Home » Nor For The Faint Of Heart: 1973 Citroën SM vs 1976 Lancia Scorpion

Nor For The Faint Of Heart: 1973 Citroën SM vs 1976 Lancia Scorpion

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Happy Friday, Autopians! We made it! To celebrate, we’re looking at a pair of European legends in need of a lot of help. First, however, let’s finish up with yesterday’s odd couple:

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A solid win for the little Dodge truck! The rust on the Capri scared off a lot of you, it sounds like, and the allure of a small basic truck is hard to overcome anyway. I think it would be my choice, too.

Today, we’re going to be checking out an insanely complicated French-Italian personal luxury coupe, and a mid-engine Italian sports car with a racing pedigree a mile long. Unfortunately, since this is Shitbox Showdown, neither one is exactly ready for prime-time. Hell, one isn’t even all there. But we won’t let that stop us. Damn the fouled spark plugs; full speed ahead.

1973 Citroën SM – $14,900

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Engine/drivetrain: 3.0 liter dual overhead cam V6, five speed manual, FWD

Location: Houston, TX

Odometer reading: 105,000 miles

Runs/drives? Runs, unclear whether or not it’s driveable

I have been in love with this car since I was five years old and had a Corgi model of it. The Citroën SM is a car nerd’s dream: Italian power, Citroën’s legendary hydropneumatic suspension, and styling unlike anything else ever. It’s insanely complicated, breathtakingly beautiful (but doesn’t photograph particularly well; see one in person and you’ll get it), and yet approachable. It’s the thinking-person’s exotic car, not as brash or obvious as a Lamborghini or Ferrari, nor as uptight and serious as a Porsche.

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Citroën bought Maserati in 1968, pretty much just for the engines. Maserati’s four-cam V6 sits behind the front axle in the SM, powering the front wheels through a five-speed transaxle in front of it. A short jackshaft coming off the back of the engine (which is towards the front of the car) powers the accessories, including the hydraulic pump for the suspension, power steering, and brakes. The SM’s power steering is self-centering; let go of the wheel and it returns automatically to the straight-ahead position.

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This SM’s engine runs, but it has been sitting a long time and it’s not clear whether that insanely complex hydraulic system is functional. Without it, the car isn’t going anywhere. The seller says that new pressure spheres and hydraulic fluid are included, which to me indicates that the suspension at least needs work. Outside, this SM looks all right, just dirty, but the inside is a little rough. The seats need reupholstering and there are wires poking out of the bottom of the dash. That fabulous gimbaled gearshift lever is intact, though, and it’s one of those shifters I’ve always wanted to try driving, alongside a gated Ferrari manual, and Citroën’s “umbrella handle” shifter in the 2CV.

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The seller says this car is complete except for one hubcap, and includes a rebuild kit for one carb in addition to the hydraulic parts. It sounds like it just needs some attention paid to it, but a Citroën is not some Mustang or something; you have to speak its weird language, and I don’t mean just French. This being an SM makes things even more complicated, with the Italian engine. But I think it would be well worth making the effort to fix up.

1976 Lancia Scorpion – $2,000

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Engine/drivetrain: 1.8 liter dual overhead cam inline 4, five-speed manual, RWD

Location: Temecula, CA

Odometer reading: 98,000 miles

Runs/drives? Um, no

This is another car I’ve loved for a long time. Lancia’s mid-engined Scorpion, known as the Montecarlo everywhere else because nowhere else had trademark issues with Chevrolet, became one of my favorites after it starred as Herbie’s girlfriend in the 1977 film Herbie Goes To Monte Carlo. It comes from a long and proud line of Lancia sports and racing cars, and formed the (admittedly rough) basis for one of my favorite Group B race cars: the celebrated Lancia 037.

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This Scorpion was purchased by the seller six years ago, running and driving, before they went and ruined it. A plan to widen its fenders and install a V6 engine (persumably a Lancia or Fiat engine) snowballed out of control and was then abandoned. Bits and pieces of the car have been sold off, and what’s left is what you see here for sale. A crying shame, if you ask me; an intact stock Scorpion would have been a lot more interesting. But you’re unlikely to find one cheaper.

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And it’s not like this car has a slouch of an engine to begin with. Lancia is owned by Fiat, who supplied the Scorpion and Montecarlo with their legendary Lampredi-designed twin cam four. It’s a well-supported engine capable of serious power with a little work, and luckily, it’s still here and intact. The Lancia’s suspension and brakes seem to have suffered the worst from this half-finished butchery, and we’re not sure if all the stock parts are included. We know no wheels or tires come with it, nor does, annoyingly, a windshield.

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The bodywork is remarkably rust-free for an Italian car from the Seventies, and as long as the missing bits are included, I think this car could be put back to stock and brought back to life. It might take some time to track down some things you need, but the price is right, and as long as you have a place to work on it, this could be the cheapest way into a mid-engine Italian car, unless you find a screaming deal on a Fiat X1/9.

Obviously, you need to be the right kind of crazy to even consider either of these. But succesfully completing either one would make you a legend, and put an amazing car back on the road. They’re very different; one is a comfortable but fussy grand tourer, and the other is a sharp-edged mid-engine sports car, but my dream multimillionaire garage would likely contain one of each. Which one are you daydreaming about on this fine Friday?

(Image credits: Craigslist sellers)

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76 Responses

  1. The number of people stumping for the SM is mystifying. For the $14.9k that would put you in a disastrously-complicated, relationship-ending, ugly, ugly car, you could pack that sex-bomb Lancia body with parts from an MR2 or even a totaled Elise, maybe even fix it with the right parts and find wheels that make sense. You’d be rolling in a light, mid-engined, RWD fun machine while the sucker who took the SM was still interviewing mechanics and calling France to find parts.

    1. Not ugly, beautiful and amazing. I wouldn’t call France I would fly overeat delicious food, drink delicious wine and buy expensive parts. (Looks at prices, sees already done ones in France, The Netherlands and others for 25 to 35, still votes for the red one, but would fly to Europe and snag not that someone else spent all their money on restoring. And would eat delicious French food and drink wine and the Baguettes, oh the baguettes. Hell, maybe even drive it around Europe for a month.

    2. If you want your soon-to-be-ex to leave (and think that it was her idea), then the SM would be very useful, and probably a genuine bargain.

      That would make a hell of an electric conversion. That engine looks like a nightmare. The hydraulic suspension is not that big of a deal.

      1. “The hydraulic suspension is not that big of a deal.”

        This right here. Every mechanic I know that works on older Citroëns says this. Maybe it’s a leftover from a time when there wasn’t so much accumulated knowledge on how to properly maintain/fix the hydraulic system. I have two mechanics I trust to work on my Renault 4 and they both consider working on Citroën suspensions fairly simple (as opposed to, say, adjusting the rear torsion bars in my Renault, which requires proprietary tools, experience, and a lot of trial and error from what I’m told).

  2. Citroen hydraulics are really simple actually, all you need is replace the rusty/cracked lines (they’re easy to make with a flare-nut press) and make sure you always use the correct Citroen LHM fluid (liekly have to flush the system of whatever swill the seller has used because it was cheaper). If the pump got ruined by the wrong fluid, it’s 2 bolts to replace.

    Unfortunately that Lancia is only half the car, so my vote goes french.

  3. It’s in Houston. I CAN SEE THE BOAT IN THE GARAGE. That open-interior shot is basically, “yeah, you can smell this photo” unless you have a mold allergy, in which case you probably just sneezed at the screen.

    I have serious questions as to whether it, too, has been a boat at some point in its life given the geography and age, but heck, Porschelump 2.0 came from Katy, too, so you never know. It’s also way more expensive than the other option, but frickin’ a, it’s a Citroën SM in bright red.


  4. Hey, the Lancia is parked next to a white Beetle! Girl has a type, can’t deny that…
    Also, that Beetle is surely a catch – stays around during hardships, and isn’t scared to see a girl without the make up on!

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