The Lancia Stratos was the first car designed specifically for rallying. A highly competitive motor sport, rallies are filled with special stages where drivers and navigators go as fast as they possibly can between point A and point B over any type of road surface, be it asphalt, gravel, dirt, ice, or snow. The team with the lowest elapsed time wins. In the mid-70s, the Stratos was so good at what it did that it completely changed the face of the sport. Instead of modified production cars, every team in the top echelons of the sport now has purpose-built rally cars that only vaguely resemble their production-car brethren.
Lancia Stratos HF
The Lancia Stratos was an audacious, two-seat, mid-engined sports car with a short wheelbase of only 86 inches and an extreme wedge shape. At a time when the wedge school of design was most popular, the Stratos, in the capable hands of designer Marcello Gandini at Carrozzeria Bertone, may have taken the wedge shape to its ultimate limits. In profile, the hood tapered sharply downward, almost at the same angle as the rake of the windshield. The wedge shape was emphasized by the circular curve of the windshield in plan view, which was intended to minimize visual distortion for the driver. With wide flares covering the widest tires of the day and a rear spoiler to keep the rear end on the ground, there was no doubt that the Stratos was to be anything other than fast – it was definitely not a boulevard cruiser.
Powered by a double overhead cam, 2.4 liter V6 with three dual-throat Weber carburetors, the engine produced 190 horsepower in the Stradale, or road-going version. Weighing in at 2,161 pounds and with a five-speed manual transmission, the Stratos could accelerate from 0 to 62 mph in about 6.8 seconds and had a top speed of 144 mph. Add front and rear independent suspensions and four-wheel disc brakes and you have a car that was not only fast in a straight line, but one that could corner and stop with alacrity. In rally trim, horsepower was boosted to about 320 hp and the weight was reduced to less than 2,000 pounds, giving the Stratos prodigious performance that demanded the driver’s full attention.
Lancia seeks a new rally car
By the late 1960s Lancia was looking ahead and contemplating a replacement for its very successful, but aging, Fulvia rally car. The Fulvia was Lancia’s best-selling model and the Fulvia coupe had won the Italian Rally Championship every year since 1965, and would go on to win it every year until 1973. Lancia obviously had some big shoes to fill and was seeking a car that would not only be a winner, but one that could dominate the sport.
The Italian automotive community is relatively small and close-knit, and it was not long before the Lancia rumors reached the ears of Nuccio Bertone, then head of Carrozzeria Bertone. Bertone was very interested in working with Lancia, since both Lancia and Bertone were old-line Italian firms founded in the early part of the twentieth century, and they had not worked together for many years. Lancia was now sending most of its body building and design work to Pininfarina, and Bertone felt he needed something dramatic to once again attract Lancia’s attention.
Bertone Project Zero
That something dramatic was the Bertone Project Zero, a mid-engine concept car built around a Lancia Fulvia drivetrain. Project Zero, by then renamed the Stratos Zero, was displayed on the Bertone stand at the Turin Motor Show of 1970 and created a furor – it was a vehicle unlike any that had preceded it. It was a wedge-shaped objet d’art that did not appear to have a cabin or cockpit, a hood, a windshield, or any doors. The only visual clues that it was a movable vehicle were the tires. A large, flat panel of glass that formed part of the radically downward-sloping front end not only provided forward viewing for the occupants, but pivoted upwardly from the top to allow ingress and egress. At its highest point, the Stratos Zero was only 33 inches off the ground.
Lancia officials were caught flat-footed by the Stratos Zero and were as shocked as any of the other spectators. However, shortly after the show, Lancia contacted Bertone and requested that their rally team members be allowed to view the car privately. Bertone, of course, agreed and on the appointed day, Nuccio Bertone personally drove the car to Lancia’s rally team offices and shops. Team members waiting in the courtyard and others in offices overlooking the main gate were dumbstruck to see this otherworldly vehicle drive up to the main gate. Bertone chatted with the guard for a few moments and before the gate could be raised, Bertone astonished everyone present by driving under the gate into the courtyard. It was only a short time later that Lancia and Bertone agreed to cooperate in designing and building Lancia’s new rally car – the Stratos. Nuccio’s plan had worked to perfection!
The Lancia Stratos in competition
Was the Stratos HF as successful a rally car as Lancia had hoped? In a word, yes. It brought Lancia the World Rally Championship in 1974, 1975, and 1976. The Stratos more than doubled the point total of the second place Opel team in 1976, in the process finishing 1-2-3 at the Monte Carlo and San Remo rallies, and 1-2 at the Rallye de France. The Stratos won the prestigious Rallye de Monte Carlo from 1975 through 1977, and in 1979.
By the end of the 1977 rally season, Fiat stopped providing the budget for Lancia’s rally competition, electing instead to concentrate on rallying the Fiat 131 Abarth and bringing to a temporary close Lancia’s official rally participation. Lancia produced 492 Stratos cars to homologate the design for rally purposes as a production car. Initially, sales to the public were slow since the Stratos was built as a competition car and had few amenities. However, when news of Lancia’s exit from rallying became public, all remaining unsold Stratos’ were snapped up by car collectors and by private rally teams.
Lancia Stratos values
Hagerty estimates the average value of a Lancia Stratos to be $483,000, ranging between $500,000 for a Stratos in number 1 concours condition, to $399,000 for one in number 4 fair condition, but notes that prices for genuine, documented ex-works rally cars can be much higher. Given the abuse that all rally cars take during competition, ex-rally cars should be carefully checked for frame and metal fatigue, as well as engine damage.
If you are looking for a Stratos, beware of replicas. Says Hagerty, “Collectors considering a Stratos should carefully research provenance, as many replicas have been built over the years.” Another point to keep in mind is that all Stratos cars were designed and built for competition. They lack even rudimentary sound deadening and the cockpits are cramped and noisy. But if all you want is what may be the ultimate driver’s car, the light weight, short wheelbase, and more than ample power of the Stratos will demand your full attention in any driving situation.
Silodrome – http://silodrome.com/lancia-stratos-hf-stradale/
Lancia Stratos – http://lanciastratos.com/en/history
RoadSmile – http://www.roadsmile.com/lancia-stratos.html
Wikipedia – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lancia_Stratos
eWRC Results – http://www.ewrc-results.com/season.php