Converting classic cars to electric power is a tender subject. Some call it the way of the future. Some call it a “restomod.” Others consider it heresy. Many enthusiasts see it as a way to prolong the driving enjoyment of a piece of automotive history.
After all, the challenges of maintaining an older car can be daunting: finding the correct parts, stopping the decay, running antique engines on modern fuel, and sometimes just the inherent flaws of older designs. Electrification of classic cars, while not historically preserving their powertrain, can improve their practicality.
And sometimes, you might even rewrite a little history.
Case in point: the oft-maligned Lancia Beta Montecarlo, aka Lancia Scorpion here in the US. Originally conceived and built by Pininfarina as the X1/8 project, it was intended to replace the Fiat 124 Spider and be powered by the Ferrari-derived V6 from the Fiat 130. But the prototype’s luster and supercar looks eventually declined into the Tipo 137, which was an overweight and underpowered sales failure. The Scorpion was sold in the US for two years with a dismal number of only 1,805 units sold. Even the sexier European version with less bulk and more power only managed to sell 7,798 copies in 8 years.
Sad when you consider the potential.
Just look at it! It’s a beautiful design with a wonderful blend of balance and quirky Italian style. The roof opens with a foldback soft top, the seats adjust with what appears to be an ejection seat lever and the hood opens… sideways? I love it. Driving it presents a similar mix of emotions. It rides and handles… well, like a car that needs 100 more horsepower.
Gearheads will recognize the Tipo 137 if viewed from below as an enlarged X1/9. That same concept, using a FWD drivetrain moved behind the driver, was later popularized by the Toyota MR2 and Pontiac Fiero. Looking closer it’s obvious the McPherson strut suspension, brakes, even the cooling system- it’s all straight out of the Fiat parts bin.
The main difference is the Montecarlo’s engine was plucked from the front of the Lancia Beta instead a Fiat 128 econocar. This DOHC inline four designed by Lampredi for the 124 was tilted back for the Beta version, presumably to streamline the manifolds and reduce the overall height. In Europe this 2.0 liter produced a respectable 118 horsepower. But the emissions-strangled Scorpion sold in America had to make do with the EPA-certified 1.8 liter version, which coughed up a measly 81 horsepower.
What better candidate for electrification than a Lancia Scorpion?
Let’s suppose the Scorpion/Montecarlo actually had more power. Could it handle it? The pedigree is strong for this car, as the homologated racing version went on to win the World Rally Championship, the very last two-wheel drive car to do so! Of course, that car was the 037, which was extensively modified from the production copy. Since the rules specified using the production car’s doors the original passenger compartment was essentially retained, but that’s about all. Tubular steel subframes were added front and rear. The transverse drivetrain was even twisted around to a longitudinal layout.
But there were high performance versions that were much less radical than the 037 racing cars. One such example might be a car I have personal experience with. This was a 1977 Scorpion that was modified for racing in a local series at Hallett Motor Racing Circuit in Oklahoma during the early Nineties. Brad Mathison drove this car in two seasons of competition and managed to bring home a few trophies. This was a low-budget series, and so was the car. Many of the upgrades were off-the-shelf items or pilfered from other Fiat/Lancia cars. I built a massaged Fiat 2.0 liter engine using Euro-spec pistons and a heavily modified cylinder head. The cams were a custom grind that offered little overlap but loads of lift. With tubular steel headers and twin Weber DCNFs the Maduko Scorpion was a good deal quicker than the day it was delivered.
The suspension was dramatically stock, only upgraded with KYB struts. The brakes were beefed up using late model 124 rotors and a pair of ATE dual piston calipers. To aid the stock cooling system we added an oil cooler and suspended it in the rear window opening. The car handled well and performed marvelously on track. But still, it was obvious the chassis could easily tolerate more horsepower.
Suppose we replaced that wimpy four cylinder with something a bit more lively? In a sense this would be rewriting history I suppose. Or we could consider it righting a wrong, since the original idea was to use a V-6 built by Ferrari for the Fiat Dino Coupe and Spider.
So we could hunt down a Fiat 130 or a Fiat Dino Coupe and steal their DOHC V-6, thus realizing Pininfarina’s original vision. Finding a donor might be difficult since the good ol’ days of the $2500 Fiat Dino project car are long gone! Another option might be a crate motor from Ford. Yes, that’s right! For about $4k you can buy an Eluminator M-9000 that spits out 281 horsepower, tugs 371 ft/lbs of torque and weighs a scant 205 pounds. Picture that in place of the Beta engine and transaxle, then add a battery pack in the recess behind the driver where the fuel tank resides. Fabricate something for half-shafts and you’ll have the oomph to truly test the limits of the Tipo 137’s chassis!
I suppose there are better candidates for an EV conversion. There are plenty of cars that have better parts availability, more robust construction, less Italian plastic. I’m guessing not many enthusiasts would feel the Lancia Scorpion merits the expense and effort required. But I still enjoy pondering the possibilities!