Lancia Stratos, The Best Rally Car You Never Heard Of

In 1973, a somewhat important car-making Italian lived in Turin and birthed a lovely but inconspicuous creation that would go on to function as one of the best rally cars ever built. That would be Gruppo Bertone and his Lancia Stratos HF, a wonderfully balanced, transverse mid-engine, rear-wheel dream.

Lancia Stratos at 1975 World Rally Championship

The Lancia Stratos at the 1975 World Rally Championship. It would be the Lancia’s first of three consecutive wins.

Bertone’s Best Rally Car

Okay, so Gruppo Bertone was more than somewhat important. He was important enough in the car making world that he was simply referred to by his last name, like a messiah of iron and oil. He’s also credited with some of the best supercar designs ever conceived. He helped names like Alfa Romeo, Aston Martin, Citroen, Ferrari, Lamborghini, and Mercedes cement their places in the aesthetic and performance sections of the automotive performance annals.

His Lancia Stratos, though not a car of fanfare today like those big names, would go on to own the World Rally Championships of 1974, 1975, and 1976 – three consecutive wins. The only car maker to best the Stratos’ number of wins is Citroen (remember who helped them design cars).

But what made the Stratos so good?

The Right Formula

Quite a lot. For starters, the car’s transverse mid-engine setup was the gold standard of any track car, and it still is to this day. What’s more, its steel space-frame structure with integrated roll cage and fiberglass body let the Stratos grace the scales at a dainty 2,161 (and eventually just 1,940) pounds. For its lack of weight, the car was incredibly stiff, short, and perfectly balanced.

Street Car Version of Lancia Stratos

The street car version of the Lancia Stratos was toned down, eschewing extra body bits and rally lights.

Bertone tested the Stratos among Group 5 rally cars to ensure it could carve corners quick enough to compete. With the original, meager Dino 2.4L V6 pushing out just 190 horses, paper numbers didn’t seem all that impressive. That mattered not in the end, because Bertone outfitted the final design with a 24-valve version of the same motor that netted the car an astounding 320 horses.

Insane Power-to-Weight Ratio

Although not originally intended to be a race car, two Group 5 rally versions – the cars that would win the titles – were built with a turbocharged motor that thumped out a crushing 560 horses on the track. That’s a power-to-weight ratio of around 3.46 – more than a Veyron Super Sport. Drivers Sandro Munari and Bjorn Waldegard were the famed racers that got the Stratos over the line quick enough to win back to back. The Stratos also took victories at the Monte Carlo Rallies of 1975, 1976, 1977, and 1979.

Stoschek Lancia Stratos Recreation

The recreated Lancia Stratos only saw the light of day briefly. Ferrari killed the project by restricting donor cars.

An 18-Time Championship Winner

For its quirky appearance and relatively unassuming body lines, the Lancia Stratos won a total of 18 World Rally Championship victories, making it one of the most decorated race cars of any racing sport championship. The car’s fame generated an interesting remaking: In 2010, Michael Stoschek, a keen rally driver and chairman of the Brose group, a large automotive supplier, commissioned a recreation of the original Stratos. The new car was built using a Ferrari F430 donor car and many of its components.

Lister Bell STR Replica Lancia Stratos

Lister Bell makes the STR, a perfect replica of the original rally-ready Lancia Stratos (courtesy of Lister Bell Company)

The Stratos Survives Today (Sort of)

Stoschek sought to build 25 replicas of the Lancia Stratos, though Ferrari forbade the project from continuing. That doesn’t matter, thankfully, because the car has enough of a cult following that other reputable makers continue to build replicas. You can get your hands on one (called the generic-sounding “STR”) from Lister Bell Automotive for a cool $65,000. Front-mounted rally lights are, of course, extra.