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

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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?

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(Image credits: Craigslist sellers)

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Geekycop .
Geekycop .
1 year ago

I’ll take the scorpion and build myself an O37 tribute, probably with an alfa 164 v6 just for sh*ts n giggles. Terribly unreliabe? You bet, but pretty inside and out, and lets not forget there’s at least one company that makes a kit for all the bodywork to do the conversion.

Slow Joe Crow
Slow Joe Crow
1 year ago

Full send with the SM. If the engine runs and it’s not rusty the rest is plumbing and French profanity. A Scorpion is nice but an SM is legendary.

Miran Ibrahimagic
Miran Ibrahimagic
1 year ago

What a beautiful choice of cars here!
But, SM is a car out of this world, the most advanced in the ’70s and even today, nothing compares to it.
After owning 10 Citroens and enjoying many, many miles (kilometers in my case) of great rides on incredibly comfortable hydro-pneumatic suspension, I’d go for SM which, as long as I could remember, remains my dream. However, it is the Maserati engine which is the core to most problems with this car: it is going to cost a fortune to put it back together and it will remain unreliable forever.
I’ve seen few conversions to DS/CX engines, making it really driveable, but slow. Without V6 sound and power, this car just doesn’t seem right. Perhaps a XM or C6 engines might help, but I’ve never heard of such conversion, nor as EV.
I was lucky enough to enjoy a short ride (as a passenger) in a newly restored SM and it is simply unforgettable!

Mike Kovac
Mike Kovac
1 year ago

The Maserati engine in the SM came with two flaws when it left the factory: 1) Inadequate teeth and tension in the timing chain, and 2) sodium filled exhaust valves which cracked. Both of these issues can be rectified (although not cheaply), and most running SMs by this point in time have had them rectified. The updated timing chain is not completely maintenance free – tension needs to be checked every 20,000 miles. Aside from that, these are excellent motors with a characterful growl on acceleration and superb highway manners geared for triple digit speeds.

I’ve managed to put just over 25,000 miles on my SM in 5 years time and the motor has never given me an issue. Were it not 51 years old, I would happily use it as a daily driver.

The Ultracrepidarian
The Ultracrepidarian
1 year ago

no no no . Id rather donate $2000 to St. Jude Childrens Hospital.

Andrea Petersen
Andrea Petersen
1 year ago

I’m already a Scorpion owner so I’ll take the Scorpion. I am used to this sort of masochism, I enjoy it in a way

Inthemikelane
Inthemikelane
1 year ago

Always wanted a Citroën SM, but unless I happen to win the lotto to pay for what would need to be done, it’ll never happen. Voted for it because I just love them, but if I was spending something besides monopoly money, the choice here would have to be the Lancia.

Manwich Sandwich
Manwich Sandwich
1 year ago

Citroen for me as it is missing far less stuff and looks like it will be a great comfortable cruiser and radwood vehicle once running… even if it does have the ugly US-spec headlights.

Justin Short
Justin Short
1 year ago

The SM appeals to the M in me, Crazy I know?

The Scorpion looks like it will sting you repeatedly in your wallet long before you have acquired enough parts to begin reassembly!

Dodsworth
Dodsworth
1 year ago

Are the coins on the Scorpion dash a bribe? No thanks, Officer. I’ll take the City-Ron.

ProudLuddite
ProudLuddite
1 year ago

Really cool choices here despite the price disparity. These cars are rare and unusual enough in the states that you really have to want one to take the plunge, especially with cars that need to be fixed up like this.

Once done I think the Citroen is the more desirable car, but it has a much higher price of admission, and probably a more complicated path to getting it working right (the Lancia is a Fiat basically), but they would both be a lot of work.

Waver waver waver…I’ll take CX, it just seems more worthy of the effort needed to get it right, and gliding around on that pneumatic carriage would probably be worth the effort in the end.

Andy Individual
Andy Individual
1 year ago

I know it’s a Maser engine, but the SM still so French. I mean, there’s enough hose in that engine bay for a Can Can.

Toecutter
Toecutter
1 year ago

That Citroen would make an excellent EV conversion. It has such a delightfully slippery shape that competes with the best offering that exist 50 years later.

Soso Tsundere
Soso Tsundere
1 year ago

That Lancia would make a rad body to put on an EV. It’s already in pieces so you don’t have to take the blame for the mutilation, and is just gorgeous.

Chris Moore
Chris Moore
1 year ago

You are never ever suppose to buy someone else’s failed project but that Lancia has a good body and at the end of the day you have a good starting point for just about anything. When you are finished you still have a Lancia. Parts will be hard to find on this side of the pond for both, but I’d rather have the Italian in my garage to work on than the weird French car. No matter how cool that weird quirky French car might be, it’s not as cool as saying “I have a Lancia”

Vetatur Fumare
Vetatur Fumare
1 year ago
Reply to  Chris Moore

There is a pretty good chance of the Lancia working again some day, compared to the Citroën.

Boxing Pistons
Boxing Pistons
1 year ago
Reply to  Chris Moore

Exactly. I just see it as a blank canvas. It is a lot less risky, overall. You could go a lot more conventional with the Lancia without ruining the character of the car. The SM, on the other hand, is not something I’d want to gut and simplify as it’s complexity is its calling card. That, and you are already into it for a lot more money..

MATTinMKE
MATTinMKE
1 year ago

Chose the Citroen because all the parts are supposedly there. But the want is strong for both of these.

Ffoc01
Ffoc01
1 year ago

Honestly, I only went with the Lancia for the singular reason that it’s cheaper.

If I purchased EITHER of these cars, I’d be all excited about my new exotic toy for about a week. Then, after a month or so of losing my entire weekends only to go backwards, I’d lose interest. It’d sit in the backyard, under a cover, with the full intention to start working on it again “someday.”

Every year or so, I’d take the cover off, try to remember where I left off, and plug away for another weekend or two. That’s when I’d remember why I stopped working on it in the first place. Back under the cover it goes.

After a few rounds of this cycle, the voices of my spouse and myself openly questioning, “What are you going to do with that thing?” become louder than my desire to see the project through. I post it for sale online, in worse shape than I bought it, and sell it for a loss.

This is why I won’t take on an “Interesting” project car again.

The fact of the matter is a $2,000 loss is easier than a $14,500 loss.

MiniDave
MiniDave
1 year ago

I worked for a Citroen dealership for several years, and have owned 2 DS cars, but for $15 large I would rather fix up the Lancia any day. That Citroen will require buckets of money to make right……I think you could get the Lancia running and driving for MUCH less than you would even spend to buy the SM…..and have a fun mid engined car when done.
Having driven SM’s, they are a wonderful high speed touring car, but I wouldn’t take on this one even if it was the Lancia money…..

Vetatur Fumare
Vetatur Fumare
1 year ago
Reply to  MiniDave

Exactly… ask the man who owned one, or close enough. I know a guy who bought an SM new and literally went bankrupt within a year or two.

Mike Kovac
Mike Kovac
1 year ago
Reply to  MiniDave

Came here to say exactly this. I own a SM, and yes, they are without peer for high speed, long distance journeys. When maintained properly, they can even be reliable (for a now 51 year old car!). But if you think you’re going to buy that SM and make it a cheap runner, you either need to be an expert Citroen wrench or have access to a warehouse full of spare SM parts…. or both.

Jonee Eisen
Jonee Eisen
1 year ago

The Citroen is far and away the winner here. That actually is a good price for what you’re getting. And the hydropneumatic suspension isn’t insanely complicated. It’s just hydraulics and if you understand hydraulics it’s not too challenging. And all the parts are available to fix it. The Maserati engine is much trickier to work on than the suspension. That said, when it’s done, you have the coolest car ever produced.

Myk El
Myk El
1 year ago

That Lancia is one of the cars on my personal short list for converting to EV, that looks like a good starting point, so got my vote.

Thomas Metcalf
Thomas Metcalf
1 year ago

Both options are terrifying! I feel the Lancia might be a *little* less complicated to get running. At least, when I get mad and set it on fire, I will be out less money.

Peter Andruskiewicz
Peter Andruskiewicz
1 year ago

Wow, what a tough one, both would be fantastic once completed and seem to be reasonable prices for the current state of them.

I went with the Lancia mostly because the initial purchase price is more my speed, and at the end you’ll end up with something mid engined and RWD. I’d probably just try to stick the front engine, trans, subframe & suspension from an Alfa 155 or 156 with the Busso V6, or a 500 Abarth in the back (and maybe in front too, sans engine & trans) to avoid needing to piece together what’s missing, find wheels with different bolt patterns front & rear etc.

Ronald Pottol
Ronald Pottol
1 year ago

I’d thought the American Scorpions got some sad smogged Fiat engine, and unless you take it out of California, you can’t fix that? Citron by a mile.

Do You Have a Moment To Talk About Renaults?
Do You Have a Moment To Talk About Renaults?
1 year ago

I can’t not vote for the sketchy SM. I’ve seen trying to sell rusted out, incomplete and downright unrestorable SMs for more than what this one costs, and while the suspension does tend to be a bit of a pain, you at least have lots of info and accumulated experience to fix it and keep it functional, and the car supposedly comes with suspension spares.

What I’m really intrigued by is that running Maserati engine. Are we 100% sure this isn’t some kind of organ harvesting operation preying on unsuspecting Citroën aficionados?

Do You Have a Moment To Talk About Renaults?
Do You Have a Moment To Talk About Renaults?
1 year ago

ugh… I’ve seen PEOPLE trying to sell, is what I meant.

World24
World24
1 year ago

I voted for the Lanica because, I mean….
could a K24 go in there without hassle? A Neon SRT4 engine? A 1.4T from a 500 Abarth?!
I’ve got quite the ideas that amount to uselessness but cool in my eyes for that Lancia.

Andrea Petersen
Andrea Petersen
1 year ago
Reply to  World24

I’ve heard tell Midwest Bayless is developing a K swap kit for the Scorpion, so yes.

Sklooner
Sklooner
1 year ago

I owned a Beta and a Scorpion- the Scorpion never ran under my ownership, and almost want it, but then I seem the SM, I will vote for the full masochistic package this time.

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