Italian car manufacturers have gained a reputation for producing beautiful motors and Lancia are no exception. One of the company’s most exquisite efforts is the Lancia Stratos, due to its performance and appearance. What started out as a concept vehicle became a successful rally car that won the world championships in 1974, 1975 and 1976. We’re looking into the history of the Lancia Stratos to see what made it so successful.
The genesis of the Stratos began when Giovanni Bertone reached out to Lancia because he knew the company was looking to replace the Fulvia. Bertone came up with an eye-catching design that he mixed with the running gear of the Fulvia. It was said he drove his concept vehicle to the Lancia factory and passed under the gates in order to get the marque’s attention. An agreement was reached and Bertone chose Marcello Gandini to design the new car.
In 1971, Lancia presented the Lancia Stratos HF prototype at the Turin Motor Show. It featured a fluorescent red paint job and distinctive crescent-shaped windscreen that provided a high degree of forward visibility. Three different engines were used during the early production years: a Lancia Fulvia engine, Lancia Beta engine and Dino Ferrari V6. Originally, the Dino V6 was planned, but Enzo Ferrari was reluctant to sign off on giving the engine to a competing vehicle. It was only after the Dino stopped being produced that Ferrari agreed to let Lancia use the engine.
An innovative rally car
The Stratos was the first rally car designed from scratch, so its importance to racing can’t be overlooked. Lancia carried out intensive testing, using the car in several events where prototypes were allowed. The men who oversaw the testing were Lancia team manager Cesare Fiorio, British racer Mike Parkes and factory rally driver Sandro Munari.
All the testing paid off, as the Stratos won three world championships in a row, thanks to drivers Munari and Bjorn Waldegard. The Stratos also took victories at the Monte Carlo Rally in 1975, 1976 and 1977. More wins might have followed if not for the internal politics within the Fiat group, who put rallying responsibility on the Fiat 131 Abarths.
Even without support from Fiat, the Stratos remained a formidable competitor on the track. New regulations had also been brought in to restrict engine power, yet the Stratos continued to impress. The final Stratos victory came in 1981 at the Tours de Corse Automobile and it was driven by privateer Bernard Darniche.
The Stratos went out of production in 1978, though it developed a legacy that inspired other manufacturers to create replica kit versions.