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Monday
Aug272012

Riding Shotgun: Lancia Stratos

After bringing the A110 back to the garage, we fired up the Stratos next. Turned out in its factory shade of very electric blue, the Stratos is really a time warp to when Italy was the epicenter of badass homologation racecars for the road and when the name Lancia really stood for something.  The Gandini-penned body is short and stubby. The car isn't exactly beautiful, and drew less approval on the road than the Alpine did--people were more puzzled than amazed as its compact, wedgy silhouette slipped past them in a cloud of noise.  But what it lacks in elegance, the Stratos makes up for with boldness, charisma and character.  The whole machine is so unique, so utterly special that it's really like no other car in the world, even among other Italian exotics of the period. The exterior is spacelike and full of fascinating, ingenious design details. The interior, in contrast, is delightfully low rent, with all the dashboard gauges from the FIAT parts bin.  The door panel inserts are flimsy plastic, and instead of map pockets, each door has a fiberglass shelf designed to place a helmet on it between stages.  This helmet shelf is a magnificently idiosyncratic detail, though it does feel like it will snap off in your hand.  The Plexiglas windows don't roll up and down. They slide in a groove, and adjusting them is something that is better left alone. I think the Ferrari F40 is the only other car I have sat in that even approaches this level of spartan simplicity. The famous curved windshield gives decent forward visibility, but there is next to no rear visibility, and the blind spots are massive. Clearly this car is meant to go forwards very fast, and who gives a shit about what else is on the road.Due to the lousy and confined roads of the neighborhood, we had little opportunity to see what the Stratos can do. But I was surprised at how the Ferrari Dino engine mounted transversely behind our heads sounded so ordinary in lower revs. On the cam, the car really came alive and made all sorts of wonderful sounds.  Sadly, thanks to stoplights and construction, these moments were fleeting.  Going over speedbumps, Phil pointed out that the car, being a race-bred machine, has no rubber bushings. All the suspension linkages are metal on metal, and you can feel that in the jarring report every time you cross a bump.  I can only imagine the sounds and feelings you'd get blasting through a gravel rally stage in this car!Unlike the stylish Alpine, the interior of the Stratos isn't exactly a place you want to linger.  The heat began to stifle after just a few minutes in the sun, and the offset footwells should have the number of a good orthopedist stitched into the carpeting.  It's a totally incomparable experience riding in a Stratos, but it's not the kind of car you can imagine falling in love with on a long road trip. And better bring a guy friend, because no wife or girlfriend is going to sit shotgun in this beast for more than 10 minutes.

And in the end it's that no-nonsense race-bred feel that makes the Stratos so compelling, yet ultimately so unliveable. It's a car with no compromises, no pretense, and no apologies.  Pity that no one will ever make anything like it ever again, and that today Lancia has fallen so far from this singular, shining achievement.  Check out the full glorious Stratos gallery HERE, and stay tuned for the BMW M1...

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Reader Comments (9)

OK, now I officially jealous! The A110 is one of my fav's BUT THE STRATOS is like my hero car! On the other hand James May always says don't drive your hero's... But I still want one!
August 28, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterNick Ericson
Just nitpicking here but...I'm not sure about the no rubber bushing thing. Just from the top of my head, but I'm pretty sure to remember that all the road going Stratos' (unless formerly used as racing cars) had the uniball joints replaced with silent block rubber bushes directly by Lancia before sale, to render the car a little less savage. Unfortunately this solution upset the global balance of the car, making it almost undriveable at high speed (the Stratos Stradale boast widow-maker fame here in Italy and many owners uprated their cars with "works" suspensions). Has this car been uprated from its orginal form or stil wears its orginal suspensions?
August 28, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRiccardo Prosperi
Youre quite right riccardo-I upgraded so I wouldn't kill myself! :)

Phil
August 28, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterPhil
These are a great series of posts, Bradley. I'm very jealous. But I don't know about that wife or girlfriend part. Katie learned to drive manual on a rutted mud track on a snowy December day. It was solid ice. In a caged car. Also, rally has quite a history of female drivers. I can think of a few right now who wouldn't want to go on a road trip in that as a passenger - they'd insist on driving.
August 28, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterGabe
hat tip to off-camber :-)
August 28, 2012 | Unregistered Commenteroff-camber
Gabe, I am not saying all women would hate being a passenger in this car. Just every woman I've dated.
August 28, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterBradley Price
It's blue! okay, I'll read the text now, but that this car isn't red or Alitalia colors is great.
August 28, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRaphael Orlove
cry me a river, bradley price!
August 29, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMK Lim
Ohhhh yeah, M1 next. Cool.

This ain't bad either :)
August 31, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMario Carneiro Neto

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