At the age of seventeen, Vincenzo Lancia of Turin, Italy switched from being an
accountancy clerk with Ceirano Motor Works to being a mechanic. The year was 1898.
Shortly afterwards, Ceirano merged with Fiat and the directors of the company very quickly
learned of the extraordinary technical skill of young Lancia. He became their chief tester
and later, when a worldwide racing program got under way, he became their chief racing
driver. When only 25 Lancia was appointed technical advisor to the Fiat Board of
Directors. In 1906 he left Fiat and founded his own firm in Turin and within two years was
in auto production.
The year 1998 saw the company celebrating 100 years of auto production. Vincenzo
Lancia’s last car design, the innovative Aprilia of 1937 to 1950, appeared a few weeks
after death. In 1969, control of Lancia passed to Fiat.
Through the 1970s the sports car showed a gradual decline. The fuel crisis of the time
certainly contributed to this but the loss of power brought about by emission controls in the
US was more significant. The highly tuned European sports cars dropped out of the
American market altogether. This was a fatal blow to British sports cars which depended
on the US market to remain viable. The MGB, Triumph Spitfire and TR7 owed their demise
to this situation. The building of special cars to compete in Rallies was, however, a regular
part of many European manufacturer’s development programs as success in this area
generally brought improved consumer perceptions of a marque.
Lancia’s Stratos started life as a styling exercise by Bertone at the 1970 Turin Show, and
ended up as a highly successful rally car. The show car had a Fulvia 1600 engine but,
once a competition career had been decided upon, more power was needed and the
2418cc Ferrari Dino V6 was chosen for the production cars, which was made from 1972 to
1975. All-independent suspension and disc brakes all round were featured. Homologation
rules called for 500 Stratos to be built, but actual production fell just short at 492.
The Stratos won 14 World Championship rallies, helping Lancia to win the Championship