Jay Leno Takes a Lancia Stratos HF Rally Legend for a Spin

While its future under Stellantis is uncertain, Lancia has an incredible heritage, especially when it comes to rallying. The Delta Integrale, for example, still holds the record for the most WRC wins in a row. And the 037 was the last rear-wheel-drive car to beat the AWD Audi Quattro. Then there’s the subject of Jay Leno’s latest video: the Lancia Stratos HF.

The Lancia Stratos HF is a wild wedge of a rally car

The white-red-and-green-liveried Lancia Stratos HF Group 4 rally car on a snowy rally stage
Lancia Stratos HF Group 4 rally car | FCA

Modern WRC racers have purpose-built vehicles that resemble their road-going versions. But back in rallying’s early days, as beginners do today, teams ran modified road-going cars, Hagerty explains. That changed with the Lancia Stratos HF, the first car purpose-built for rallying, Petrolicious explains.

The Lancia Stratos HF’s wedge-shaped design comes from an earlier concept car, the Stratos Zero, Automobile explains. It was the work of Bertone, the same Italian firm that designed the Ferrari 308 GT4. And, as is often the case with concepts, is even wilder than the production version.

The Stratos Zero is just 33” tall, Car and Driver reports, and doesn’t even have doors. Instead, you enter through the hinged windshield. And it’s powered by a mid-mounted 1.6-liter Fulvia HF V4. Naturally, Lancia toned the Zero somewhat to make the production Stratos. ‘Somewhat’ being the keyword.

Like the concept car, the production Lancia Stratos HF is a mid-engine wedge. Only instead of a V4, it has a Ferrari Dino 2.4-liter V6 and a 5-speed manual, Silodrome reports. It’s rated at 190 hp in road-going trim, Autoweek reports, which doesn’t seem like a lot. And in racing form, it ‘only’ makes 280 hp, Road & Track reports.

The rear 3/4 view of a red 1974 Lancia Stratos HF Stradale
1974 Lancia Stratos HF Stradale rear 3/4 | Bonhams

But then, even in Stradale trim, it only weighs 2161 pounds, Silodrome reports, with a wheelbase shorter than a Miata. Little wonder Lancia added the ‘High Fidelity’ moniker.

The low weight came with 4-wheel independent suspension and ventilated disc brakes. All this combined with wheels pushed to the edges of the body means the Lancia Stratos HF can practically turn on a dime, The Drive reports. In fact, it rotates so eagerly that it can easily scare an unprepared driver, Autoweek reports. But with experienced racers behind the wheel, it claimed three WRC titles in a row from 1974 to 1976.

Even for Jay Leno, John Campion’s 1975 Lancia Stratos HF is “insane”

The 1975 Lancia Stratos HF that Jay Leno recently drove isn’t his car. It belonged to a well-known Lancia enthusiast named John Campion, Hagerty reports. Sadly, he passed away recently due to leukemia. But Jay Leno wanted to demonstrate what makes one of his friend’s favorite cars so special.

Campion’s 1975 Lancia Stratos HF was originally a Stradale model, but was later converted into a race car, The Drive reports. So, it ‘only’ makes 190 hp and comes with leather seats and a full-synchromesh transmission. However, it sports a racing skid plate, rally-course gear ratios, an extra fuel filler, and a set of rally timing clocks. And despite the leather seats, the Stratos HF is by no means a luxurious car.

The tan-leather seats and the dashboard of a red 1974 Lancia Stratos HF Stradale
1974 Lancia Stratos HF Stradale interior | Bonhams

It’s so simple, in fact, that there isn’t a handle or even a mechanism to wind down the windows, Jalopnik reports. Instead, the Stratos HF has what looks like a large metal wing nut. You loosen and slide it down, which pivots the window and creates an opening. But the door pockets are big enough to hold a racing helmet, and there’s a decent-sized trunk. And while the cabin is fairly small, the front visibility is excellent.

This is the first Lancia Stratos HF Jay Leno has ever driven. And despite not knowing what all the gauges and switches do, in his words, it’s “a fabulous car.” The brakes are “phenomenal,” and being a race car, all the fuses and relays are in the cabin within easy reach. With the rally gearing, the Stratos HF accelerates quickly. However, it’s surprisingly easy to drive on paved roads, Petrolicious reports.

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The short wheelbase means it does feel a bit “twitchy,” but for Jay Leno, that just makes it more fun. It may even be more fun for him than the Ferrari F40. And while it’s a low car, the short overhangs mean you’re not worried about scraping the nose.

It’s iconic and valuable enough to have inspired some remakes and replicas

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The 1975 Lancia Stratos HF Jay Leno drove is scheduled to hit Stratas Auction’s block sometime in the future. But you’ll need a sizeable budget to pick it up.

Lancia only made 492 Stratos HFs, both in racing and Stradale form. And a good-condition example can easily go for $500k, Hagerty reports. A 1975 Stradale car sold for over $660k at an April 2019 RM Sotheby’s auction.

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But, while the original is rare and expensive, its status has inspired some modern versions. Italian company MAT can turn your old Ferrari F430 or F430 Scuderia into a ‘New Stratos,’ complete with a manual transmission, Road & Track reports. Though admittedly it costs almost as much as the classic car. UK-based LB Specialist Cars’ STR kit car, though, is a bit more affordable.

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