Lancia. That name instantly conjures an image of beautiful rally monsters, bizarre styling made expressly to dominate on the special stages of ice and snow, tarmac and gravel, and too-tight roadways with far too many spectators on them. To those who have driven one, it, uh... also conjures the image of a terrifying deathtrap, usually! But there’s no denying the cool factor they have going on, and their role as a dream car is well-cemented; just about none of them nearly as concretely as the still-beloved Stratos.
The Lancia Fulvia was a true rally beast. It won the final International Championship for Manufacturers title in 1972 before the forming of the World Rally Championship, and it won the Italian Rally Championship every year from 1965 to 1973. They’d done so in partnership with Pininfarina, which was a wonderful combination... if you weren’t an opposing auto company. So when Guiseppe “Nuccio” Bertone of Gruppo Bertone decided he wanted to get Lancia’s attention and nudge Pininfarina out, he had to come out swinging with something that’d amaze them.
The Pininfarina Modulo stood at 93.5 centimeters tall. To combat it, in a true battle of low-riders, Bertone revealed the Stratoslimite (“the stratosphere’s the limit”) at the 1970 Turin Auto Show, at the princely height of 84cm. He knew full well it’d get Lancia’s eye; much of the parts were sourced from Lancia equipment, after all. The renamed Stratos HF Zero soon found its way to their headquarters, where it’s rumored that it was driven straight under the gate, to the delight of the employees. No matter what, I don’t think you couldn’t be delighted by this.
So, of course, Lancia signed on, creating the Lancia Stratos HF (which debuted at Turin the very next year), getting straight to work putting it on the streets (for the sake of homologation requirements) and, more importantly, right onto the rally courses it was truly designed for. And it tore in right away as designed; 1974, 1975, and 1976 saw a truly purpose-built rally vehicle, from the very start of its design, absolutely dominating and taking home the title in the burgeoning World Rally Championship. That Allitalia livery is pretty constantly given homages and parodies among rally fans to this day; this crazy spaceship may have been an armful to drive and a questionable investment as a road car, but it was a beauty blowing through delta times.
I’ve been hunting down some form of diecast of this beauty for ages. It had a relatively short run as far as a Hot Wheels casting goes; to be expected, for a 70's rally car still in demand nowadays. Of course, as a child of the 90's, and one with a Saturn in the house, it wasn’t this beauty’s accomplishments in the World Rally Championship that got me hypnotized by it, so much as its appearance in Sega Rally Championship. The Lancia Delta HF Integrale was included in that game as the latest and greatest in rally tech (for 1995), alongside the Toyota Celica GT-Four, but the irresistible Stratos was hidden in the Saturn home version, where it was the reward for a complete title victory. Incredibly powerful and incredibly tough to actually steer; seems about right, and it’d go on to show up in the entire rest of the franchise and the many other rally simulations and games it inspired.
This has finally ended up among my collection thanks to R32Rennsport, who was generous enough to include it with an exchange of several rally cars! So a very happy shout-out from me to them, as it’s showcased in all its angular beauty on my desk.
I think what blows me away most about the Stratos is just... how clearly, how gleefully, this absolutely real racing car and technically-sort-of-a-road-going-car-you-could-buy-and-theoretically-commute-with, is 100% designed for racing and for cool factor first. Above all else. It’s basically no different from a toy car design, bar that it genuinely was manufactured as a real car. As Jeremy Clarkson once said on Top Gear about the 1:1 scale road-going version, “there are faults with it, but you look at it, and there just sort of aren’t.”