Sunday, September 25

Lancia Stratos, from a salon dream to a racing legend

On October 28, 1970, the Turin Motor Show opens its doors, the great event for car lovers and for Italian coachbuilders, masters of fashion on four wheels. At the Bertone stand, the Stratos Zero, the car with which Nuccio Bertone entered the Lancia factory a few months ago, is now on display to the public. The work of Marcello Gandini, it moves thanks to the engine of the Lancia Fulvia HF, a legend of rallying in the second half of the 1960s and early 1970s.

A few meters away, at the Lancia stand, Sandro Fiorio, commercial director of the Italian brand, talks with his son Cesare, its sports director. They know that the Fulvia will not be eternal, that it will be increasingly difficult to face its rivals and that a substitute is needed that will triumph in rallies and serve to reactivate the brand’s sales, which are not experiencing their best moment.

Since 1969, Lancia has been fully integrated into the giant Fiat. At the head of the brand created by Vincenzo Lancia, is Pier Ugo Gobbato. The Fiorios passed on their idea of ​​creating a replacement for the Fulvia HF. But could one start from Bertone’s Stratos Zero? The idea does not seem feasible, but the prototype can serve as a starting point….

In November 1971, a new baptized prototype conceived by Gandini and named Stratos HF, was presented at the Turin showroom, by Bertone and Lancia.

The drawing of the bodywork is faithful to the wedge line, but it is more realistic than the Zero, as it has been designed so that the driver and co-driver can be inside, with space to store helmets in the doors, a windshield that does not It is a flat glass and a body height of 1.05 meters. In any case, it is nothing conventional and, in no way, does it resemble the rivals it has to face on the rally stages. These are derivatives of street models, Touring Cars or series Gran Turismo, while the Lancia Stratos has been conceived from the outset as a rally car. But in order to race, it must be homologated, in its case in Group IV, and this requires the manufacture of 500 units according to the regulations of the International Automobile Federation, although this number was later reduced to 400. In other words, it must be Contrary to the other brands, Lancia and Bertone conceived the idea of ​​making a street version, the “Stradale”, derived from the competition model and used for its homologation.

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The idea does not excite the people in charge of the Fiat Group, and even Gianni Agnelli pressures Gobatto and Fiorio to abandon the project, but in vain.

Munari’s Stratos on the snow of Monte-Carlo in 1976, on the way to victory

In principle, the prototype of the Stratos HF has a two-liter Lancia engine, but its creators want to mount a 2.4-liter V6, that of the Ferrari Dino 246 GT and GTS and the Fiat Dino. Enzo Ferrari does not like the idea at all, using the pretext that his limited production capacity will not allow him to supply Lancia with the 500 engines it needs. Thus, he only delivers a dozen V6s to serve development prototypes of the Stratos.

The Gobbato Maneuver

Gobbato, in the purest school of Machiavelli, makes Gianni Agnelli and those responsible for Citroën believe that he is going to buy the V6 Maserati (the one that the Citroën SM Maserati carries) to equip the future street Stratos. Immediately the alarms go off at Fiat and Ferrari, and miraculously at Maranello it is announced that there are no longer any problems supplying its V6 engines to the Stratos.

Sandro Munari, a rally driver legend associated with the Stratos name

At the beginning of 1972, the Stratos HF prototype was already functional and on February 26, piloted by Claudio Maglioli, it rolled on the Chivasso test track. The V6 Dino engine, located in a transverse central position (as in the Lamborghini Miura) has been slightly modified, and offers 195 hp from the start. The chassis is a monocoque made of steel sheets, bent and welded. The wheelbase is very short (2.16 m on the prototype and 2.18 m on the production model) to be able to move easily on twisty sections. The bodywork, in polyester, contributes to the car’s weight being less than nine hundred kilos.

In November 1972 the car is entered in the Tour de Corse, with the great Sandro Munari “Il Drago”, at the wheel, but rear suspension problems forced him to retire. In December he runs in Spain, in the Costa del Sol rally, where he follows the set-up. Engineers work to solve problems and the V6 engine is bumped up to 235 hp.

In April 1973, again in Spain and in this case at the Firestone Rally, where the Stratos, always with Munari at the wheel, achieved the first victory of its impressive track record.

In 1974 a version with 4 valves per cylinder and 300 hp will be tested by Mauro Forghieri himself (the engineer who created some of the most legendary Ferraris in Sport and F1). A turbo will even be mounted but it will not be authorized by FISA, as it is not considered to be an extension of homologation, although there was a Lancia Stratos Turbo but of group 5, with spectacular aerodynamics.

In any case, as usual, the engine used by the Stratos will be the V6 with twelve valves and 260 hp.

A mystery

On October 1, 1974, the Stratos is homologated in Group 4. The Stratos were assembled in the Bertone factory, in Grugliasco, but a lot of ink has run on whether, in fact, the 500 units required in principle were manufactured, if Well, the number of cars required had already been reduced to 400, thanks to pressure from Lancia. The truth is that the purchase requests for the street version “Stradale” were not abundant (and that today, turned into legend, even copies of the Stratos are sold). It is said that some 492 units were manufactured (including competition versions), plus three prototypes. And that a total of 550 chassis could have been manufactured.

An impressive record

In any case, that will be part of the mystery of a legend who has five victories in the Tour de Corse, five in San Remo, four in Monte-Carlo, one in Rally Sweden, another in Portugal… , and we are only talking about the World Rally Championship where it would give Lancia three consecutive world titles (1974, 1975 and 1976).

Add those of the European Championship, with five Tours de France and another five from Sicily, four Rallyes from Spain, four Elba Island, three from Italy, Poland, Antibes….

The list of triumphs in the most prestigious tests is long. And that of drivers like Sandro Munari (who barely fit in the car due to his height), Bernard Darniche, or Jorge de Bagrión, among others, is also linked to this Lancia that was born as a salon dream to become a motoring legend. .

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