Can you imagine dismembering a brand-new, fully optioned Ferrari 430 Scuderia to use as the basis for a one-off special? Well, for this special transformation, all of the donor Ferrari's bodywork is ditched and much else besides, making this creation of one car out of another among the most extravagant imaginable. The filleting of a highly desirable Ferrari is all about producing a 21st century interpretation of the legendary 1974 Lancia Stratos. And it means that, happily, both recreation and original are Maranello-powered.
This car is the culmination of a 10-year dream nursed by Stratos obsessive and automotive design services supplier Chris Hrabalek, and it has been realized by fellow Stratos enthusiast Michael Stoschek and his son Max through Italian design house Pininfarina. Even before you step inside it, this is a hugely impressive piece of machinery – impressive for the weft-perfect weave of its exposed carbon fiber, for its just-so proportioning and the clever updating of the design flourishes that make the Stratos so spectacularly individual. Many will be too young to remember the original. But that mighty rampager of forest stage and East African plain, with its visor-like windshield, squat stance, short overhangs and dramatic roof spoiler, will grab your eye and won't let go.
What you see here is certainly not the first attempt to recreate a Stratos. For years it's been possible to buy a much-admired kit – these days made by Hawk Cars – enabling you to build Lancia's most famous in your own backyard. But Hrabalek surprised plenty with his full-sized Stratos concept, presented to Geneva auto show-goers back in 2005. That car's creation passed through many of the phases that mainstream cars undergo.
The moment that allowed its creation certainly wasn't mainstream, however, Hrabalek securing a Stratos asset in a maneuver worthy of the world's shrewdest business operators. Though a mere adolescent, Hrabalek had become such an authority on the Stratos that even design house Bertone, which created the car in the first place, came to ask him who he thought held the rights to the name. Hrabalek finished the phone call as fast as a man with his trousers on fire and had his dad hire a lawyer to buy the copyright, which amazingly had been allowed to lapse. He was 16 at the time.
Hrabalek funded his prototype by selling 10 percent shares in the copyright at 100,000 euros [$132,000] a time. Takers included a fashion designer, watchmaker, musician and A-list actor, all Stratos owners. Stoschek, whom Hrabalek had met years earlier when he was a kid, was last to buy a stake. The Geneva concept went down a storm, prompting the pair to hunt down a company that could put the car into small-scale production. Prodrive, Koenigsegg, Gumpert and Pagani were among those approached, but the deals fell through and so, it seemed, would the plan to turn this new Stratos into a fully functioning car. The project sank and hit the back burner, until the persistent Hrabalek buttonholed Stoschek at a Stratos rally and suggested that rather than making several cars, the two approach Pininfarina with a view to building one, as the Italian firm had for the creation of the one-off Ferrari P4/5.
Stoschek agreed, and pursued the project with similar zeal. At one point, there were no fewer than three full-size clay model proposals for the car, its gestation mimicking the process that produces a series production car to an eerie degree. One major difference was the contribution made by many leading (and unidentifiable) car designers from across the industry, Stoschek calling them “friends of the Stratos.”
But Stoschek was himself a major creative force behind the car. “There's not one centimeter of this car that I haven't considered,” he says. A perfectionist, he's thought about every nook and cranny in this car, and it shows. Wherever you look – deep in the foot wells, behind the seats, under the front clamshell – this car looks finished, resolved and complete.
How to turn a Ferrari 430 Scuderia into a Stratos? Now that it's been done once, says Pininfarina's Luca Borgogno, “it will be easy to make more.” Easy is a relative term, though. The new Stratos became a car “that Pininfarina loved, and hated,” admits Stoschek, whose exacting standards severely tested the firm's skills – and patience. But all are happy now, and Pininfarina designer and Stratos lover Borgogno fervently hopes the project will yield more than this single car.
But as Stoschek says, to create another, first you need a 430 Scuderia to gut. All the aluminum panels go, and substantial chunks of the aluminum space frame, too. Borgogno half-jokingly suggests that the Scuderia is mainly needed for its VIN number and the homologation assistance that brings, but plenty of Ferrari remains in this Stratos.
So although the front of the space frame is reconfigured to accommodate one radiator rather than two, and the A-pillar bases are modified to house the narrower screen, much of the front bulkhead, the floor and the rear bulkhead are retained. So are the suspension pick-up points and the framework housing the Scuderia's V8 engine and F1 paddle-shift transmission. The engine's output rises to 532hp from 503hp, partly as a result of a freer-flowing, custom-made titanium exhaust. The suspension arms and anti-roll bars are retained too, although there are new bushes, stiffer springs and revised shock absorbers, these using the same ZF Sachs electronic Skyhook technology as the Ferrari, suitably reprogrammed.
At first sight the Stratos interior looks all new, too, but much of the center console and its switchgear are retained, together with the air conditioning controls. Although the instrument binnacle looks all-new, updating the original brushed aluminum Stratos display beautifully, the guts of the instrument pack are the same, bar the addition of a clock and g-force meter.
The exterior of the Stratos is totally new, its exquisite carbon fiber panels strengthening the core structure – as does a built-in rollover cage – by around 10 percent. Detail pieces like the door handles, headlights and wheels have been specially designed, although the taillights come from a 599. The lightweight electric windows, door checks and latches all showcase Stoschek's Brose auto components skills. The result is a sexy, sensitive and thoroughly contemporary update of the Stratos, finished to exacting standards.
The looks are not all that has been labored over. Independent engineer Paolo Garello explains that major efforts have been made to pare weight, and though the official difference between a Scuderia and this Stratos is 176lbs, the Ferrari's real and brochure weights differ, to yield a 330lb reduction. As WTCC racer and development driver Tiago Monteiro explains, that makes a big difference. Of which, more shortly.
Right now, it's my moment to sample this carbon fiber machine, first as a passenger, then as driver. The venue is France's Paul Ricard F1 racetrack, and though the wind is biting, shards of winter sun bounce off the Stratos' curvy angular bodywork.
I drop into the finely upholstered, carbon-shelled seat and Michael Stoschek hands me a pair of headphones from the huge well in the door, actually a helmet holder that was one of the most celebrated features of the original car's interior. With cans on head and mike to mouth we can communicate, though the Stratos is hardly deafening.
Stoschek pulls a paddle and the Stratos bolts out of the makeshift pit as though it's been struck from the rear. Even at the first turn and from the distance of the passenger seat, you can tell that this car is sharp. An input into the wheel produces an instant response, the car following the front wheels as though it's solid-locked to them rather than linked by springs.
This is a tight little circuit, and as soon as we hit fourth Stoschek is paddling into third for a longer left-hander that begins to uncover the Stratos' dynamic character. Which is lively. You can feel the mass of that powertrain behind you, its mildly pendulous effect amplified by the short wheelbase. Here are hints of the very behavior that made the original Stratos so famous, this tail-happy wedge of venom almost incapable of advancing down a gravel track without swinging its tail, a habit turned to second-shaving advantage by victory-scoring winners like Sandro Munari and Bernard Darniche. But get it wrong and Lancia's Stratos could deliver a vicious bite.
Stoschek reckons there's too much understeer in the tight turns of this track, although he reckons it can be dialed out with a setup change, his confidence stemming from the hours of development work already invested, many with Monteiro at the wheel. Stoschek is hugely determined that the dynamics are right. “If you want to travel at 300kph, go by TGV,” he says, making the point that the appeal of this car lies in its handling rather than outright speed. That said, it's good for over 187mph.
Not that we'll be getting anywhere near that speed, either with him or me behind the wheel. And now I'm clutching the part-carbon, part-suede, flat-bottomed wheel, my pulse lightly hammering at the prospect of multiple laps in a car rumored to have cost more than $4 million.
I pull the right-hand paddle and the Stratos departs without a shudder, the Ferrari V8 issuing a hollow blare that the eager thresh of reciprocation soon in-fills. A quick flick to second for the first turn and the steering swivels slightly more lightly than expected, but with an oil-smooth action that's totally free of slack. And the rest of the car absolutely matches the steering's intent, the carbon nose turning with the obedience of a fear-drilled army corps. Just as impressive is this car's robust, thoroughly finished feel, not a squeak, rattle or creak erupting to puncture our enjoyment.
Our speed briefly builds before the next, third-gear corner, this longer curve allowing the chance to feed in some power. The Stratos darts forward, its line tightening fractionally as the rear tires squeeze at the track to reveal a hint of how agile this stealth-black weapon might be. Its refreshing compactness is very emboldening, and you soon uncover the effect of the powertrain's mass on the short wheelbase, neutral handling threatening to slip into mild oversteer.
Just like the Stratos of the '70s (LEFT: the new car alongside the rally-going original Stratos HF), this is a car whose weight distribution you must be aware of; understand it and it will work with you. Get it wrong and you'll be a spinner. Or you will if you turn off the ESP via the Ferrari-style manettino, which provides progressively less electronic assistance as you swivel-step the switch clockwise, although the E-diff of the 430 has been switched for a mechanical LSD. Former Champ Car and F1 racer Monteiro says that each step makes a difference – “with everything off it is an animal” – and that to go hard, you must learn how best to pitch the Stratos into a turn, and when to accelerate out. And with that weight reduction, he says, it is a lot more agile than the 430.
A supercar that's a well-sorted challenge? That's exactly what you'd hope for from a machine of this caliber and price. And that price, says Stoschek, could sit between $650,000 and $780,000, depending on how many orders Pininfarina receives. That assumes enough interest in the first place, but it's hard to imagine there being no demand for a car so stylish, so polished, so complete, and a car that is such a brilliant recreation of the original not only for looks but handling character besides. In theory, Pininfarina could build 25 of these. It'd be a tragedy if they're never allowed to exist.