Saturday, May 30, 2015

STYLING FROM THE STRATOS-SPHERE!

One of the stars of the 2015 Concorso d’Eleganza at Villa d’Este on Lago di Como was a beautiful Lancia Stratos HF, a car with an amazing birth story.

Lancia Stratos HF (Photo: Tim Scott for Sports Car Digest)

Bertone desperately wanted a connection with Lancia, to expand its client portfolio, but Lancia traditionally turned to Pininfarina for inspiration. Bertone’s chief designer Marcello Gandini produced a concept car for the 1970 Turin Motor Show, called the Lancia Zero.
1970 Lancia Zero Concept
When Bertone arrived at the factory gates to present the car to Lancia, the workers stopped and applauded.

To create the running concept car, Nuccio Bertone prevailed on one of his personal friends to ‘donate’ his Lancia Fulvia to the project, which he chopped off at the sills and mounted the concept body.

Within a year Lancia had approved the creation of a production car, known as the Stratos, which was developed from the Zero concept. The car was to be fitted with a Ferrari Dino V6 engine, however Ferrari was cautious about approving the acquisition of the engines as he thought the Stratos may damage sales of the Ferrari Dino.

1971 Lancia Stratos prototipo
The bright orange Stratos prototype appeared at the 1971 Turin Motor Show.

When production of the Dino ended, Il Commendatore apparently had a change of mind, and in typically dramatic Italian fashion, had 500 engines dumped at the front gates of the Lancia works at Chivasso in 1973 for the construction of the 500 cars needed for homologation. The cars were built up at Bertone’s operation, then shipped to Chivasso for final finish.


The Stratos was immediately successful, winning the World Rally Championship in 1974, 1975 and 1976, mostly at the hands of Sandro Munari, who was a quiet, studious and very technical driver.
Sandro Munari 1975

Bjorn Waldegard also figured in Rally wins with the sleek, wedge-shaped Lancia. Production ended in 1976.

I had the chance to meet Sandro Munari in Sydney in 1976 when he was on his way to New Caledonia for the car’s final rally event. In our MODERN MOTOR interview I asked him if the handling of the car was as diabolical as reported.



He said: “It depends what you mean? If you mean do you have to pay attention at every change of direction, yes, it’s true. Otherwise, it spins!”

The wheelbase/track ratio of the 950kg Stratos was almost ‘square’ so consequently it was like driving a car which pivoted around a central spindle! The 24 valve version of the Dino engine produced 320bhp, so at rally speeds it was quite handful.


Marcello Gandini with Lamborghini Muira
However, one thing is certain, Gandini, designer of the Muira and Countach, produced an exceptionally striking design.


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