An almost civilised competition car comes to terms with the public road
Missing the chance to drive our original Ferrari Dino V6 test car, I had determined that Lancia’s lightweight twist to the 2.4-litre Dino theme would not escape my attentions. Those who have driven both cars, and there are few within our shores as only five such Lancias are known to exist in England, confirm my opinion that the Stratos can be a surprisingly good road car with a distinct extra edge in speed, owing to the lower weight of the glassfibre/ steel monocoque bodywork, when compared to the Ferrari. However, judging from D.S.J.’s account (Motor Sport, September 1971) of the Dino’s 100 m.p.h. cruising abilities in the words: “you can converse quite normally at 100 m.p.h. and with all the windows shut there is no noticeable wind noise,” there can be little doubt that the Ferrari was a lot more civilised! Another point to bear in mind when reading these impressions is that the immaculate test-car was adjusted to give the best road behaviour, whereas many other examples are “assessed” with roll bar, camber and caster settings that allow strong initial understeer.
While the Dino brought Ferrari and Maranello Concessionaires a lot of new customers, the Lancia Stratos exists purely as the expression of the Turin company’s competition ambitions. Since the prototype made its debut at the Turin Show in 1970, the Stratos has changed a great deal, becoming the method by which Lancia have won the 1974 and 1975 World Rally Championships and adding a completely fresh dimension to rallying. The Stratos is a controversial car from the unique Bertone style to the way in which it has set a precedent for those who are determined to win in competition at all costs. You can be sure that rival team managers, especially those saddled with lumbering and elaborately modified saloon cars, are not filled with the same joy as expressed by spectators all over the World who witness Lancia’s shrill, mid-engined, two-seater Shooting through special stages as though it were a grounded and eccentric guided missile.
To legalise their Stratos project for competition Lancia had to make 400 such cars, the majority for sale to the public. Everything went wrong for Lancia. Exactly at the moment they had decided to release this ultimate conversion of competition potential into a saleable product the fuel crisis was rampant. Then, the ever-tightening safety laws ensured that, if they did find a customer, he would almost certainly have to be Italian, for the cars carried no E-marking crash programme approval certificate.
In June of this year, and a long time after Production of new Stratos had ceased, British dealers on a factory visit reported that there were still about 50 cars left.
In Britain there are four road cars and one severely charred rally Stratos. The latter belongs to Chequered Flag, of course, and they also own two road cars, the Group 4 winged model we tested being originally purchased from the person who imported it primarily to use as a guide when rebuilding their rallying Stratos after an earlier crash. Surveying the prices quoted in the press recently, and in the few advertisements for these rare machines, one could be forgiven for thinking that only fools buy a car worth well under £10,000 for prices that have ranged as high as a reported £13,500. However, it would be as well to just caution less experienced readers that there is more to the appearance of a Stratos on a British dealer’s forecourt than just driving out of Italy with a secondhand car and through the docks at Dover.
There will always be those who pay for something rare and striking, and such people could well be delighted with the awestruck reaction of the public to Bertone’s wedge profile. I have certainly not driven a car that created so much interest and, as Jenks said of the Dino, “it goes like it looks”.
The Stratos is a very compact little missile, contained within 12 ft. 2 in. overall length, a bulging 68.9 in, width and an overall height of 43.9 in., all of which serve to make a Capri or Opel Manta look about as streamlined as a London taxi-cab. The body overhang at the sides is quite considerable, front and rear tracks occupying 56.3 in. and 57.5 in. respectively when the standard 7 1/2K by 14 in. alloy wheels are installed. Lancia have resisted the temptations of odd-sized wheels and “space-saver” spare tyres, all the Michelin rubberwear coming in common 205 VR14 type.
Although compression, at 9:1, and capacity, at 2,418 c.c., are the same as for Dino, maximum quoted horsepower is down by 5 b.h.p. The Lancia people quote 190 b.h.p. at 7,400 r.p.m. and 166 lb./ft. torque at 4,000 r.p.m. from the heavily oversquare (92.5 mm. by 60 mm.) V6, whose cylinder banks are angled at 65 degrees. As in the Dino the aluminium heads and iron cylinder block unit is placed transversely ahead of the rear wheels, using the same Dino transfer gear system to the five-speed gearbox, which is integral with the alloy sump.
Carburation is via triple Weber 40 mm. twin-choke instruments (IDF28 and IDF29 types): a choke is provided, and a hand throttle, but neither proved necessary during our tenure. Double overhead camshafts for each cylinder bank are driven by Duplex chain. The engine’s water cooling needs are looked after by a front-mounted radiator and electric cooling fans controlled by thermostat: no manual override switch is provided.
An hydraulically activated, 9 in. diameter clutch is installed ahead of the all-synchromesh, five-speed Ferrari gearbox. Ratios for this application are first, 3.554; second, 2.459; third, 1.781; fourth, 1.320; fifth, 0.986 and reverse 3.3:1. A limited-slip differential is installed with a final drive ratio of 3.824:1.
Ventilated ATE disc brakes of 9.9 in. diameter are fitted for all four of the smart gold alloy wheels from Campagnolo. No servo assistance is provided, or needed, in a mere 17.9 cwt. vehicle carrying the majority of weight on the rear wheels. The suspension is an interesting cross between the need to use as many production parts from the Fiat group as possible, and the desire to have the right principles in evidence to act as base for the competition models. At the front a combined coil-spring and shock-absorber unit acts on a single lower arm that is provided with a forward location strut and a single anti-roll bar, with a topmounted A-section wishbone also installed. At the rear long coil-spring/shock-absorber strut units mount on an upright above the axle line, with a triangulated radius arm on the lower half of the upright to join the bottom A-section wishbone. A rear anti-roll bar is also provided with three adjustment-loading holes to utilise. Provision, as in the beg racing circles, is made for adjusting every aspect of the suspension, though it is not always as speedy a task as one would expect in competition.
Electrically speaking there is a MareIli 830 Watt alternator, the same company provide the 12v, negative earth, battery of 45 a.h. capability; Champion are the recommended plugs in N60Y guise. A single screen wiper is provided and the column switchgear, like the doorframe-mounted engine cover/rear boot release mechanisms, are of Fiat origin and are also to be found on the baby Fiat X1-9 mid-engined Spysier model.
Also similar to the XI-9 is the provision of pop-up headlamps with electric motivation, but the big brother does come With a lamin ated windscreen instead of the zone-toughened gravel chippings specially allocated to the X1-9. Other bodywork details include the provision of 17.6 gallons of fuel under twin fuel tank fillers, placed either side of the engine bay. Wet sump lubrication is via 10W 50 viscosity oil : servicing, including an oil change, is required every 3,000 miles.