A futuristic 1970 prototype by coachbuilder Nuccio Bertone helped Lancia’s then team manager Cesare Fiorio to convince the management at the firm’s Chivasso plant to invest in designing a racing successor to the Fulvia HF. So the legendary Lancia Stratos was born, with the sole purpose of winning rallies.
The Stratos Zero prototype was presented by Bertone at the Turin Auto Show in 1970. The mechanicals were derived from the Fulvia 1.6 HF, but the Stratos was a very low-slung and sleek coupé with a rear engine, rear-wheel drive layout and no side doors, only a hinged windshield for accessing the passenger compartment. Team manager Cesare Fiorio, who was already thinking about designing a rear-engined rally car, managed to convince Lancia's general manager Ugo Gobbato that this was the logical next step in building a new Lancia that would dominate rallies.
But it needed a powerful engine. The closest hypotheses were discarded, from the Flavia’s boxer engine, to the V6 in the 130. Finally, the six-cylinder V-engine in the Ferrari Dino 246 was chosen, probably because that car had been tested for the Tour de France and the engine’s immense power and reliability were already known. The result was a true racing thoroughbred (the French nicknamed it "bête à gagner" or winning beast), with a transversely mounted rear mid-engine, MacPherson strut suspension at the rear and double wishbones at the front.
Everything was designed for rallying, beginning with the wide-opening bonnet and boot, which afforded easy access to the mechanicals and setup. The futuristic wedge shape of the Bertone prototype was also retained in the definitive Stratos, which soon became a hallmark of Lancia’s racing prowess. The passenger compartment contained just two seats and little room for anything else, although two storage bins in both doors accommodated the drivers’ helmets. Pirelli made a big contribution by creating the low-profile P7 tyres that enabled the drivers to transfer the car’s considerable power into the ground and tame the supremely agile Stratos even in the worst conditions. A proud blend of Italian innovation was ready to dominate rallying worldwide.
Even before acquiring Group 4 homologation on 1 October 1974, the Lancia Stratos had already participated in several races that were used mainly to test and fine-tune the car. Its first victory came in the Firestone Rally in April 1973.
Around 500 Stratos cars were built and 26 were used by the official factory team, equipped initially with a 12-valve cylinder head and later with 24 valves. The Lancia Stratos racked up an extraordinary number of victories and fully deserved its reputation as the "ultimate weapon" of rallying. It won three consecutive Monte Carlo Rallies, three World Rally Championships (1974 to 1976) and as many European Rallycross Drivers' titles, in addition to clinching the FIA World Cup for Rally Drivers in 1977 with Sandro Munari, known as "Il Drago" (the Dragon).
The Lancia Stratos was eventually superseded by the Fiat 131 Abarth after a gradual transition. In 1978, certain races were chosen specifically for the Stratos and others specifically for the 131 Abarth, with the latter being tasked with winning the World Championship, while the Lancias were vying for the European title. Both campaigns were waged under the banner of the Fiat Group's racing department, ASA (Attività Sportive Automobilistiche), headed by Daniele Audetto. In races counting for both titles, Stratos cars sported the black, red and white livery of partner Pirelli. With Alén/Kivimaki, the Stratos achieved a memorable victory at Sanremo in 1978, finishing ahead of its eventual successor the 131 Abarth Alitalia, driven by Verini/Bernacchini. The cars kept on winning even when they were retired from the official team and ended up in the hands of privateers, right up until late 1982. The swansong was a glorious 1-2 victory by Federico Ormezzano and Nando Cazzaniga at the Monza Rally on 28 November 1982, with Maurizio Verini finishing close behind in fourth.
FCA Heritage jealously holds two magnificent Lancia Stratos sporting Pirelli and Alitalia colours in its collection.