world rally game changer
For a car with a World Rally Championship
winning record that spans eight years, it’s
curious that only six drivers took a Lancia
Stratos to victory at the highest level. And
only three of them did it more than once.
One of the primary reasons for that was
the car’s shape. Nose to tail it was 146in.
and side to side 71in., with a wheelbase of
86in. To put that into context, it was 9in.
shorter and 9in. wider than a Ford Escort.
And that made it nervous.
Performance-wise, the 2.4-liter engine
had plenty to give and, with the motor sat
just ahead of the rear axle, much of the car’s
1,940lbs was well distributed and offered
sensational traction compared with its rivals.
Having taken the car through much of
its development, it’s no surprise that
Sandro Munari is the driver with the most
wins at seven. Perennial privateer Bernard
Darniche is next up with four, while Bjorn
Waldegard managed three. Markku Alen,
amazingly, only won one once in a car he
loved. But that win was the Sanremo, which
means a lot to this most Italian of Finns.
“The Sanremo I won was all-asphalt,” he
says. “For that type of event, the Stratos was
a beautiful car. The engine noise – especially
with the 24-valve engine – was like a
Formula 1 car. Incredible noise and power.”
The Stratos wasn’t all about the asphalt,
though. Sandro Munari’s co-driver, Piero
Sodano, remembers 1977 as a particularly
memorable Safari, not least because they
drove 300 yards through a lake with water so
deep it came into the car and over the Italians.
“We got to the control on the other side
of the lake,” says Sodano, “opened the
doors and the water went wooooosh and
poured out. I slept for two hours, put on
clean overalls and got back into a car that
was stinking like crap. On the way out of
Nairobi the alternator belt broke, but we
made the time up near Mombasa and
finished third. The Stratos was pure Ferrari.”
Alen’s memories, however, aren’t all good.
“You know I am a pretty tall guy,” he
says, “and Stratos is a small car, no room in
there. Five days in this car on an RAC Rally,
with all the time rain, isn’t so much fun.
And England in November is dark, dark,
dark, so I can see nothing. And on gravel in
the rain, the Stratos was so difficult to
drive. Nervous, all the time big nervous.”
But beautiful, too?
“Hey, the most beautiful,” he smiles.
“Today, even in 2014, people still love to
see a Stratos. Always Stratos.”
The Lancia Stratos was cramped, as nervous as hell on gravel, but a rocketship on asphalt.
(MAIN) Markku Alen’s only WRC
victory in a Lancia Stratos came
on the all-asphalt 1978 Sanremo
Rally. That same season, the Finn
won twice in a Fiat 131 to clinch
the FIA Cup for Rally Drivers,
forerunner to the WRC Drivers’
(TOP) The tiny Stratos wasn’t the most
spacious of working environments for the tall
Markku Alen (on right). (ABOVE) Sandro Munari
and co-driver Piero Sodano prepare for a
soaking on the 1977 Safari Rally. Despite it, the
duo brought their Stratos home third.