One day, long after the Stone Age, people began to love wedges again, without a hump, without a step, without a handle for the fist. As far as cars are concerned, they like to have scissor doors, if doors were necessary. Bertone was the most radical studio and Marcello Gandini the leading interpreter of the wedge. The wedge era would drive the car world crazy for a good ten years, the beginning best marked by Bertone’s Carabo show car: 1968. Fantastically unreal. And somehow so fantasy-perfect that you could have recaptured the wisps and basically called it a day. Instead, many more wonderful wedges were coming, and wealthy people were making fools of themselves as they crawled like reptiles into narrow gullets to inhabit a new habitat that was the furthest thing yet from Gottlieb Daimler’s idea of the automobile.
One of the early Urkeile was given the provisional name Stratos and was shown as a show car by Bertone at the 1970 Turi–ner Salon. The visitors were perplexed, amused and joyfully excited. The new wedge was 86 centimeters high at its best point, compared to which the Carabo was still a bus. Theoretically, you could at least lie down in it if the unit of door, roof and windshield allowed it. Folding up the huge window exposed the cockpit. Any kind of dashboard would have been a hindrance. The few switches and levers were embedded in the part that would be called a door sill elsewhere, and in the upright in front of it, still to the side, a matte screen warned of a digital future that had not yet begun.
Bertone never made Potemkin bodies, but had every showpiece extended to the point where it could move: It had to work. The necessary mechanics were taken from the Lancia Fulvia, and thus Lancia was also on board. The small engine of the Fulvia could also be accommodated, but as a mid-engine. This also gave a certain seriousness, and the pure beauty of the wedge became a functioning piece of sports equipment. In Bertone’s various cutaway drawings, the reference figure was always a helmet wearer, never a casual civilian.
Lancia and Bertone found together back in early 1971 to put a real person in it, for example someone like Sandro Munari from Lancia’s rally team. Its boss was Cesare Fiorio, both were to develop into wonderful birds of paradise.
We gladly confess our tender love for these periods, that is 1970 and onwards, especially in connection with the Italian essence and fabulous design and craftsmanship in the golden triangle of Turin-Milan-Bologna. Everything was open to surprises and how the young flowers would unfold. As far as the Italian ruling Agnelli family was concerned, Fiat had swallowed Lancia in 1969, along with its century-old magic and astonishing debts, which could no longer be expressed in lire anyway, so they weren’t all that worrisome.
No one, absolutely no one, could imagine the coolness with which the big guy would one day starve the little guy until Lancia would be nothing more than a souvenir pin to wear on Group anniversary days.
For now, however, Fiat showed strength in making Lancia not only exist but shine. There seemed to be no improvement in the history of the brand since the day Brigitte Bardot was hatched from an Aurelia B24. So now they allowed the sporty track that had come with the Fulvia HF. This is where time and place came together, Bertone and the wedge and the whole Stratos fantasy, all in the heyday of Italian classicism as far as designers, engine builders and free-floating geniuses were concerned.
The Stratos was stripped of its show clunkiness and reduced to the imagination of normal people, but always with a focus on rallies and races. The car did not become more practical, thus higher, shorter, clunkier, the harmony of the original wedge was disturbed by grafted fenders.
The translation of beauty to functionality: squat, powerful, vicious perhaps, more bear-like than cat-like. Bears have a short wheelbase. And the decisive factor was now, of course, the 2.4-liter six-cylinder from Ferrari, which the old gentleman personally handed over, no mean feat.
We also got a first true star in the sense of cult and cinema. Sandro Munari, who donned the Stratos like a glove and became one with it, was also valuable as an actor. He was followed by the helpers, doctors, hand-holders and sandwich-bearers, and Sandro staged himself as a sad hero, always a bit gloomy, when he didn’t decide to be hysterical like a spotted mare before the Grand Prix d’Amérique. What he didn’t like at all was when the Swedish lout Waldegård, who was flailing around in the same team, went faster than Zampi himself. That’s how smart Cesare Fiorio had been from the beginning: You have to add a Finn or a Swede to your Italians to north the compass. And an Englishman is never wrong either, to put the technique in a nutshell. Mike Parkes was the name of this wonderful man.
For Lancia, everything fell into place in the fall of 1974. After the oil crisis there was fuel and high spirits again, the homologations were finally through, the car was mature and Sandro Munari was at the top of his game. He won in San Remo and at the Rally Canada. The details may not be remembered by everyone: Sandro had fallen ill from a spoonful of mayonnaise on the cold chicken at the forced rest stop in Bancroft north of Lake Ontario and from then on, with increasingly dull gestures, still appeared at every checkpoint, but already with a yellow skin color that actually gave his ascetic face the final touch. Be -unconcerned: he won the rally.
After all, it was to that mayon-naise snack that we owe the invention of the rally doctor: from then on Munari demanded the presence of a doctor at every start, which gave us the unforgettable appearances of Dottore Bartoletti, together with his wife in a fur coat, still deep into the 1980s, ever more glamorous. When we are reminded of Italian opera, Donizetti’s “Love Potion” comes to mind – the tangles of love, pain and medicine.
In any case, there hasn’t been a rally since then where any proper professional team wouldn’t have a doctor with them, not to mention physiotherapists and mental trainers. Sandro Munari invented it all just fifty years ago, and an entire industry thanks him.
That’s how much time there has to be, if we’re talking about milestones in driver support: In the 1960s, Citroën team boss René Cotton had invented mobile showers that waited for the drivers at the end of difficult stages (which could be ten or twelve hours back then). Incomparable: front-wheel drive, height adjustment – and a cabin to roar in!
The Stratos, to get back on track now, was of course a fantastic rally animal, ideal for Corsican hairpins to the race tracks of the Tour de France – Cesare Fiorio in his bravery and in the light of his -high vocation, which you just feel or not, and Cesare felt it early on, in short Lancia wanted to win the 1975 Safari Rally with the Stratos, as a statement for eternity.
You could very well raise the suspension, and Mike Parkes had concocted a kind of underbody armor that would survive all the scree slopes of Africa. Nowadays, you can’t even get that straight: The rally went over 6,000 km, of which only the smallest part was asphalt, otherwise it was all dirt road, scree, boulders and mud.