The 1975 Lancia Stratos Suffers No Fools

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From the April 1975 issue of Car and Driver.

This is it, where it’s all going to be this summer in Europe. Used Panteras will be a dime a dozen, but there’ll be a line of hype-types outside the Lancia showroom stretching down the block. Because the Lancia Stratos will be the next Thrill Ma­chine, and the high flyers who dumped their Lamborghini Mi­uras for Panteras have discovered the next step.

The Stratos is a car conjured from the fantasies of a styling proposal presented in 1971. A competition car, developed and perfected to win the World Rally Championship—which it just did. Of all the ferocious cars of recent memory, the Stra­tos has the smallest engine and perhaps the smallest cockpit and easily the lowest curb weight. Which makes it one of the meanest bullies ever to dominate a showroom.

In off-the-rack street form, the Stratos is a surly, muscular animal with an ornery, rawboned personality that is unmistak­ably defined from your first sight of the squat, brutal lines of the body—which just barely covers the tires, the mechanicals and the people inside. The Stratos is a racing car, tamed ever so slightly for use on some streets. Needless to say, it will never come to the North American continent as a licensable road car in its present form (unless the request for exceptions to federal standards based on the car’s limited production are granted—and the chances are slim).

It will be sold in Europe in sufficient numbers (660 produced in 1974, 540 scheduled for ’75) to justify homologation as a Group 4 GT vehicle; some may even try racing it against the venerable Porsche Carrera. In the Fiat/Lancia/Ferrari model mix, it replaces the discontinued Ferrari Dino 246.

The Stratos is a tough car any way you measure it, so the heirs apparent, young lions, and accessory companions who will brighten this summer behind the wheel of one will suffer a quotient of hardship. But don’t feel too badly for them; there’s always the Mercedes 450SEL or the motor yacht or the turbo­prop for long trips—and they can send the Stratos down to the Blue, Emerald, or Sun Coast with the chauffeur.

Just riding in a Stratos, its Ferrari Dino engine strapped virtually on your back, is a searing, inebriating experience that assaults every sensory perception you possess. You sit in the confines of a gun turret. The steeply inclined windshield wraps around you like the faceshield of a Bellstar helmet. Looking forward, the nose of the car is invisible; all you can see are the two bulges in the body that cover the front tires. The baseline of the windshield rises as it goes aft to the side windows, which end in slots framed in sharp, sinister curves. The rear quarters are filled with the roll-bar structure, while the rear is a maze of horizontal matte-black shutters.

The cockpit is stark and unadorned: black, untrimmed fiber­glass doors and an aluminum instrument panel shrouded with imitation leather. The small leather-trimmed steering wheel is anodized black; the shift lever right next to your thigh is capped by a huge knob that fits the palm of the hand perfectly.

You sit belted into a junior-size anatomic seat that is cov­ered with an inch of padding and more imitation leather and bolted directly to the floor pan. And if you are of average height and proportions, your head rubs the pleated padding glued to the underside of the steel roof panel. From the steer­ing wheel to the pedals to the hard contours of the seat, you get the sensation of the dimension of your surroundings through the roots of your hair.

There’s no way to avoid rubbing shoulders with an eventual passenger; the seats are separated only by a tunnel carrying two water pipes to the front radiator. Without rally inter­phones, conversation is uncomfortable—there is noise and the need for intense concentration. The indecisive among us will be discouraged by this one aspect alone. Because right off the floor, this car is dressed for heavy street-fighting.

The starter whines metallically, and as the engine begins to fire, the car starts to tremble and vibrate. The cramped cock­pit fills with the whir of timing chains, the sharp click of cam followers, a muted whistle from the drop gears, and an occa­sional pfst…pfst from the three twin-throat carburetors as one cylinder or another refuses to digest its mixture and spits it gently back against the closed butterfly. You hear the ping­ing of the exhaust pulses in the steel headers three inches behind the seats—the same noise a Coventry Climax Grand Prix engine makes at idle.

Run the engine up and the individual noises blur into a low­-pitched growl with piercing overtones. The clutch and acceler­ator pedals are both heavy, reluctant members with immedi­ate response. You pull the shift lever into the first slot and slip the clutch against a 1200-rpm idle and tallish gear. As if by magic, the car moves forward down the street with the smoothness of a switch engine.

The 190-hp, 2.5-liter powerplant has been through an ex­tensive course at Fiat’s finishing school. Born a Ferrari and sold to Fiat to power the Fiat Dino coupe and spider, the engine was completely redesigned and redeveloped before Fiat Manufacturing was given the go-ahead. The aluminum cylinder block was discarded in favor of a stable, rigid cast-­iron part. The ports, valves, timing, pistons, carburetors, lubri­cation and cooling systems were revised; electronic ignition perfected and added. The name “Dino” remains on the cam covers, but the engine is a Fiat.

Step on the pedal and the asphalt conveyor belt in front of the car starts passing under the lower edge of the windshield with ever-increasing velocity. The engine is smooth and docile until it reaches 3000 rpm; then everything starts to happen at once. The tach needle lashes across the dial to hide behind the steering wheel rim. If you work the clutch and accelerator pedal and the shift lever—all of them fighting your commands with obstinate stubbornness—the imprecise gating of the transmission throws the chain of events out of phase. Tenths of a second are amplified into decades as you search for second gear. You find it and turn the power back on and the car surges ahead, yawing left and right as the limited-slip dif­ferential goes to work. The film speed increases and the en­gine says it’s time for another gear. Thankfully, third comes easier. The car leaps ahead again, but this time there’s an instant more to comprehend what is occurring.

Then it’s time for fourth—simple and smooth. The car ac­celerates again and you use a couple of seconds to flip the tachometer needle to somewhere between 6000 and 7000 rpm, say 110 mph. Then the shift lever, with no other place to go, drops into fifth almost by itself. You ease out the clutch and roll on the power, and again the car surges ahead, only this time the steering goes numb. As you search through the free play in its mechanism for some kind of reassuring re­sponse, a flash of sweat glues the palms of your hands to the imitation leather of the wheel.

You’re moving quickly past 130 mph, your senses straining for orientation. Blood pounds in your ears. Every surface around you—even the air in the cockpit—is flailed by a sav­age resonance. The vibration blurs your vision. Which way is the car pointed? The road has suddenly become a funnel, the guardrails seeming to brush the sides of the car. A few sec­onds more of trying desperately to bend the car’s will to your totally inadequate inputs and you’ve had enough—there’s a speed limit and it’s called survival. You shut down the throttle and the noise ceases. It’s the first time you’ve heard it since second gear. The speed scrubs off slowly. Back to 80 mph, the accelerator pedal is just off an idle.

Fling it to seven grand in fourth, slip it into fifth, turn things back on hard and taste the bitterness on the back of your tongue. In a day of hamstrung and pigeon-toed cars, this is what the Lancia Stratos is all about.

Understand that it’s not drag racing. No slingshotting big steamboats down a quarter mile. No, it is something entirely different. First because you’re wrestling barehanded with a wild, live animal; secondly because this level of performance continues through curves and dips, day or night, wet or dry, on any public road. The Stratos’s tough, aggressive, bullwhip personality could use a little submission to be sure, because even if the car will go around turns with consummate ease, control is never an easy experience for its driver.

The Stratos does not “forgive” anything. You drive it from the moment the engine lights off. You match your wits and ability with the laws of physics. It’s a vehicle with too much power, too little weight and too short a wheelbase for the commonweal. It does exactly what you ask it to, immediately, and if you ask for something wrong . . . you’re on your own, sweetheart. The car bares its fangs to an indifferent or incom­petent hand, and to wrestle things back under control, you’d better have the right answer, right now. Because second chances with a Stratos are rare.

If you get into an 80-mph sweeper a little too hot, just ease up on the throttle—but don’t shut it down and whatever you do, don’t step on the brake. The car twitches its nose into the turn; you think about steering the wrong way, but the instinct of self preservation tells you to hold what you’ve got. Push the throttle forward about a sixteenth of an inch against the husky drag of the return spring and the nose twitches out to where it was. You’ve burned up about a yard of the road’s width. A chain of events that passes in the blinking of an eye—next time you’ll be more careful.

Tough, uncompromising; you do it to the car or the car does it to you. No mercy, humor or excuses. Lay your $17,000 on the table and see if you measure up. You say you don’t want to drive fast? Okay; buy a Stratos for its looks. Slip down Main Street at 2500 rpm in third gear and polarize the crowds. First ignore the punks in jacked-up six-pack Dusters that cruise alongside like sharks—then ease into the stream when they get no response. Watch the onlookers’ faces turn from anger to envy, maybe even pleasure, as they project themselves into the seat next to you. What the hell, a little envy never hurt the proles. It keeps them in line.

So what is the Stratos, really? A 17-grand car that goes and stops and looks and sounds like the wildest sidewinder ever made. More than 200 people have already lined up to buy next year’s production, and there will be more the year after. And if it isn’t a Stratos they’re lining up for in 1976, it’ll be something else. Because people love themselves too much to ever give up adult toys like this.



1975 Lancia Stratos
Vehicle Type: rear-engine, rear-wheel-drive, 2-passenger, 2-door coupe


Base: $16,500 (in Italy)


V-6, iron block and aluminum heads
Displacement: 148 in3, 2418 cm3
Power: 190 hp @ 7400 rpm
Torque: 166 lb-ft @ 4000 rpm 

5-speed manual


Suspension, F/R: control arms/struts
Brakes, F/R: 10.5-in vented/10.5-in vented
Tires: Michelin XWX


Wheelbase: 86.0 in
Length: 146.0 in
Width: 69.0 in
Height: 43.9 in
Curb Weight: 2400 lb 

Source: Reviews -


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