted. Moreover, the car’s light front end in combination with a brake booster that only operated on the front disc brakes meant that Scorpions and Series 1 Montecarlos often locked their front brakes prematurely, especially with wet or loose road conditions.
Lancia Scorpion & Montecarlo End of Production
The braking issue and lackluster U.S. sales meant the Scorpion was only sold for the 1976 and 1977 model years, with just 1,801 cars delivered. The Montecarlo would soldier on into 1978 before cancellation, being re-launched in 1980 with small changes including the deletion of the brake booster. The Montecarlo production ceased for good at the end of 1981.
Lancia Scorpion Highlights
The Lancia Scorpion (and Montecarlo) were the first cars to be both designed and fully built by Pininfarina, and featured a number of innovations. They were among the first cars mass-produced with a flush-mount, glued-in windshield that didn’t require an exterior frame. They also featured an innovative open roof design which allowed the convertible top fabric to be neatly stowed in a closed compartment integral with the roll-over structure.
All 1976 Lancia Scorpions and early Montecarlos were designed with solid rear buttresses extending downwards from the roofline towards the engine bay. For the 1977 model-year, Scorpions received glass panels in the middle of these buttresses to improve rear-three-quarter vision, a change that continued to Series 2 Montecarlo production.
Additionally, it’s worth noting that the central chassis tub of the Montecarlo Spider (identical to that of the Scorpion) served as the basis for the successful Lancia Beta Montecarlo Turbo Group 5 endurance road racing car and equally successful Lancia 037 road and rally cars. A Lancia Scorpion also served as Herbie’s love interest, Giselle, in the Disney movie, “Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo.”
Lancia Scorpion Buying Tips
Like most classic cars of the 1970s, rust is one of the most common issues with Lancia Scorpions. Most cars will have at least some rust, so you’ll want to do your best to assess where and how bad the rust is on any example you’re interested in. Also, because the Scorpion was made in such limited numbers, both interior and exterior trim bits can be very difficult to come by, though some are being reproduced semi-affordably. With excellent Scorpions available for under $20,000, you’ll want to buy the best car you can afford. Cut-rate projects will almost certainly cost more money in the end to bring up to snuff.
Also, don’t despair at the Scorpion’s power gap to the European Montecarlo. The 1.8-liter engine can be brought up to 120-plus horsepower with a mild performance rebuild (and in fact, many U.S. cars already have). Also, reproduction Euro-style Montecarlo bumpers can be purchased to replace the 5-mph impact bumpers. Again, it makes financial sense to buy a car that’s already had these modifications made if they are something you desire.
Lancia Scorpion Articles on Automobile
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Lancia Scorpion Quick Facts
- First year of production: 1976
- Last year of production: 1977 (1981 for European-market Montecarlos)
- Total sold: 1,801 (U.S. ), 7,798 (global)
- Original price (base): $9,943
- Characteristic feature: An affordable, miniature, mid-engine Italian exotic with a Fiat engine and Lancia badge.
Lancia Scorpion FAQ
How much does a Lancia Scorpion cost?
A decrepit Lancia Scorpion project car needing full restoration can cost as little as a couple thousand dollars, while a fully-restored show car can be worth $20,000 or more.
Is a Lancia Scorpion fast?
Short answer: no. Expect a stock Lancia Scorpion to take over 10 seconds to reach 60 mph from a standstill. Even European Montecarlos with more power are not quick cars, needing roughly 8.5 seconds for the same task. Top speed for both cars is perhaps 120 mph.
How many Lancia Scorpions are remaining?
This is a difficult question to answer, but the Lancia Scorpion Registry suggests that perhaps a bit over half of the original 1,801-car production remains in existence.
|Lancia Beta Scorpion|
|PRICE||$9,943 (in 1976)|
|ENGINE||1.8L DOHC 8-valve I-4/81 hp @ 5,900 rpm, 89 lb-ft @ 3,200 rpm|
|LAYOUT||2-door, 2-passenger, mid-engine, RWD coupe|
|L x W x H||156.1 x 66.8 x 46.9 in|
|0-60 MPH||11 sec|
|TOP SPEED||112 mph|