Is it a UFO? Is it a carpenter’s wedge? Is it a child’s toy? No, it’s a Lancia Stratos!
The first time I laid eyes on a Lancia Stratos was in a 2010 issue of CAR magazine. The photos on the glossy pages displayed two Stratos. I would later learn that one of them was the Ferrari F430 Scuderia-based ‘New Stratos’, while the other was the real thing from the 1970s.
Sometime in early June, I was invited for a weekend morning drive in a 1976 Lancia Stratos HF Stradale, an invitation I graciously accepted. As I found myself on the way to meet the car, I realized I didn’t know what to expect from it.
The first thing that strikes you when you lay eyes on a Stratos is the shape. Signor Gandini penned its lines so sharp, that a Lamborghini Aventador will probably look like a bar of soap parked next to it. All right, I’m exaggerating.
As I slid (more like shuffled) into the tight racing bucket seats, I quickly realised that the cabin is small. A small steering wheel, a host of analog instruments, a couple of beautiful stopwatches and a lamp for the co-driver’s map were the ‘creature comforts’ provided. There was absolutely no mistaking what this car was meant to do.
As we began our journey to a couple of pre-determined locations, a few things made themselves apparent. Namely, the lack of wing mirrors, seat belts, and rear visibility being hampered by louvers on the rear windscreen. Like I said earlier, this car was built to race.
Minor quibbles aside, the more mileage we covered with the car, the more we got used to the seats. On-ramps were particularly pleasing due to the Stratos’ sub-1000kg kerb weight, and a watchful eye had to be kept on the speedometer to ensure that the abundant speed cameras did not get too friendly. The combination of a lightweight chassis and the Dino 2418cc V6 was truly rewarding on open stretches, with the car’s ability to pile on speed never ceasing to surprise us.
The rest of our drive was uneventful but once we got to our destination, however, it quickly became clear how unusual the car was. Security guards, kids, bicyclists, mothers and even the occasional old-timer wandered over to get a glimpse of the blue thing with four wheels that resembled a UFO more than it did a car. Eventually they went back to doing whatever one does on the beach, while we were left to mull over the object of their fascination.
The Lancia Stratos has no shortage of racing pedigree in its bloodlines. As we admired the car with the sea in the background, I realised that we were looking at a historical artefact from the Golden Age of Italian motor racing. The men who wielded these machines in anger were heroes, and for good reason. Practicality was little more than an afterthought when it came to designing these cars and this is why they stand out today.
The Stratos is not meant to be driven everyday. On the day that one does take it out for a drive however, it should be enjoyed thoroughly, at speed, with a thought for the men who drove her.
I’m glad to say that we did just that!
Special thanks to Assyl Yacine for giving me a ride in the Tomini Classics‘ Stratos!