The legendary Lancia Stratos is revered alongside the world’s most famous and celebrated purpose-built race cars, the Porsche 917 and the Ford GT 40. The Lancia offers supernatural thrill, but compared to the other two, you need special dedication and resources (we return to this topic later) to enjoy this racing machine.
AlphaLuxe travelled to the Lancia Stratos World Meeting in Biella, Italy, to find out more.
Say the name ‘Lancia Stratos’ – and all petrol-heads and car aficionados worldwide rejoice instantly. Originally designed by Bertone (following the much more futuristic concept car Stratos Zero that won Bertone the contract for the rally car in 1970) in a bid to forge a relationship with the Turin-based car manufacturer (at that time the patron of rival designer Pininfarina).
Bertone got wind of Lancia’s early planning for a successor to its rally-car Fulvia, and with the support of Lancia’s sports director Cesare Fiorio, British racer/engineer Mike Parkes and factory rally driver Sandro Munari the project took shape in record speed: Only 6 months later, at the Turin Motor Show 1971, the first Lancia Stratos HF could be presented to the public.
And what a car it was!
Following intensive testing and fine-tuning, the Stratos secured Lancia consecutively the 1974, 1975 and 1976 World Rally Championship titles in the hands of famed drivers Sandro Munari and Björn Waldegård. Then a Fiat internal decision put a sudden end to the Stratos success story, as the mother company (Lancia was part of the Fiat conglomerate since 1969) insisted on pushing its Fiat 131 Abarth as a rally car (also very successful).
Altogether, fewer than 500 cars were made after Enzo Ferrari reluctantly gave his approval to deliver the last batch of 500 Dino engines to Lancia. In Lancia’s trim, the motor pushed 275 hp (205 kW; 12 valve version) or 320 hp (240 kW; 24 valve version), respectively, to the car’s rear axle (rare Group 5 racing cars had a 560 hp (420 kW) turbocharged engine).
The HF Stradale featured not only a lesser tuned engine but offered “slightly” higher comfort and a more “appealing” interior:
The Stratos enjoys a cult following by a very dedicated community. For the 40th anniversary of Sandro Munari’s third World Rally Championship victory the Lancia Stratos Owners Association, teamed up with watch manufacturer Zenith, renowned for its legendary El Primero chronograph movement, to organise the Lancia Stratos World Meeting.
More than 40 Stratos owners and their cars assembled in lovely city of Biella, located in the Piedmont area of northern Italy. It was a true global gathering, with teams from all over Europe and even from California – the Stratos is a real magnet!
So, what ingredients make up the secret sauce of this supercar? GT champion Éric Comas, himself an accomplished Lancia Stratos driver, sheds some light into the matter: “You have to understand that the Lancia Stratos HF was the first rally car designed from ground up to just this purpose. A no-nonsense construction: A short wheelbase, a mid-mounted engine, a lightweight fibreglass body wrapped around a steel space-frame structure with integral roll-cage. Easily tuneable to the upcoming track with adjustable suspension and quick-change gear ratios.”
The Ferrari Dino V6 engine was chosen thanks to its impressive torque profile.
The result was an immensely agile car with a direct but also quite twitchy handling – a perfect match for the typical short corners of alpine rallies. “The car needs constant attention by the driver, which ultimately calls for an outstandingly complementing pilot- co-pilot team to run the car,” says Comas.
The purpose-made nature of the care and its need for constant specialist attention has a very real implication for its owners these days: Except for the engine, all other remaining components were custom made. There is no factory support to speak of, and spare parts are almost non-existent. If for example the gearbox case breaks, one needs to find specialists able and willing to create a one-off replacement parts.
This calls for sizeable resources on the side of the owners, in terms of time, money and expert skill. Éric Comas puts it bluntly: “if you have a problem with your Porsche 911, you call Zuffenhausen and get your spare parts latest next morning. If the same happens with your Stratos, you’re on your own!”
New Lancia Stratos
The legend of the Stratos lives on until today, very much so that individuals like Michael Stoschek, a German billionaire (Chairman of Brose car parts company) and Stratos enthusiast, committed to realise his vision of a 21st century Stratos.
The result, named New Lancia Stratos, also made its way to Biella: Based upon the shortened chassis and the 4,3-Liter-V8 engine of a Ferrari 430 Scuderia, this car manifests its engineering superiority as much its ancestor. A pity that Ferrari could not be persuaded to support the intended small production run, so that this fully-specced prototype remains as the only existing example.
The unique rencontre at Biella’s heart lasted until late into the night – always accompanied by locals who took great interest into the history of this legendary car – which is so deeply entrenched with the city as well.
With a concert of 40 Lancia Stratos cars trumpeting, the crowd bids goodbye to the fascinating and welcoming host city of Biella – see you next year!
Limited Edition ZENITH El Primero chronometer watch
For those who wanted to take home a vivid reminder on this historic meeting, Zenith created a 40-piece commemorative edition of its iconic El Primero Chronomaster Lancia Stratos watch, fittingly equipped with a high-performance silicon escapement assembly:
For more about this watch, please read my Hands-on Report at PuristSPro.com