Stage star’s en­core: Lan­cia Stratos

Hav­ing wowed rally fans in the 1970s with its jaw-drop­ping looks and Dino V6 sound­track, the Stratos has been re­born

Car (South Africa) - - CONTENTS - BY: Richard Brem­ner Pho­tos: Stan Pa­pior

THIS idea doesn’t want to die. Here we are, about to drive the third at­tempt to re­vive one of the most star­tling cars of the 1970s. This time, its lat­est re-cre­ators tell us, there will be 25 new cars, each cost­ing €550 000 (or a cool R9,1 mil­lion). First, some words about why the Stratos beguiled then and be­guiles now. Mostly, it’s about the shape. An as­sertive wedge of glass­fi­bre-en­cased space­frame, Lan­cia’s 1972 rally mis­sile was capped with a vi­sor-like wrap of glass; its scrab­bling, dart­ing, time-com­pact­ing mis­sion un­der­lined by an ar­rest­ingly cropped wheel­base and stunted over­hangs.

Ano­rak-clad ral­ly­ists might glimpse the chisel-nose first as it came at them but a

three-quar­ter front pose was more likely, the Lan­cia’s quick­sil­ver scy­things vis­i­ble con­fir­ma­tion of its back-bi­ased mass. At night, its rear was un­mis­tak­able: a pair of big, round lamps swing­ing grace­fully be­tween bends. All this to the ac­com­pa­ni­ment of spit­ting gravel shrap­nel and the wolver­ine howl of a Fer­rari Dino V6. With that sound, your wideeyed, night-time, for­est-prowl­ing fans would whis­per “Stratos”. There was magic about the Lan­cia then and there’s magic in it now.

So much magic that a young car de­signer called Chris Hra­balek, whose fa­ther owned a re­mark­able col­lec­tion of orig­i­nals, de­cided to set about cre­at­ing a mod­ern ver­sion.

That was more than 12 years ago. Hra­balek had a full-size clay model built at a Paris stu­dio in 2005 be­fore hir­ing his own stand at the Geneva Mo­tor Show to dis­play it un­der the Fenomenon brand name, hav­ing al­ready ac­quired the rights to the Stratos badge. The fin­ished lime-green ma­chine was strik­ing not only for its crisp mod­erni­sa­tion of Mar­cello Gan­dini’s orig­i­nal de­sign, but also for an un­miss­able fresh el­e­ment in the shape of a cen­tral pil­lar for the curved wind­screen, which was now split, each half form­ing part of the doors.

Geneva showed there seemed to be enough mo­men­tum be­hind the project to move it for­ward, with ru­mours of Pro­drive getting the job of turn­ing an im­pres­sive model into a func­tion­ing car. That am­bi­tion stalled but not be­fore it had in­spired German car parts mag­nate Michael Stoschek. He com­mis­sioned Ital­ian car de­sign spe­cial­ist Pin­in­fa­rina to de­velop a third it­er­a­tion of the Stratos us­ing a Fer­rari F430 Scud­e­ria as a ba­sis. The Maranello car’s alu­minium chas­sis was short­ened to suit the Stratos’ pro­por­tions, while its en­gine was tuned to pro­duce use­fully more power.

The car­bon-fi­bre body­work was built around the Fer­rari’s alu­minium space­frame to pro­vide an ex­cep­tional power-to-weight ra­tio, while the weight dis­tri­bu­tion was very close to the ideal 50:50.

It was promis­ing stuff. Stoschek went as far as hold­ing an of­fi­cial launch for his car at Paul Ri­card in 2010, with talk of per­haps pro­duc­ing a run of 25. But those cars never ap­peared.

That seemed to be the end of the story until Geneva ear­lier this year, when the very same black Stratos ap­peared on the Man­i­fat­tura Au­to­mo­bili Torino (MAT) stand. It was there be­cause this small Turin com­pany de­cided to restart the project and build 25 ex­am­ples. Stoschek is still in­volved, hav­ing granted MAT a li­cence to build the cars, but the project is now led by MAT boss, Paolo Garella. The lat­ter is not new to this project, hav­ing pre­vi­ously worked for Pin­in­fa­rina, where he was deeply in­volved with it, reck­on­ing that it was “one of the best one­offs built at Pin­in­fa­rina”. He sub­se­quently left, later set up MAT and has since pro­duced track and road cars for Scud­e­ria Cameron Glick­en­haus and the Apollo Ar­row.

In Garella’s work­shop, we see his first Stratos, a demon­stra­tor, and the cre­ation of a sec­ond car is well un­der way. It’s not long be­fore we’re re­minded the jet-fighter wrap of a Stratos wind­screen is not only a huge part of its vis­ual ap­peal, but also a huge part of the ex­pe­ri­ence when you’re sit­ting be­hind it. Although this 21st-cen­tury Stratos has thicker pil­lars, they’re car­bon-fi­bre and a lot thin­ner than those of mod­ern cars. And, be­cause they’re pulled back well to the car’s sides, you en­joy a panoramic vista into which to un­leash a fat 404 kw. In­deed, width is in plen­ti­ful sup­ply given that this is a su­per­car and it’s most no­tice­able when you look down at the door trims car­ry­ing huge scoops suit­able for crash hel­mets, just like the orig­i­nal car.

You must also live with in­stru­ments of­ten

blot­ted by not only the steer­ing wheel, but also a huge pair of car­bon-fi­bre pad­dleshifts and your hands. The alu­minium-fronted bin­na­cle ref­er­ences the orig­i­nal car’s, com­plete with the slightly hap­haz­ard dial lo­ca­tion com­mon in the 1970s.

Thumb­ing the red starter but­ton on the steer­ing wheel not only ig­nites the V8, but ex­cites a light ca­coph­ony of vi­bra­tory sounds to go with it. The source of much of this is an op­tional Capristo ex­haust sys­tem that en­livens the ex­pe­ri­ence.

Pulling the right-hand pad­dle tips you into first gear and a world of yelp­ing, yelling, air-rip­ping per­for­mance. Though not yet. In­stead, Garella drives us to the foothills of the Alps near Fen­estrelle, where you’ll also find the largest Alpine for­ti­fi­ca­tion in Europe. There’ll be no time to ad­mire that, how­ever, be­cause our aim is in­stead to ex­plore the dy­namic habits of this Stratos on the kind of tan­gled tar­mac fre­quented by its ral­ly­ing an­ces­tor. These are tight roads, too, mak­ing the op­por­tu­ni­ties to deep-sink the throt­tle rare and par­tic­u­larly thrilling when they come. Most of the time, we’re lucky to even strike 4 000 r/min, which leaves an­other 4 000 to go, but when the full un­teth­er­ing of the V8 oc­curs, the scene in that wind­screen comes at you as if it’s drop­ping from the sky.

While your brain pro­cesses that, you’ll not only hear this Stratos’ Fer­rari en­gine, but feel it through your seat, too. If you want to ex­pe­ri­ence the me­chan­i­cal com­mo­tion of mo­tion, you get it in here. An am­pli­fied Fer­rari en­gine is cer­tainly ap­pro­pri­ate to this car, given that the orig­i­nal Lan­cia was pow­ered by the 2,4 V6 from the Dino. The MAT Stratos car­ries the Fer­rari V8 of an F430, al­beit fit­ted with a new in­take man­i­fold de­signed to gen­er­ate ex­tra low-rev torque.

Still more recog­nis­ably Maranello is the steer­ing wheel. It’s branded “Stratos” but there’s no mis­tak­ing it as a F430 item, com­plete with manet­tino dial. Once you’ve clocked that, you might no­tice more Fer­rari parts, in­clud­ing the F430’s com­plete cli­mate con­trol sys­tem hang­ing be­neath a be­spoke Stratos dash, the pas­sen­ger foot­brace, the air vents, the cen­tre con­sole with its re­verse gear but­ton and more.

All of which brings us to the awk­ward is­sue of sac­ri­fice. You’ve prob­a­bly guessed it by now: in or­der to have a Stratos built, you must pro­vide MAT with a Fer­rari F430 to gut. It’s not a to­tal sac­ri­fice, of course, be­cause much of the Fer­rari’s alu­minium chas­sis, the com­plete pow­er­train and the sus­pen­sion form the ba­sis of the new car. To the short­ened chas­sis is at­tached a car­bon-fi­bre up­per struc­ture.

The re­sult is a car far rarer than a mi­dengined V8 Fer­rari but one that har­nesses the F430’s su­perb e-diff-equipped run­ning gear. Not that this goes un­mod­i­fied: rather than us­ing the Fer­rari Sky­hook elec­tronic sus­pen­sion, this car has a Bil­stein sys­tem, ad­justed in­de­pen­dently of the manet­tino, which con­trols the throt­tle map, trans­mis­sion strat­egy, trac­tion and ESP. It takes some com­mit­ment to get to the point of elec­tronic in­ter­ven­tion but, on the way to it, you dis­cover strong chas­sis bal­ance de­spite the shorter wheel­base, steer­ing that’s more mea­sured than you might ex­pect and brakes which are very ef­fec­tive when you give them a de­cent shove. Great flu­ency is promised, aided by the pad­dleshift trans­mis­sion, although that prom­ise is not yet fully re­alised.

You’ll dis­cover an over-soft rear-end that al­lows more roll than ex­pected and some fore-and-aft pitch­ing. Garella says the chas­sis setup isn’t yet fin­ished and the rear dampers will be stiff­ened by 10% on the pro­duc­tion ver­sions. The Stratos rides well but pot­holes and sharp bumps trou­ble it.

It’s easy to see the Stratos’ po­ten­tial. It’s more com­pact than an F430, you get a bet­ter view out, it’s faster and, for many, much of its al­lure will lie in its rar­ity. Garella says you can spec­ify your own chas­sis con­fig­u­ra­tion and, given how good the base Fer­rari hard­ware is, it’s easy to imag­ine a sen­sa­tion­ally en­ter­tain­ing setup, and one that rides well, too.

This is far from a cheap car: the £70 000plus (R1,2 mil­lion) cost of a donor F430 rep­re­sents only a small per­cent­age of the to­tal bill, which nev­er­the­less gets you a hand-built, well-de­vel­oped and well-fin­ished ma­chine that will be sat­is­fy­ingly rare.

04

01 Car­bon-fi­bre up­per struc­ture in­creases the stiff­ness of the MAT unit by 50% and re­duces its weight by 100 kg com­pared with a Fer­rari F430.02 Maranello’s V8 nes­tles be­hind the two-seater cock­pit. 03 Dis­tinc­tive wedge shape as con­tem­po­rary now as it was in the Seven­ties. 04 At 4 181 mm long, the MAT Stratos is shorter than the F430. 05 MAT is plan­ning to build 25 cars at its Turin base in Italy. 06 Retro di­als of­ten ob­scured by the wheel and shift pad­dles. 07 Cock­pit, too, draws much in­spi­ra­tion from the Fer­rari. 05

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