Home » Front-Drive Rarities: 1978 Lancia Beta Zagato vs 1983 VW Quantum Hatchback

Front-Drive Rarities: 1978 Lancia Beta Zagato vs 1983 VW Quantum Hatchback

Sbsd 2 12 2024
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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!

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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.

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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.

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1978 Lancia Beta Zagato – $3,000

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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

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

1983 VW Quantum plus 1984 Quantum wagon – $2,000

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Engine/drivetrain: 1.7 liter overhead cam inline 4, five-speed manual, FWD

Location: Sacramento, CA

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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(Image credits: Craigslist sellers)

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Myk El
Myk El
11 days ago

Just no way I’m turning down that Lancia. It’s a terrible idea, I can’t resist.

Geoff Buchholz
Geoff Buchholz
11 days ago

Had this showdown been posted prior to Super Bowl weekend, I’d probably have voted for the Lancia. But now that I’m all hopped up on VeeDub nostalgia (“REPRESENTING DEUTSCHLAND!”), we’ll take the Quantum leap.

Manwich Sandwich
Manwich Sandwich
12 days ago

My vote goes to the VWs. 2-for-1 and the price is cheaper.

Freelivin1327
Freelivin1327
12 days ago

Definitely the pair of VW’s…buy 1 get 1 free! Reminds me of when I used to have an 84 Jetta- that was fun to drive.
“accelerates like a stoned turtle.”
-That was hilarious

AlterId
AlterId
12 days ago

I think that quantum physics states that either the position or the momentum of a particle can be determined accurately, but not both. This would be quite the defense argument in traffic court.

Regardless, I picked the Lancia. The potential end product is better and the real unobtainium – body and interior parts and trim – all looks good, and the mechanicals can be sourced from Italy if need be.

Mr. Fusion
Mr. Fusion
12 days ago

When I was a kid, there was a tiny little Lancia dealer not far from my home at the time in Brea, California. Brea was (and is) a sleepy Orange County suburban community that could barely sustain a Chevrolet dealer, let alone something oddball like Lancia. But it was, as I said, tiny — the lot could hold maybe six cars at most, plus one more in the “showroom”. Yet every time I walked or rode my bike past that place, I had to stop and admire the Zagatos, especially the hatchback. They were so pretty and exotic. Google now shows a row of fancy condominiums at that location (which to 1979 me would have seemed even more unlikely to exist in Brea than a Lancia dealer).

The example in today’s Showdown is perhaps the ugliest version of the Zagato, so I am not crazy about that. But it is a Lancia, so it gets my sentimental vote.

Beached Wail
Beached Wail
11 days ago
Reply to  Mr. Fusion

Brea Sports Cars? They were a Fiat dealer in the ’60s/’70s so I could imagine them adding Lancia. A friend in the vicinity in the ’70s had a 124 spider and I think, between the dealer in Brea (and maybe Anaheim?), plus occasional use of aluminum pop-tops as replacement fuses, he was able to keep the car intermittently functional.

Mr. Fusion
Mr. Fusion
11 days ago
Reply to  Beached Wail

That must have been it. There may have been some 124’s on the lot, but I don’t remember ever seeing a Strada or any pedestrian type of Fiat. It was on the west side of Brea Blvd south of Imperial Hwy.

Widgetsltd
Widgetsltd
12 days ago

As the former owner of a 1976 Lancia Beta Coupe, I am required by law to vote for the Lancia. I couldn’t afford a Zagato back in 1987 when I had my coupe!

EastbayLoc
EastbayLoc
12 days ago

If I had an idea of what was wrong with the Lancia, that would be my choice. It is a lot more interesting but parts and cost may be a big challenge. I’d take the VWs for 1K less, fix one and sell it for most of the cost.

Andrea Petersen
Andrea Petersen
12 days ago
Reply to  EastbayLoc

Plenty of parts are interchangeable with other Fiats of the era and there’s good support from an assortment of domestic and international suppliers, as well as the community

EastbayLoc
EastbayLoc
12 days ago

That is true esp. if this uses a lot of 128 parts in addition to the engine. Ok, I’ve changed my mind. I do love the Italian cars.

Andrea Petersen
Andrea Petersen
12 days ago
Reply to  EastbayLoc

Mostly X1/9 and 124, but the Italian parts bin is generally plentiful

Argentine Utop
Argentine Utop
12 days ago

Well, the Lancia is neither exactly well designed nor executed as a convertible, and the conversion must have taken its toll on its stiffness. Add age, and it probably twists too much to handle like a Lancia should.
On the other half, the mix between a garden variety Quantum and an Alfetta GTV looks more interesting, if anything for the rarity factor. I’m somehow fond on the outstanding lameness of basic hatchbacks made of mid-sized sedans.

James Carson
James Carson
12 days ago

A teacher at one of the local high schools had a Montecarlo. Used to lust after it. I am tempted by the lancia, but know it would be a short romance due to all the usual Italian car blues. The VW would never happen given my past experiences with german automobiles.

Shooting Brake
Shooting Brake
12 days ago

To VW I say: “See ya, I’d rather have the Lancia!” 😉

Mr Sarcastic
Mr Sarcastic
12 days ago

Man ether is a great project. I voted Lancia for the mileage difference but really either one

Greensoul
Greensoul
12 days ago

Quantum coupe for sure. These things were huge in the back with the seats down. I left my virginity in the back of a steel blue one listening to Depeche Mode back in the day .Seeing A Quantum coupe always bring a big smile to my face. I haven’t seen one in a long, long, time. Oh, and they had cool looking steering wheels.

Steve Gray
Steve Gray
12 days ago

VWs – absolutely. I actually owned a 1983 Quantum sedan – 1.7 liter four cylinder, 5 speed. It was slow – as you’d imagine – but it was reliable for the 13 years (!) I owned it. (Thankfully, my commute didn’t include the freeway.)

Cyko9
Cyko9
12 days ago

The VWs feel like a deal, but if you’re going to put effort and money into a car, the Lancia is a better purchase. The Quantum hatchback is kinda cool, but The Zagato takes my vote today.

MaximillianMeen
MaximillianMeen
12 days ago

The VWs are so obviously the sane choice. Which is why I chose the Lancia. If for no other reason than I love the way Italians pronounce Lan-cha.

Tim Cougar
Tim Cougar
12 days ago

I found one of those Zagatos languishing behind a local garage once. I wonder if it’s still there…

Cerberus
Cerberus
12 days ago

Not even a question. I’d pay to get rid of the VW and they want me to pay to take two of the POS[interrobang] Probably the car company I hate the most against one of the ones I irrationally like the most, plus the Lancia is in better shape and has the kind of weird convertible arrangement you never see anymore, so double weird is a double score. Would prefer a Scorpion/Monte Carlo, but that’s not in the selection and this would be easier to work on, which is certainly important.

Hugh Crawford
Hugh Crawford
12 days ago
Reply to  Cerberus

Interrobang‽

Cerberus
Cerberus
11 days ago
Reply to  Hugh Crawford

AH, HOW DID YOU GET THAT?!

Hugh Crawford
Hugh Crawford
11 days ago
Reply to  Cerberus

One way is to Google Interrobang and copy and paste ‽
Sort of ½ assed
Or have the big chart of characters handy ????

Cerberus
Cerberus
11 days ago
Reply to  Hugh Crawford

That’s the method I use when writing. Unfortunately, not all typefaces include them (especially not Century Gothic—the US highway typeface—that I like to use, though it makes sense that it wouldn’t be there even if it would be hilarious is used sparingly for some road signs). I was too lazy to do the paste method here, but I was hoping you had some trick. To raise awareness of a useful and largely unknown punctuation, I even named a custom bicycle after it with the interrobang in the logo. Hasn’t helped.

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