Bertone stunned the world at the 1970 Turin Motorshow with their Stratos Zero design. Nuccio Bertone initially wanted to call the ultra-compact wedge-shape design Stratoline because of its space-ship-like appearance. Not much on the Stratos concept was conventional, except for the fact that the wheels were round. Fitted low and midships in the chassis was a 1.6 Lancia Fulvia powerplant. The running prototype featured an all new monocoque style chassis, custom built for the Stratos.
In the next few months the concept appeared in magazines all over the world and Lancia talked with Bertone to construct a purpose built rally based on the Stratos design. This car debuted at the 1971 Turin Motorshow and resembled the previous Stratos in name only. Even though Lancia was working on a new competition engine Bertone fitted the Stratos with a Ferrari Dino engine which he had lying about. The extremely compact design looked like the winning recipe for the twisty roads used in rallies.
Nothing much happened in 1972 as Lancia was still waiting for their new competition engine. Late that year Bertone suggested that Lancia should stick with the Ferrari engine and start production of the Stratos. His suggestion received mixed reactions but works racing manager Cesare Fiorio was on his side. Finally production of the 400 cars needed for homologation started. By October 1974 the Stratos was homologated for Group 4 rallying.
Over the next couple of years the Stratos’ dominance was total. It scored 17 world championship victories and over 50 european championship victories. Victory in the legendary rally Monte Carlo rally was taken four out five times between 1975 and 1979. Two were converted to Group 5 road racing specifications with a Turbocharged engine. These silhouette-racers didn’t fare nearly as well as their Group 4 counterparts. At the end of the decade it was replaced by the Fiat 131 Mirafiori.
Featured is the original Stratos Zero Concept, which starred at the Turin Motorshow in Novermber 1970. Remarkably the very low car is a fully running prototype, like most Bertones of the day. Access to the tiny cockpit is through a ‘canopy’, made easier by a collapsable steering column. Still in fully running order, the Bertone masterpiece is seen here at the public part of the 2006 Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este in the nearby Villa Erba park.
Article by Wouter Melissen, last updated on June 06, 2006
The bodywork was designed by Marcello Gandini, head designer at Bertone, and the technical layout was loosely based on a (Lancia Fulvia V4 powered) concept car called Stratos Zero which had been first shown at the Turin Motor Show in 1970. The body was wedge-shaped, and unusually short and wide, providing maximum traction. The car later appeared in Michael Jackson‘s 1988 film, Moonwalker as well as in his music video for Smooth Criminal.