Good morning, and welcome to another Shitbox Showdown! This week is going to be kind of a grab-bag; I’m just picking cars that jump out at me, without much regard to a theme. Today’s contenders, however, do have a couple of things in common: They’re both European imports, they’re both incredibly rare, and they’re both front-wheel-drive.
The results of Friday’s roundup come as no surprise: the Datsun wagon, despite being the most expensive, trounced everything else. It’s a rear-drive wagon with the same engine as a Z car that hasn’t been attacked by amateur “tuners” like so many Japanese imports have. It’s a classic that you could drive every day without much worry. And it’s green!
But I think my imaginary internet money would go towards the Omni instead. I have more of a nostalgic attachment to it, and I get the feeling it would attract less unwanted attention. Yeah, it’s slow, but I try not to be in a hurry anyway.
So, onward. Today I’ve found two car that are not only rare to begin with, they’re both rare variants of their types. One is from Italy and the other Germany, but both are front-drivers with five-speed sticks. Let’s check them out.
Engine/drivetrain: 1.8 liter dual overhead cam inline 4, five-speed manual, FWD
Location: Henderson, NV
Odometer reading: 42,000 miles
Operational status: Runs, but not drivable for unspecified reason
Lancia is one of those car companies that barely exists outside of video games and model cars. We’ve all had toys of Lancia cars, or chosen them in video games. I have a spectacular RC model kit of a Lancia 037 Group B rally car that’s about half-finished (I’m scared of messing up the decals). But unless you frequent Italian car gatherings, or are lucky enough to own one yourself, when was the last time you saw an actual, real live Lancia out and about?
The Beta was Lancia’s replacement for the celebrated Fulvia, and was the first model designed under Fiat ownership. Like the Fulvia, it’s front-wheel-drive, but instead of a weird longitudinally-mounted V4, the Beta uses a transverse inline four with the transaxle next to it, a design pioneered by Fiat in its 128 and adopted by, well, everyone. The engine in question is Fiat’s “Lampredi” twincam engine, used in many Fiat and Lancia vehicles over the years, both road-going and racing. In this case, it displaces 1.8 liters and powers the front wheels through a five-speed manual.
The Beta was available in a few body styles. This open-top version was designed by Pininfarina, and built by Zagato; it was sold as the Beta Spider in Europe and the Zagato in the US. Whatever you call it, fewer than 10,000 examples were built, and with the Beta’s propensity to rust, there can’t be very many left. This one is rust-free, though the paint is weatherbeaten. The interior looks pretty good, however.
Mechanically, it’s a bit of an unknown. The seller says it starts and runs, but it “needs work” and “will need to be towed.” I guess you’d have to ask them why. But a running engine is a step in the right direction.
Engine/drivetrain: 1.7 liter overhead cam inline 4, five-speed manual, FWD
Location: Sacramento, CA
Odometer reading: 200,000 miles
Operational status: Hatchback runs and drives great, wagon has a blown head gasket
Now this is a rarity. Volkswagen’s second-generation Passat, sold here as the Quantum, is thin on the ground in any bodystyle. If you do see one these days, it’s almost always a wagon, usually the all-wheel-drive Syncro version, or the sedan in GL-5 trim. The two-door hatchback was only sold for two model years, and I don’t think I’ve seen one since 1983.
Unlike the Syncro or GL-5 models, which are powered by the Audi inline five-cylinder, this early Quantum features a 1.7 liter four. It’s backed by a five-speed stick with very tall gearing, the same drivetrain used in the Audi 4000, where it was called the 4+E. It gets great gas mileage, but it accelerates like a stoned turtle. This one has covered 200,000 miles, likely very slowly, and it still runs great, and is “remarkably reliable” according to the seller.
It’s a little threadbare inside, but that’s to be expected at this mileage. Outside, it’s rust-free and straight, and looks original except for wheels from a newer Volkswagen. Hell, for all I know, it might be the nicest Quantum hatchback left.
But wait – there’s more! This deal also includes an ’84 Quantum wagon, also a four-cylinder, though this one has a bad head gasket. They don’t say if it’s a manual or an automatic, or provide any interior photos, but if it’s in decent shape, you could probably fix it and flip it, and end up with the white hatchback for practically nothing.
One thing is for certain: Drive either of these, and you’ll have the only one around. Parts availablility for either one might be tough, but at least they’re both complete and intact right now. So what’ll it be – the Italian targa top that needs a little work, or the two-for-one German deal?
(Image credits: Craigslist sellers)