Lancia Stratos is by any means not your average day-to-day car. Lancia Stratos is the kind of car that reminds us why we fell in love with cars in the first place. This car is not cerebral, it is more visceral.
Built and designed to dominate world rallying events, the Lancia Stratos, the maximum attack sports car has few equals as a rally car as well as a road car. It’s exotic, beautifully designed with a mixture of supercar looks and pure bread rally competition engineering.
Throughout the 1970s, the Lancia Stratos defined its rapidly changing nature in the rally stage and it fulfilled what the 1960s BMC Mini Cooper did throughout the previous decade and the 1980s Audi Quattro would do in the next decade to come.
Lancia, an automobile manufacturer with a glamorous history filled with pure bread racing machines and luxurious road machines, was on the verge of bankruptcy and was rescued by Fiat. Fiat management understood that they need something special and mind-blowing to convince people to choose a Lancia over other cars.
Lancia has previously relied on Pininfarina for designing its cars and had not used Bertone before. Nuccio Bertone, the owner of the Carrozzeria Bertone at the time, being a fan of Lancia automobiles always wanted to build up a relationship with Lancia and knew that Lancia was looking for a replacement of Lancia Fulvia HF for use in rallying stages.
So, Nuccio Bertone decided to create something eye-catching and mind-blowing, a visceral product rather than cerebral to show to Lancia.
Bertone then used the the1.6-liter V4 powertrain and chassis of a Fulvia Coupe which belonged to one of his friends and built a running concept around it.
The futuristic bodywork was designed by Marcello Gandini, the head designer at Bertone.
Nuccio Bertone himself drove the concept car to the gates of the Lancia factory and received great applause from the Lancia workers.
Lancia and Bertone then came to an agreement to develop a new rally sports car based on the ideas of Marcello Gandini.
Marcello Gandini clearly applied the experience he received when designing the Lamborghini Miura, the first supercar based on a rear mid-engine two-seat layout, and Alfa Romeo 33 Carabo prototype.
He was already working on the Lamborghini Countach at the time of designing the Lancia Stratos Zero concept car.
Lancia Stratos Zero concept was unveiled to the public at the Turin Motor show in 1970.
In an attempt to transform the Lancia Stratos Zero concept car into a more practical, a new prototype version of it was developed by Nucco Bertone, Marcello Gandini, and several Lancia engineers.
Lancia then presented the Bertone-designed Lancia Stratos HF prototype at the 1971 Turin Motor show, a year after the unveiling of the Lancia Stratos Zero concept car.
The prototype Lancia Stratos HF was a fluorescent red in color and featured a distinctive crescent-shaped to wrap around the windshield to provide maximum forward visibility and had almost no rear visibility.
The Lancia Stratos Zero concept was an all-aluminum creation, but the prototype came with a fiberglass body as the production cars would be made in fiberglass.
It had been toned down a little bit from the Zero concept, the top opening door was gone to be replaced by two more practical easy to open and close doors. But the prototype still had the distinctive Stratos Zero outlines. The fabulous aerodynamic shape influenced by the supercars of its day. A distinctive look with the curved windscreen, the big wheel arches to increase the ground clearance, and tough looks quickly gave away the fact that it is a car of extremes.
Lancia Stratos HF prototype had three different engines in its early development, at first, a Lancia Fulvia sourced engine, then a Lancia Beta engine and finally settling on a mid-mounted Dino Ferrari V6 engine. The Ferrari sourced V6 Dino engine delivered 190 horsepower at 7000 rpm and 166 lb-ft of torque at 4000rpm in stock form. At one point even a Maserati V6 or a V8 engine was considered as a possibility.
The production Lancia Stratos is a small car, handles beautifully at lower speeds, but at higher speeds, keeping it under control is a little bit difficult. To power, the Lancia Stratos, a 2.4-liter Dino V6 FERRARI sourced engine was chosen, and due to the improvements made to it and the exhaust chosen by the Lancia for it, the Lancia Stratos provided one of the most remember-able sonorous engine notes ever.
The use of the Dino V6 was planned from the very beginning of the project, but Enzo Ferrari being Enzo Ferrari was reluctant to sign off the use of his engines as he saw Lancia Stratos as a competitor to his own Dino V6 cars. However, when the production of V6 powered Dino 246 GT ended in 1973, to be replaced by the V8-powered Dino 308/208 GT4, Enzo Ferrari agreed to deliver the engines for the Stratos in late 1972 and Lancia suddenly ended up receiving 500 units. Ferrari phased out Dino V6 completely in 1974.
Dino 308/208 GT4 was also another designing project of Marcello Gandini at Bertone.
The 2.4-liter Dino V6 was installed transversely and in such a way that access to the drop, gears were good enough to all for quick ratio changes. Then the engine was then mated with a five-speed manual gearbox.
The Lancia Stratos Stradale variant came with the engine delivering just 190 horsepower as same as the amount it delivered in a stock form which was more than enough to provide higher performance for the car with a curb weight of just 980kg (2161 lb).
This enabled the Lancia Stratos HF Stradale, the road variant to achieve 0-60 mph in 6.8 seconds, and a top speed of 144mph.
However, a 12-valve head was developed to deliver 275 horsepower to be replaced by a 24-valve head which was specifically developed for the competition variant bringing the power output up to 320 horsepower.
The 320 horsepower was more than enough to propel the car which weighs only 880kg (1940 lb). Not only it offers plenty amount of horsepower, and it sounds absolutely marvelous, a low rev growl that turns into a sudden bark as it operates through its range.
The sound is sonorous and intoxicating, the looks influenced by the supercars of its day combined to make it one of the most desirable cars of its time.
The Stratos was wide but very short with a heavily tapered bottom half, generous at waist level but tighter around the lowered roofline.
It was designed to be a competition car. You could understand that by opening the front and rear clamshell panels to reveal the central steel tub structure and front and rear structures that contain the easily accessible mechanical components such as the engine, transmission, suspension components, etc. Providing easier access to the mechanical components s essential for the service crew to carry out swift repairing and maintenance procedures in between rally stages.
Development of the prototype continued throughout 1972 and during this time Mike Parkes and Gian Paolo Dallara helped the production team to engineer the chassis to make it stronger and more agile. The steel space frame structure with an integral roll cage provided enough structural rigidity to make it reliable and durable enough to withstand the endurance of rally racing. The body panels were easily replaceable and were completely made out of fiberglass.
The short wheelbase and the wide track were unusual proportions for an average car. The Stratos is fully 19 inches shorter and the wheelbase is 6 inches lower than a Dino 246 GT, but it shared about the same width.
To improve the durability and reliability on rough roads, the rear suspension was changed from the double wishbones to MacPherson struts. 14-inch Campagnolo magnesium wheels with VR14 Michelin XWX tires came as stock, to provide as much grip and traction as possible.
To run for Group 4 rallying stages, the car has to be a homologation, meaning that it should be built and developed with the components of other production cars of the same company. The prototype still didn’t qualify for the Group 4 rallying stages but was able to run in certain events with fewer restrictions.
Even the Stradale variant of the Lancia Stratos comes with a fully adjustable suspension, and at modest speeds, it provides better handling prowess.
The light steering can soon convince the driver that with given time he/she could do anything with it. Which is deceptive and can change from under-steer to over-steer in the blink of an eye when you least expect it to do so. The reason for this is that more than 60% of the car’s weight is resting over the rear wheels and this can make the handling change from under-steer to over-steer in record times.
Tom Pryce, an accomplished F1 race driver once told the Autosport magazine that the Stratos is not an easy car to drive at higher speeds on loose surfaces.
With the great frontal visibility through the wraparound crescent-shaped windscreen, it was easy to place through corners.
British race car driver and engineer Mike Parkes, factory rally driver Sandro Munari and Marcello Gandini were the three main people behind the entire rallying project.
Marcello Gandini took a personal interest in designing and producing body panels and much bodywork. Nicola Materazzi, a dedicated engineer did calculations on many of the chassis, steering, engine, and suspension components.
Lancia Stratos made its debut on the 1972 Tour de Corse, then Sandro Munari and Mario Mannucci rallying events but was forced to retire with suspension failure.
Homologation rules at the time mandated that 500 examples of the rally participant car have to be built within a 12-month period, and Stratos finally got the approval from the authority governing rally motorsports.
The reason behind Lancia Stratos getting approval was due to revised Group 4 requirements mandating the production of at least 500 cars within a year which got reduced to 400 cars within two years for the 1976 season.
According to the records of Lancia Automobile, 492 Lancia Stratos cars were finished when production ended in 1975, which is wildly optimistic with the factory still selling them as late as 1978 with components made in 1979.
Lancia developed the car to be reliable and durable enough to endure the harsh conditions of rally stages. They delivered reliability and durability while providing 140mph of top speed.
In 1973 Targa Florio, Sandro Munari, and Jean Claude Andruet drove a Lancia Stratos to win second place.
In 1974, Munari and Mario Mannucci won the Tour de France championship behind the wheels of a Lancia Stratos.
Lancia Stratos in the hands of Sandro Munari and Bjorn Waldegard then went up to claim three World Championships in 1974, 1975, and 1976 and might have won even more had not for the internal political struggle within the Fiat group.
Fiat, the parent company of Lancia, after considering some facts decided to retire the Lancia Stratos to be replaced by their very own Fiat 131 Abarth car.
Despite the early retirement, it kept winning championships in the hands of privateers.
The 1977 Monte Carlo Rally was also won by Sandro Munari behind the wheel of Lancia Stratos. Sandro Munari won the race with a time of 6 hours, 36 minutes, and 13 seconds. Jean Claude Andruet won second place behind the wheels of a Fiat 131 Abarth with a time of 6 hours 38 minutes and 29 seconds. Fiat won the World Manufacturer’s Championship this year.
From the 1978 season, the 24 valve heads were banned from group 4 rally sports due to revised FIA mandates. To use 24 valve heads, it has to produce an additional 24 valve cars for re-homologation.
Even with this perceived power loss from 320 horsepower to 275 horsepower output, the Lancia Stratos was the car to win the competition.
Bernard Darmiche of the Chardonnet team won the Rallye Monte Carlo in 1979, the fourth Monte Carlo win for a Lancia Stratos. He also won Tour de Corse in 1981.
Without the support from Fiat and despite new regulations that restricted the engine power output, the car still remained a serious competitor and proved its ability to triumph over many advanced higher performance cars when in the hands of a talented driver.
Lancia Stratos won Tour de France Automobile five times. Starting with 1973, 1975, 1977,1979, and finally in 1980. This is a record for any rallying car.
It also won the Giro d’ Italia automobilistico, an Italian counterpart of the Tour de France Automobile in 1974, 1976, and finally in 1978.
The Lancia Stratos also had limited success in 24 hours of Le Mans, with a Stratos in the hands of Christine Dacremont and Lella Lombardi finishing 20th in the 1976 event.
Lancia Stratos eventually won 82 international rally events and the last victory of the Lancia Stratos was in 1981 at the Tour de Corse, in the hands of longtime privateer Brenard Darniche.
When the Fiat group decided to use Fiat 131 Abarth for rallying, Lancia also built two Group 5 turbocharged Stratos for closed track endurance racing. For these cars, the powertrain and aerodynamics were engineered by Nicola Materazzi based on his experience with the development of the production Lancia Stratos.
These Lancia Stratos Group 5 cars loosed to more superior Porsche 935 cars on closed tracks but proved more successful in hybrid events.
One of the Group 5 cars caught fire and was destroyed in Zeltweg, Austria due to an overheating problem. The last surviving GP5 car was shipped to Japan to compete in the Fuji Speedway-based Formula Silhouette series but never raced. This car was later used to win the Giro D’Italia event again.
Lancia Stratos is one of those cars that doesn’t receive enough appreciation when it was in good condition, it has to be used and driven to the extremes to get the hang of it and once you do there is no other car in this world to provide that kind of driving experience.
It was designed to be used to the extremes and even the most luxurious Stradale trim variant of the Lancia Stratos came with doors that were finished with a hard door panel rather than a softer trim and featured deep scallops that were specifically designed to store crash helmets. An easier-to-use window winder wasn’t present and instead, there was a simple wheel that allows you to slide up and down the window within its channel. This made it less appealing to the luxury-oriented Italian purchasers.
Though being an excellent rally dominating car with so many wins and championships under its belt, the Lancia Stratos had many design flaws just like many Italian cars of its time.
The pedals are slightly offset towards the center of the car. The instrument gauge cluster and the steering wheel were positioned in a way that obstructs the view of the upper part of the rev counter, especially the rev counter section from 7000rpm to the redline at 8000rpm.
The feeling you get once seated inside is that there is no much headroom but there’s more than necessary foot space. This is due to the lowered roofline to improve the center of gravity and aerodynamics.
The five-speed gearbox is slightly uncooperative until the oil is warm, especially when trying to involve second gear in gear changing proceedings.
The braking was also not that responsive but acceptable for a car at its time. The competition cars came with larger 15-inch wheels instead of the 14-inch wheels of the Stradale variant. So, they could have installed better brakes instead of the ATE ones they used.
However, thanks to its driving position with good frontal visibility that makes you feel like you are actually inside an airplane rather than a car, and its combination of short wheelbase and wide track, it made out for its faults to provide one of the best rallying experiences ever.
Despite its success as a rally sports car, it was a commercial failure. Partly due to not complying with American safety regulations, making it not road legal on American roads. Lancia Stratos couldn’t be sold in certain European markets as well.
In Italy, it was offered for roughly the same price as the Dino. Many chose the Dino cars over the Lancia Stratos due to everyday practicality and better interior finish provided by the Dino cars.
To be honest, it is not wrong to say that Lancia was interested in making the Stratos a rally-winning machine, not to make it a successful road car.
All the variants of the Lancia Stratos have become extremely desirable and a good example with proper maintenance history can easily get more than one million dollars due to the exclusivity. After all, 492 to 498 cars were produced within its limited production run. Many cars were used for rallying and were neglected after that.
The Lancia Stratos Zero concept was exhibited in Bertone museum for many years to come and in 2011 it was sold at an auction for 761,600 Euros.
In 1978, Bertone created and designed a concept car based on the mechanical and structural components of the Lancia Stratos, including the 2.4-liter Dino V6 engine and the same five-speed manual gearbox. This concept car was known as the Sibilo.
The Sibilo was four inches longer than the Stratos and featured sharp aerodynamic lines and polycarbonate windows. Just like the Lancia Stratos Zero concept car, the Sibilo featured a body made from hand-beaten steel.
Just like the original Lancia Stratos Zero concept, this car was also designed by Marcello Gandini.
Despite the warm reception, this car or a car based on this concept never made it to the production stage.
Even after more than 45 years after it was unveiled, Lancia Stratos remains one of the most accomplished rallies racing cars ever created.
Since Lancia never created a spiritual successor to the legendary Lancia Stratos, many enthusiasts tried to create a modern-day reincarnation of the original Stratos.
Fenomenon Stratos is a retro-modern concept that was unveiled at the 2005 Geneva auto show and was based around a mid-mounted V8 engine mated to a sequential six-speed gearbox, delivering 419 horsepower at 8500rpm and 275 lb-ft of torque at 4750rpm. This car was designed by Christian Hrabalec and was developed by Prodrive, a UK-based automotive engineering company.
The Fenomenon Stratos features a carbon fiber and aluminum composite chassis and carbon fiber body panels to keep the weight down.
It was developed to make it a supercar suitable for the developing world, a car engineered to perform on-road as well as on dirt and rally stages on day-to-day basis.
The engine is longitudinally mounted. The suspension comes with coil springs and double wishbones at all four corners to improve ride comfort in rough road terrain.
One of the most unique features of this car is the split windscreen, a bisected windscreen with the central pillar providing a hinge mounting for the doors which swings outwards, taking the windscreen with them.
Just like the original Stratos, the Fenomenon Stratos also shares the unusual short wheelbase and width proportions. It also features a lowered roofline and broad track base.
Following the stalled Fenomenon Stratos project, Michael Sotschek, a rally driver and chairman of Brose Group, and his son Maximilian commissioned the Pininfarina to create a modern-day iteration of the Lancia Stratos.
The car is made using a Ferrari 430 Scuderia as the base. The chassis of the Scuderia was shortened by 7.9 inches resulting in a wheelbase of 96.49 inches. The mechanical components of the Ferrari including the 4.3-liter V8 engine and the paddle-shift transmission were used to power the new Stratos but the engine is tuned to deliver 540 horsepower at 8200 rpm and 383 lb-ft of torque at 3750rpm.
Pininfarina Stratos weighs only 1247 kg and can achieve 0-60mph in 3.3 seconds with a top speed of 200mph.
It is rumored that a limited production of just 25 cars is a possibility based on the interest of buyers.
Ferrari did not consent to this plan and forbade its suppliers not to support nor provide components for this project.
On February 10th of 2018, Manifattura Automobili Torino, an Italian coachbuilding firm announced that it would start the production of the originally planned 25 cars after coming to a partnership with Michael Stoschek. Manifattura Automobili Torino is also behind the production of Devel Sixteen, a 5000bhp car from Dubai, and Apollo Intensa Emozione, a hypercar. Read more about that in here.
The production Stratos is set to deliver 540 horsepower and the company has confirmed that the new car will retain those unique door scallops to store crash helmets just like the original.
Lancia Stratos Replicas
Lancia Stratos cars are rare with less than 500 units were ever made, and many examples are not in good condition. Due to this many kit car companies are offering their own version of the Stratos.
Hawk Cars Ltd offered a kit car called HF 2000 and HF 3000 with Alfa Romeo, Lancia, or Ferrari engines including the original 2.4-liter Dino V6 engine.
Napiersport Ltd used to offer a replica of Stratos called SuperStratos.
Lister Bell Automotive produces a Lancia Stratos replica called STR. The Lister Bell STR comes with many engine choices including a Toyota V6, Alfa Romeo Busso V6, and transverse Ferrari V6 and V8 engines.
Lister Bell STR is widely considered as the most accurate recreation of the original Stratos.