Deus ex Machina, concept introduced to ancient tragedy by Euripides. It translates to “God from the machine”. The term has evolved to mean a plot device whereby seemingly unsolvable problem is suddenly and abruptly resolved by the inspired and unexpected intervention of some new event, character or object.
Today I present you italian play written by two amazing artists: Bertone and Lancia. In this work of art such rally stage legends as Sandro Munari and Bjorn Waldegard will appear to dispel doubts about who rules in motorsport
Paradox. Stratos is creation that was made to be rally legend. 70s and 80s were the peak years of rallying. In this particular moment extremely fast cars plowing through rally stages were more popular than other insanely fast cars plowing through paved trails. First one was called Group 4 (nowadays WRC) and later is all hailed F1. And so there should be no news that all major car manufacturers invested big amounts of money into this sport. Winning rally stages meant that winners car will sell like hot cakes. Lancia with their Stratos defied logic, because factory never cared about sales results of road going car. This piece of machinery was solely meant to rule world of rallying.
Artist. In year 1970 Nuccio Bertone decided to surprise Lancia with prototype of a car, that would supersede well-worn Fulvia. Bertone was well aware of Lancia’s need to have something fresh, something that would make Italian brand shine at the rally stages. Nuccio borrowed drive unit out of his friend’s Fulvia and commissioned one of his best designers – Marcello Gandini – to enclose it in a beautiful body. Such artist as Gandini, responsible for design of Lamborghini Miura and Countach, couldn’t make a mistake. Result of his hard work was seen in prototype of Lancia Stratos Zero, driven by V4 engine, from mentioned before, Lancia Fulvia.
Dino. Lancia executives were thrilled with results of Bertone work. Cooperation was going to happen, so was the Stratos project. Previously two brands were linked just by the place of origin, Torino. Stratos was meant to do one thing and one thing only, be the best rally car to ever exist. Design team steered Gandini has been joined by Lancia’s factory driver Sandro Munari, who of the date had won Italian Rally Championship twice. Year after Stratos Zero was presented at Torino Motor Show production Stratos HF had seen his initial release. Lancia Stratos HF Stradale central placed 2.4 V6 engine taken from a Dino 246 generates 190 hp. The whole car weighs only 990 kg.
Hard Rules. Situation was further complicated by FIA. Lancia was now not only obligated to make winning rally car but had to produce 500 road going copies of it. All that was needed for Stratos to be homologated into World Rally Championship. Meantime FIA had changed the rules, now the manufactures had to produce only 400 cars to be homologated. Result of that is 492 road goingStratos’. To be honest, Italians didn’t do much to remake Stratos to be road worthy. They have softened the suspension, placed indicators, put some cushioning to the seats and stuck Stradale badge on the back.
Class. Stratos’ design creates mixed feelings, some love it, some hate it. There is no compromising. For me this car is fascinating piece of art, which under it’s civilian camouflage hides raw, pure racing machine. Rollbar made out of steel with engine enclosed by fiberglass made firewall. Everything is thought to be as optimal for rallying as it is possible. For example, access to engine and other components is maximal due to hood and frunk that opens in most revealing manner.
Randomness. Italians known for their design craftsmanship don’t follow this principles in case of being organized. As was in Lancia’s case, especially in their manufacturing manners. Chaos dominated at assembly line of Stratos’ to such an extent that all VIN numbers were completely random. They did not follow neither chronology nor particular order. Stratos’ dashboard for example, was unplanned as much as it could be, all of the gauges were just put in space that fit them. In ordinary car there is rev counter and speedometer in front of the driver, but not in Lancia’s rally super star. In the middle of drivers eyesight is neither of mentioned before, there is simply oil temperature gauge, just because it fit there. Stratos is full of these quirks.
First time. I got in. Closed the door. First thing I did was to touch dashboard. I don’t know what I wanted to achieve by that, just wanted to do it. I sat, turn on the engine and kept listening. 492 examples in the world. This being only one in Poland. Factory condition. 3 times rally world champion – 1974, 1975, 1976. Car that was meant only to win. Car that changed our thinking about motor rallying. Two of the greatest entities in car world – Bertone and Lancia. They did create not only a car, but foremost changed philosophy of making a rally car.
Nonsensically unbelievable. Stratos is not a toy car for “cool boys”, it is a precise rally device that for cup holders has something that should be called helmet holder. It is tight. Hot. Loud. Steering wheels is not centered, which makes you seat positioned to your passenger. My theory is that if steering wheel was perfectly in front of the driver, one would hit windshield with his hands. The same goes to pedal box, they are moved to the right, with very tight gap in between each pedal. Stratos intimidates you from the moment you close doors, like it is some kind of beast straight from hell. Gives you weapon you must immediately fire, without any hesitation!
Deus. Stratos is not particularly hard to drive. I would say it is like dating. In theory every women could be approached in some way. Sometimes results is better, sometimes it is not, but it is always new experience. Problem with Lancia Stratos, as with many women begins when you try to dare each other. She tests how much you can handle, so you do the same. It is addictive. Driving Stratos is the experience that with pain records in memory. Starts easy, but with every inch of pavement you want more and more. You shift gears harder and harder but without hesitation, gearbox is truly amazing piece of kit. Maybe excluding one thing, reverse which is placed in the slot of your conventional third gear. You downshift and hear the pops and bangs of the exhaust, everything around you vibrates. It is loud, hot, you can smell petrol in the cabin. It is all fun until you need to stop. You reach you feet to brake pedal, push it as hard as you can and realize that this car has almost no braking power.
Miata. Thanks to little Lancia’s short wheelbase, which is in fact shorter than in MX5, and also very short tail car glues to road on another level. You can’t be distracted with fact that it has good grip, operating throttle without car may cause rear end of the car to become extremely unstable, which has happened to me. It definitely does not forgive for no mistakes, and they are also not that easy to overcome. Only very experienced driver with brain dysfunction will be able to handle this might machine in rally conditions.
Exodus. Two years ago my dear friend has said that if the Tejsted was ever able to test and write about Stratos, we would have to close our page. Because there is nothing more to show in Polish car scene. When we were driving to make this article I was thinking a lot about how big of a legend I am going to meet. Lancia Stratos combines such mix feeling , passion, roughness, erotism, subtleness. I have honestly never run across something like this. You can understand this vehicle only from the drivers perspective. Because you’re not really driving it, the car drives with you. With Tejsted I’ve tested many cars, but it was The Stratos that made me moto-cannibal.
story by: Slawomir Poros Jr / tejsted.pl
translated by: Wojciech Wolczynski
photo by: Romek Rudnicki / Romek R. – Automotive Photography