September 10, 2014 @ 10:32 AM

Legends and Legacies: Lancia Stratos

One of the most legendary cars in the rallying world is the wedge shape sensation Stratos from Lancia which won back to back championships in the 1970s! By Jerrica Leong

Words: Jerrica Leong

If I were to ask you to name me Italian car brands, what would come to mind? I asked my colleagues the same question and immediately they named Alfa Romeo, Fiat, Ferrari and Lamborghini. It took them a few minutes to reach the brand Lancia. But I bet that they only thought of the brand because they knew I was writing this. 

What’s Lancia? you ask? Here’s a bit of history: Lancia has been around since 1907 and is currently owned by Fiat. It was created by Vincenzo Lancia, a successful race car driver who decided that he wanted to create his own cars, which he did when he created the four-cylinder Tipo 51 and six-cylinder Dialpha. Lancia’s most sellable cars were the Lamda V4, the Little Augusta and the Aprilia.

What about the most legendary car from the Lancia? It is the Stratos (short for stratosphere) the sensational spaceship-shape coupe with a mid-mounted engine that delivers the power through the rear wheels, built and launched in 1972 especially for rally racing. 

The Stratos is powered by a 2.4-litre capacity Ferrari Dino V6 engine. It features double overhead camshaft valve gear, a 65-degree V6 cylinder layout, with two valves per cylinder. It develops 187bhp at 7000rpm, and maximum torque of 225Nm at 4000rpm. Yes I know, the numbers are low but this car packs a punch when it comes to rallying.

The Stratos started a new era in rallying as the car was designed from scratch for that type of racing. It was described to have a design from the future and although it was designed in the 70s, the Stratos still looks just as Sci-fi as it did decades ago. The moon-lander shape was first seen in Bertone’s 1970 Stratos Zero concept, which was essentially a triangle.

The windshield curves at a constant radius to reduce distortion and to give better forward visibility to the driver. Unfortunately this has rendered the rear visibility a joke. Simply put, the rear window is just a formality, not a car for modern day roads.

Lancia switched to the Macpherson strut capped by a strong box structure when the double-A-arm setup started failing them during testing. The adjustments were maxed out at 6.5 inches of ground clearance, pretty low even in modern day standards. The Stratos stands at 5.7 feet wide and 3.7 feet high with a wheelbase of roughly 85.83 inches. The rear wheels on the Group Four rally version were only a foot wide. 

The Stratos certainly made a name for itself in the World Rally Championship, winning not just one but three championships. And believe it or not, the Stratos is actually Lancia’s replacement car for rallying, so the Stratos is one of the cases where the younger sibling outshines the elder sibling. It became a legendary car in rally racing all the way into the early 1980s.

Lancia’s rally championship wins started off with the front-drive Fulvia. But by the late 60s/ early 70s, after a few years of making the competition eat dust, the Fulvia was looking and feeling old and couldn’t put enough power through its front wheels. Lancia’s competition boss Cesare Fiorio started looking for a replacement and that was when the Stratos came along.

Cesare Fiorio instantly saw the promise from the Stratos when it was on display in the Bertone Stand at the 1970 Turin motor show. The car on display’s screen-cum-door layout and the extremely laid-back driving position could never be practical for racing but concept was there and that was what caught Fiorio’s eye. 

Heading the entire rallying project were Lancia team manager Fiorio along with British racer/ engineer Mike Parkes and factory rally driver Sandro Munari. There were claims that the Stratos’s cockpit was designed around driver Munari, whom it fit like a tailored suit. It is with this setup that Munari went on to win the rally championship title from 1974 to 1976. The Stratos also scored five Monte Carlo wins. It didn’t stop winning until 1981with Bernard Darniche at the wheel.

The Stratos was built mainly for rally racing but to homologate for Group 4 international rallying they needed to build 400 cars for the Stratos to pass (the final number of cars is a “unknown”, some claimed Lancia built 500 and others say 1000, though the latter number was more widely accepted). This was how the road car came around. The road cars were Ferrari Dino-powered, although a cheaper Fiat-engined car had been proposed.

Fiat created a new Stratos in 2010. It is a one-off car at the time of writing but there are plans for the new Stratos to be spawn 40 copies to wealthy fans. When they get the green light from the engine providers, that is. If it ever goes into production, I would sell an arm and a leg just to own one. But then again… I wouldn’t be able to enjoy the car if that is the case… maybe I shall make do with a scale model instead.

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