5 Reasons Why The Lancia Stratos Is The Greatest Rally Car Ever
2023 marks the fiftieth anniversary of the World Rally Championship, and over these five decades, the discipline and the cars involved in it have changed almost beyond recognition.
So, the answer to what may be the greatest rally car of all time largely depends on who you ask.
But if you asked me, I would pick the legendary Lancia Stratos, and here are five reasons why.
One: The first purpose-built rally car
The Lancia Stratos marked a turning point in the sport's development, as it was the first car to have been designed from the ground up for the sole purpose of winning rallies.
Until then, rally cars had been pretty close derivatives of production models, but for the Stratos, it was the other way around: developed as a race car first and foremost, the road-going version was almost an afterthought, a necessary evil Lancia had to make for homologation but whose commercial fate was practically inconsequential to its plans.
Two: A dominant force
Such a bold move paid off handsomely for Lancia, as the Stratos gave the Italian marque an almost unassailable competitive advantage.
The Stratos gave Lancia three consecutive World Rally championships and three European titles, winning everywhere except the British RAC Rally and the grueling Safari Rally in Kenya.
Ultimately, the only adversary the Stratos couldn't outrun was corporate management.
Three: The unbeaten champion
By the end of the 1977 season, the powers that be at Lancia's parent company Fiat decided the Stratos, still very much unbeaten and arguably at its competitive peak, was to be sidelined in favor of the new Fiat 131 Abarth for commercial reasons.
Being retired while still on top further cemented the legendary status of the mighty Stratos, which continued to win in the hands of private teams despite the lack of technical development: notably the 1979 Monte Carlo Rally and the 1981 Tour De Corse, with Bernard Darniche behind the wheel under the colors of Chardonnet, Lancia's distributor for the French market.
Four: It's got a Ferrari engine
Plenty of time has passed since the Stratos' heyday, during which we've seen plenty of much faster and significantly more powerful rally cars.
Of which none has the cachet of packing a Ferrari engine under the bonnet, though.
Even though it wasn't the lightest or most compact, the 2.4 liters Dino V6 was a proven, tough powerplant that could make around 280 HP in race tune, and the Lancia racing team planned its use on the Stratos since the project's inception.
However, Enzo Ferrari famously dragged his feet in supplying the 500 engines Lancia needed. Speculations around Ferrari's motives abound, but in an interview he gave years later, the former managing director of Lancia Pier Ugo Gobbato cited pressures from Fiat's upper management, part of which opposed the Stratos project.
Five: It's a design icon
Racing cars don't need to look beautiful or striking, yet the Stratos sure is.
Bertone's protegé Marcello Gandini, then arguably at the peak of his creativity, managed to create a shape that strikes a perfect balance between brutal efficiency and visual drama.
To this day, the Lancia Stratos is highly regarded by automobile designers worldwide and has inspired many to pursue a career in this field. That's certainly something not many other rally cars can claim...