Perhaps one of the greatest cars of all time.
The Lancia Stratos is a pretty special car, even among the cars on this list, but it was absolutely groundbreaking in the world of rallying. Even today, rally cars are generally high-performance versions of mainstream production vehicles. This keeps production costs down and eases homologation. But in the early 1970s, the relatively easy homologation rules of Group 4 made it possible for Lancia to build an entirely new car just for rallying. It was the first car ever that was both a new purpose-built rallying design, and homologated into a production class.
The story of the Stratos begins in 1970, when a concept called the Lancia Stratos Zero debuted at the Turin Motor Show. This wedge-shaped and futuristic-looking concept had little in common with the production version of the Stratos, apart from its mid-engine layout, although it would achieve its own fame of sorts when it appeared in the 1988 Michael Jackson film "Moonwalker". This concept was equipped with the engine out of the Fulvia, the car that was then the one which Lancia used to compete in rallying. This engine was eventually determined to be inadequate, and was replaced by the Lancia Bta engine.
This one didn't last long either though, and was replaced even before the production version of the Stratos debuted. The production Stratos was known as the Stratos HF (for "High Fidelity"), and it debuted at the 1971 Turin Auto Show with the 2.4-liter V6 out of the Ferrari Dino. The design for both the concept and the HF were the work of Bertone. Lancia was eager to get the Stratos racing as soon as possible, and entered it as a Group 5 prototype in 1972, before production even started. It would compete in Group 5 again in 1973, while Bertone and Lancia worked to build the 492 cars which would homologate the Stratos and make it eligible for Group 4.
The Stratos was immediately a massive success in Group 4, winning the World Rally Championship every single year that it competed with factory backing. Unfortunately, this amounted to only three years, 1974-76, before Lancia's parent company of Fiat decided to switch to the Fiat 131 Abarth as their rally car. To be fair, the 131 won just as many championships as the Stratos, including its very first as Fiat's new rally car. Road cars were dubbed Lancia Stratos Stradale, and would have a detuned version of the 2.4-liter Dino V6. This car would produce 190 horsepower, but was still capable of hitting 60mph in less than five seconds and a top speed of 144mph.
These figures are still nothing to scoff at 40 years later. The race version produced 280 horsepower when tuned for Group 4. Some Group 5 prototypes were also built. These were turbocharged, and could produce 560 horsepower. Even after Lancia had stopped building the Stratos, the prototype cars still interested them, and Mike Parkes, one of the men responsible for the original car, even worked with privateer teams using the Stratos on into the Eighties. One of them won the 1978 GT Division title in the European Rallycross. Parkes had given the team a pair of experimental crankshafts, which increased engine displacement to 3.0-liters.
This was the only Stratos to ever use a 3.0-liter engine. Production ended in 1975, and ended just shy of 500 units. With the success that privateer teams would enjoy with the Stratos for a number of years after Fiat decided to ditch it, it's clear that it could have continued to win races for a Lancia factory team for a long time. But instead it retired undefeated in Group 4, and still manages to be a legend. Internal politics at Fiat certainly played a part in the decision to switch to the 131 rally car, but with Ferrari having discontinued the Dino V6 in 1974, Lancia would have been faced with the problem of what would power the cars anyway.
And even if they had found an engine for the car, Group 4 and Group 5 rallying would be replace by the legendary Group B in 1982, and a whole new level of competition was born. It seems that even though the Stratos was an amazing car, which still had some life left in it when it was forced into early retirement, circumstances were always conspiring against it. The Stratos name would be reborn first in 2005 by a British firm known a Fenomenon, who had somehow come to own the name. The concept was built by Prodrive, but the project never got past the concept phase.
Then, in 2010, a New Stratos was conceived of and designed by Pininfarina. Like the original, this Stratos uses a Ferrari engine, in this case the 4.3-liter V8 from the F430 Scuderia, tuned to produce 532 horsepower. Unlike the original, this Stratos also borrowed a chassis from Ferrari, but it received a glowing reception from the automotive press anyway. An additional 25 cars were originally planned, but Ferrari refused to provide the donor parts, even going so far as to lean on their suppliers to prevent them from supporting the project. It seems the full potential of the Stratos will once again go unexplored.