The cars we loved.
Every once in a while a car comes along and changes everything. The odd-looking Lancia Stratos HF is one such car. It was a pre all-wheel drive car developed specifically for rally racing, with a powerful Ferrari V6 that was eventually turbocharged to 560 hp! The Eclipses, Lancers and WRXs of today all owe their spiritual lineage to the mighty Stratos, a car well ahead of its time.
The radical Stratos was built to shock the racing and automotive establishment by proving that the then struggling Lancia division of the Fiat Group could build a world-class “race on Sunday sell on Monday” kind of car to market. Lancia succeeded on both accounts. The concept of a mid-engine car was still on the drawing boards for most companies during the late 60’s and early 70’s. Lancia, push the concept from the drawing boards to the track and proved that it was a feasible technology in what was almost a mass-produced car.
After extensive testing in the early 70’s, Lancia raced the Stratos in a number of events. The minimum 400 production cars that were required for Group 4 racing were all quickly accounted for. A total of 492 were built by Bertone and shipped all over the world, reportedly from a remote facility that was a mystery to most Fiat Group execs. That could explain the tension between Lancia and Fiat over competing racing programs where the Stratos clearly gave the smaller Lancia division the edge.
Part of what made the Stratos so special was its unusual organic wedge-like shape. Based on a 1970 concept car called the Stratos Zero at the Turin Motor Show, the Stratos was a sharp departure from the rounded, curvy cars being featured at the show. It was designed by Marcello Gandini at Bertone, the designer responsible for the legendary Lamborghini Miura and Countach.
The Stratos as a race car redefined rally racing with its rear wheel drive, low center of gravity and excellent balance accented by light weight and a mid-engine design. It was unbeatable for a stretch spanning from 1972 to 1975, when after some pressure from the parent company Fiat, it was retired to allow Fiat’s own 131 to enter (and possibly win) races. It was raced well into the 80’s by independent teams to great success. The turbocharged versions of the 2.4 litre V6 were at times problematic due to heat and usually did not find their way to street versions. In stock form, the tamed DOHC made 190 horsepower which felt like more due to an excellent power to weight ratio. Mechanically speaking, it was the stuff of pure race cars: four-wheel disc brakes, fully independent adjustable suspension and a central monocoque bolt-on frame. Bertone had been charged with the mechanical specifications, not just the body design, so a real race car for the road was the end result.
The Stratos is of course a rare and highly collectible car today, however a new Stratos concept has been shown, leading to speculation that a new production car might be just around the corner.