Only the Italians would come up with a madly impractical wedge-shaped concept with a central driving position – then put it into production. OK, so the Lancia Stratos made only limited production and the central driving position was swapped for a more conventional left-hand drive configuration (there were no RHD cars), but when it comes to implausible machines, the Stratos is right up there at the top.
That first concept was shown at the 1970 Turin salon, based on a Fulvia 1600 HF. Low, angular and utterly impractical, Lancia’s competitions manager Cesare Fiorio took one look and reckoned it would be just the job for a full-blown rally special. By the time the first cars had been built, motive power was provided by a 190bhp V6 sourced from the Ferrari 246GT; a cheaper variation with Fiat twin-cam power never saw the light of day.
The simple act of getting into it distances the Stratos from regular cars. The glassfibre door is so light that there’s a strange lack of momentum behind it as you open up, and you need to keep a tight grip of it if there’s a breeze. The driver’s seat is a long way down, mounted straight to the floor, so you have to stick your right leg in (it’s left-hand drive) beyond a broad sill, fold yourself almost in half from the waist, reach in and grab the steering wheel to steady yourself, perhaps bend your other knee a little, and then drop into the Alcantara-trimmed bucket. Sense of occasion compensates for the lack of elegance.
When the transversely mid-mounted 2.4-litre Ferrari V6 cranks into life behind you, the hiss and pop of the carbs underlays a cultured, deep-toned rumble. Warm the fluids and start pinging the sharp-tipped tacho needle around the dial, and it becomes crisp, strident, imposing, with a metallic timbre at the top end. If you’ve spent any time watching YouTube videos of Group 4 Stratos rally cars with 24-valve heads and 275bhp raging through the forests, then the sound the stradale makes might not seem quite rampant enough, yet it does prickle the hairs on your forearms and sets your synapses tingling.
By modern standards the Stratos isn’t wickedly quick, yet with just 980kg to haul along you’ll find that 190bhp is enough to keep the pace entertainingly high. The Ferrari V6 is quite torquey, too, so throttle response in the mid-range is snappy, a useful attribute given how ponderous and sloppy the five-speed gearchange can be.
The Stratos seems too pretty for the rough and tumble of rallying. It’s small and neat and pert, not butch and aggressive or any of the other macho qualities you might expect of a car that needs to bully its way along rock-strewn goat tracks in Greece and snow-slathered Swedish backroads. It’s a mid-engined sports car for nice, smooth tarmac surfaces, surely?
But that’s the deceit of one of the world’s most attractive two-seater designs, because the sole purpose of the Stratos was to go rallying. To go rallying to win. Everything. Lancia’s competition department, headed by Cesare Fiorio in the 1970s, was very focused on that last point – total domination of the world rallying scene was the only way to justify the huge cost of the exercise.
The Stratos would go on to dominate the fledgling World Rally Championship, taking gold in 1974, 1975 and 1976. In all it scooped 83 golds in international rallying and was still notching up wins in the hands of privateers as late as 1982.
Unsurprisingly, the Stratos has a fearsome reputation, but buy one that’s been properly sorted and it makes an incredible road car. Short of a Countach, there’s little out there that’ll touch a Stratos for visual drama, and if you fancy driving your Stratos as intended, it’ll still do the business in historic rallying.
Looking to buy an original Lancia Stratos?
With just 492 cars built, you’ll need to be patient if you want to land a Stratos. That figure includes both road and rally variants, and not all of them have survived – some met a pretty messy end either on the road or the rally stage. No cars were officially sold new in the UK as the car wasn’t homologated for sale here; the only countries it was cleared for sale were Italy, Belgium and West Germany.
The key thing to check is that you’re buying a genuine Stratos; it’s estimated there are about 430 left, many with competition history. The real deal has a sheet steel monocoque, rather than the tubular steel chassis of most replicas. Genuine cars also tend to have a lower standard of panel fit compared with the fakes.
There were just five colours offered: yellow, light blue, dark blue, green and red, the latter being by far the most popular. Many cars have been repainted since they left the factory, but if you’re looking for a completely original car you might have a search on your hands – few of these Lancias are exactly as they left the factory, and that’s not necessarily such a bad thing.
How about a Stratos Replica?
Even before Stratos values climbed to their current £400,000 and more, the car’s rarity created a market for good-quality replicas. Truth is, they were kit cars, but only in as much as you could put them together yourself from parts sourced from breaker’s yards. Companies such as Hawk Cars, however, set about refining certain aspects of the Stratos, improving the fit and finish of the body panels and evolving the mechanical set-up. Hawk even went so far as to commission new windscreens and have new wheels cast – useful to owners of genuine cars, too.
Although Hawk will happily unite you with a Ferrari V6 to shove in the back of your replica, the company has also engineered its HF3000 and HF2000 models to accept an Alfa V6 (a popular choice) or a four-cylinder Lancia twin-cam. And rather than get dirt under your own fingernails, Hawk has an outside partner that can construct your car for you.
Since 2010 Hawk has had a rival in the form of Lister Bell Automotive. Like Hawk, Lister Bell has invested time and money in developing the Stratos further, using modern materials, construction techniques and computer design and analysis programs, with an emphasis on improving the driving experience and not simply replicating it.
While that pair endeavour to emulate the original, in 2005 Christian Hrabalek tried to reinvent the Stratos with his Fenomenon project. Prodrive developed a prototype powered by a V8 engine, but attempts to attract funding to progress to a limited run of cars ultimately came to nothing.
However, inspired by Hrabalek’s vision, in 2010 Michael Stoschek, the wealthy owner of an automotive supplies company, and his son Maximilian announced plans for the New Stratos. Straschek commissioned Pininfarina to develop the car, which was based on a shortened Ferrari 430 Stradale, powered by a 532bhp 4.3-litre V8, and clothed in a carbonfibre body that paid modern homage to the spirit of the original (see Octane 121).
When the finished New Stratos was revealed to the press in 2013 it was rapturously received. ‘We’ll do a small production run,’ proposed an excited Stoschek. ‘Not on your nelly,’ Ferrari harrumphed, even banning its suppliers from touching the project. And so the one-off New Stratos remains precisely that.
Performance and specs
Lancia Stratos Stradale
Engine 2418cc, V6
Power 190bhp @ 7000rpm
Torque 165lb ft @ 5500rpm
Top speed 143mph
Fuel consumption 15mpg
Gearbox Five-speed manual
Dimensions and weight
Kerb weight 980kg
• Many of these cars have been crashed at some point in their lives and they weren’t built with all that much care or precision in the first place, so don’t expect perfect panel fit. The bodywork is glassfibre so there won’t be any rust – but large and/or uneven panel gaps are par for the course.
• The sheet steel monocoque needs to be checked carefully for corrosion as well as crash damage. Naturally you’ll need to inspect the car closely while it’s on a ramp –bringing in an expert to check things over for you is also highly recommended.
• The most likely engine issue is with worn camshafts, which wear readily – especially if the engine hasn’t been allowed to warm up properly before piling on the revs. Things are made even worse by not keeping on top of the valve clearances, which need to be checked every 6000 miles. It’s a time-consuming, fiddly job that’s frequently put off, which can prove expensive. There’s the potential for a lobe to get knocked off the camshaft if clearances are way out; that’s when things can start getting really costly.
• Listen for worn timing chains, which rattle. Also watch for blue smoke when accelerating, betraying worn cylinder bores. Broken exhaust valves are also common; they’re sodium-filled items that can be fragile. Core plugs are also prone to weeping, and if left unchecked this can lead to the coolant level dropping to the point where the engine overheats.
• The interior trim tends to disintegrate once it’s got damp; very few cars still feature the original factory trim. It’s easy enough getting a Stratos retrimmed, but obviously you’ll lose the originality in the process.
• The plastic side windows are controlled by a rudimentary regulator and they don’t seal properly, so the cabin will fill up with water if the car is left out in the rain. It’s unlikely that you’ll find a car that’s been allowed to fill up with water, but it’s worth checking the cabin for signs of damp.
• Predictably, many of the bits fitted to the Stratos were fitted to other models within the Fiat empire. So there are bits of 124, 127, X1/9 and Beta scattered all over – which in some cases makes things easier to find.
1970: The Stratos Zero is revealed on the Bertone stand at the Turin motor show.
1971: The Lancia Stratos HF makes it debut at the Turin motor show.
1972: Enzo Ferrari agrees to supply Lancia with 500 Dino V6 engines.
1973: The Stratos scoops its first victory in April – the Firestone Rally. A gold in the Tour de France Auto in September is the car’s first major win.
1974: In October, the Stratos is homologated by the FIA for Group 4 racing.
1975: The final cars are built, although sales were so hard to come by that the Stratos was officially listed as available new as late as 1980.
Owners clubs, forums and websites
Summary and prices
Lancia Stratos prices have been high for many years, with each car’s actual value very dependent on its condition and history. Competition history is often a bonus, unless it is a highly original low mileage Stradale. Prices realistically start from the £200,000 mark, rising to £250,000 for a good example. £300,000 will get you a great car, although in some exceptional cases, more than £400,000 could be the asking price.