The New Stratos Has Some Big Shoes to Fill

Story by Johan Dillen • Photography by Dirk de Jager

Yes, that is a snowflake in the windscreen. And no, it is not part of the plan.

When we set out from the outskirts of Turin, Italy, the sun was shining brightly. But the higher we climb up the Colle delle Finestre in the Alps, the more the temperatures drop as more and more snow appears at the side of the road. Soon it’s collecting on the road.

Great, we are going full Monte Carlo rally with this.

Our blue New Stratos looks like a wine stain on a white carpet, but we figure we couldn’t have brought it to a better place, since it carries the DNA of one of the most successful World Rally cars ever.

The original Lancia Stratos was as unlikely a three-time World Rally Champion as one could have imagined. It looked like a frail sports car, but underneath its striking Bertone body it carried a Ferrari engine.

At the same time, if you look at it more closely, you’ll find a Stratos is nothing more than a buggy concept with very big wheels and the engine in the middle,” explains Paola Garella, the man behind this recreation. “It became a car of mythical proportions, and everyone involved in the project became a legend in his own doing: Bertone, Gandini, Dallara, Fiorio.…”

Garella knows exactly what shoes he had to fill when he started the New Stratos project. Not only because he understands the Stratos mystique, but also because he actually did another New Stratos prior to this one.

Pininfarina Roots

Garella now runs MAT, short for Manifattura Automobili Torino, but previously he worked at Pininfarina. “At first, I worked at Pininfarina on one-off projects,” he explains. “We mainly worked for the Sultan of Brunei at the end of the ’80s. It was an incredible time; we did some 50 cars per year for him.

“A lot of the time, we had to swap the manual transmission for a ‘flappy paddle’ gearbox, in fashion then. The funny thing is, these days it’s pretty much the other way around.

“For six years, I lived day and night for the Sultan. It was a most interesting period for me personally. I really learned everything back then. But in 1995, an economic crisis struck, and the Sultan’s assignments dried out.”

Garella explains that in 2001, he took on two final jobs at Pininfarina. One was the Ferrari P4/5—a sort of vintage take on the Ferrari Enzo—for Ferrari collector Jim Glickenhaus. The other was a modern version of the Stratos for German enthusiast Michael Stoschek.

Stoschek had hoped to do a limited production run for his New Stratos, which was based around a Ferrari 430 Scuderia, but Ferrari let it be known that it wasn’t too happy with these shenanigans involving the just-retired model. The project came to an apparent end with just the one New Stratos built; it’s now parked in a collection in Germany.

After that, Garella was looking for something to do. “I had worked on the P4 Competizione on behalf of Jim Glickenhaus,” he explains. “We ended up 12 th in our second participation in the Nürburgring 24 Hours—still the best result for a hybrid to date.

In 2013, I had started MAT and we did the [Scuderia Cameron Glickenhaus] SCG 003 for Jim. In the meantime, he had decided to go his way in the United States with SCG, so I found myself at a crossroads with MAT. Either I shut down the firm, or I would go and find new projects for us to do.”

He recalls the exact date he came up with the idea for his next project. “On December 4th, 2017, New Stratos came back in my mind. I’d thought it would be ideal to show the potential we have at MAT. You don’t need to promote a Stratos; everyone knows what it is. So I went back to Michael Stoschek. He owns all the rights on the Stratos name, and he gave me a license for 25 New Stratos cars plus three prototypes.”

Ferrari DNA

Garella had a first show car ready in time for the 2018 Geneva International Motor Show. The first production car was ready for the 2019 show in Geneva, where it was delivered in the iconic Alitalia colors.

“We have orders for six cars at the moment,” he told us while giving a tour of MAT’s premises, “and we have about 10 serious leads following the motor show.”

Compared to the 2010 New Stratos, the newest New Stratos hasn’t changed much. However, instead of a 430 Scuderia, MAT can also perform the work required to transform a Ferrari into a New Stratos using a regular F430, a less expensive starting point. “We prefer cars from the final production run, with either an automated shift or manual gearbox,” Garella says.

Not much escapes the conversion. “We not only take the whole bodywork away, we also cut 7.8 inches out of the chassis in the wheelbase,” he explains. “This way we keep the classic proportions of the Stratos.” The new body is formed in carbon with a new steel structure for the chassis.

“We will also add a roll cage for extra stiffness,” he continues. “You can see it in the engine compartment, but it is hidden from sight in the interior behind carbon panels. Combined, we are looking at a New Stratos that is some 30 percent stiffer than an F430. Weight is lower as well. We weigh in at around 2866 pounds, some 220 pounds less than the F430.”

The engine remains in the same longitudinal position, but new mapping allows the 4.3-liter V8 to produce some 500 horsepower. “With a different exhaust system, we can even go to 540 horsepower,” he adds, “but you’re bound to run into problems in some countries.”

Garella stresses, however, that horsepower numbers were never a target for the New Stratos. “The most important thing in the New Stratos is the driving experience,” he explains. “So a better pickup from the normally aspirated engine at lower revs was more important for us. We designed a whole new inlet, resulting in 10 percent more torque and a better response at low revs.”

Another change from the first New Stratos: Bilstein dampers instead of Sachs.

“They work brilliantly,” he says. To preserve the front spoiler, a lift system will also raise the nose more than an inch at the touch of a button.

Stratos Street Cred

Before it even comes to life, the new car does all the Stratos things so right: The front compartment opens toward the nose, and the rear engine cover is hinged at the tail. Open the doors, and you’ll see helmet holders integrated inside. The steering wheel is recognizable from the Ferrari, but all badges have been replaced. This is no longer a Ferrari; it’s now a Stratos.

The view from behind the wheel is dominated by a big windshield that directs all attention forward. The two big lumps on either side of the bonnet reveal the exact position of the front wheels. The small side windows further direct the driver’s attention forward, while the rear-view mirrors only seem to be there because the law requires them. The dashboard has been kept clean, and the gauges no longer resemble Ferrari pieces.

The Manettino dial on the steering wheel-used to select driver modes–was already in the race position when we climbed into the car. Starting the engine required a brief dance that began with turning the key to activate the various pumps. Next we needed to select neutral by pulling both shifter paddles forward while stepping on the brake pedal. Only then was it time to press the red starter button found to the left of the steering wheel; once we did, the interior filled with the typical dry bark from the Maranello V8 located just behind the firewall. Then the engine quickly dropped to idle.

A quick tour through the gears rewarded us with a sound that was reminiscent of early-’90s touring car intake noises. It’s sharp, and definitely not something you hear in an F430.

Let’s go hit the mountains.

Monte Carlo Ready

The steering feels light, and the New Stratos turns in with surgical precision. It seems to know your intentions even before you have moved the wheel.

Garella claims that the New Stratos can get right up to the guardrails; the man is absolutely right. Thanks to the big humps on the bonnet, the corners of the car are easily managed.

Power goes down easy, and it will only slide when provoked–or when conditions change suddenly. During our drive up the mountains, we trade a big, two-line road for a small ribbon of asphalt barely wide enough for passing. On top of that, temperatures have taken a plunge and the snow covers more and more of the scenery–and the car wears semi-slick Michelins. They perform nicely… in the dry.

So we wait a little longer before burying the throttle, but when the time is right, we’re rewarded as that glorious V8 screams past 6000 and then 7000 rpm. It hits the rev limiter at 8000 rpm.

This car–the first of the three prototypes–has the optional carbon brakes. They deliver plenty of feel, and left-foot braking is easy. The engine and the chassis take driving pleasure to a new level.

When we get to the point where the snow has completely taken over the road, we have only one option: Turn around and go again.

Supercar Speedy

We’re told that the New Stratos should hit 170 mph, while a trip to 60 mph takes just 3.2 seconds. Sure, there are quicker cars for less money: The Porsche 911 GT2 RS comes to mind. But are they as much fun?

“To me, it is never about being the fastest,” Garella says. “I want to make cars that are fun to drive. Cars that I want to drive.”And this is a fast, modern car that acknowledges its past. “For me, the Turin connection is important,” he says. “There is so much automotive history here. I want to leave a certain legacy here, even though I still haven’t defined for myself what that should be.”

“We wouldn’t dream of turning down a real Stratos, but this one really makes us wonder which is the better option”

There are a few things for prospective buyers to consider. The F430’s automatic transmission shifts a bit slowly, so those seeking that driving pleasure will find that the manual option seems to be more in line with the character of this New Stratos. (At the time of our visit MAT had just finished a second prototype fitted with the manual gearbox, but it had already left for the U.S.)

And, of course, there is the price. We’re talking $600,000 here. Before taxes. And without the donor car. For that kind of money you can buy a real Stratos–which, let’s be honest, will be more difficult to drive, offers fewer horses, and boasts less exclusivity. We wouldn’t dream of turning down a real Stratos, but this one really makes us wonder which is the better option.

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