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The Audi Quattro and Lancia Stratos produced unforgettable racing memories. Each car’s top-tier design and engineering created pure joy from a spectator’s perspective. Motorsport racing received a significant boost in 1965 when the Auto Union and NSU merged. Audi began its storied racing history with the Quattro. This car’s noteworthy performance spanned from 1978-1987 with major wins in competitions like the World Rally Championship.
Lancia’s Stratos elegantly blended abstract and modern design elements to present a forward-thinking exterior. It’s truly impressive how Lancia’s initial Stratos balanced contemporary design components with 1973 technical regulations. A forced withdraw from factory competition led to the Stratos ending its time on the track in 1978.
We’re going to initiate a closer examination of these two-race car’s decorated statuses to see which vehicle reigns supreme by beginning with fundamental dates and people that paved the way for the Stratos’ dominance.
1970 marked the Lancia Stratos’ debut presentation at the Turin motor show. The Stratos was originally called “Zero” and featured a rear-central engine mounting position. Fast-forward one year later to the 1971 Turin motor-show for the introduction of the Lancia Stratos HF. This 1971 Stratos was built in collaboration with Lancia’s sports division and contained a centrally mounted Ferrari Dino engine. The press put out a release stating that Lancia would place a different engine in its final version.
1972 was a year that strengthened Lancia’s relationship with Ferrari. The Lancia Fulvia’s victory at the 1972 Monte Carlo rally led to Enzo Ferrari offering a generous 500 Ferrari Dino engines for the Stratos. Ferrari overcame some 1972 engine manufacturing difficulties and provided Lancia with ten Dino engines for Lancia prototype evaluations. The end of August 1972 featured Lancia reporting the Stratos’ engine registering 240 horsepower. Lancia was still undergoing some difficulties regarding Ferrari’s initial 500 engine offerings. In December 1972, Fiat surrendered its resistance to the engine donation idea so Ferrari could follow through on his planned contribution.
Lancia attained its first victory with the Stratos in 1973 at the Firestone Rally. An impressive second place Stratos finish soon followed in the 1973 Targa Florio. The Stratos secured its first major victory at Tour de France in September 1973. Lancia continued developing the Stratos in 1973 by building a four-valve per cylinder engine combined with the Stratos turbocharged engine. 1974 led to new doors opening for Lancia as FIA approved the Stratos in the Group 4 division.
Nuccio Berton and Cesare Fioro banded together to create the Lancia Stratos’ groundbreaking design. A little help from a Ferrari engine didn’t hurt either. Lancia experienced disappointment during the Costa De Sol with the Stratos generating rear upright issues. These problems were a result of a weak and deformed status created by the Ferrari engine. Lancia’s implementation of cast uprights solved this performance problem and initiated the Stratos’ historic run. The Stratos went on to its three consecutive World Championship victories from 1974-1976.
These ultra-successful years led to the FIAT group shifting their focus which resulted in sporadic Stratos appearances. These less frequent Stratos appearances still produced positives for Lancia with successes in major events like the Targa Florio.
Studying the works teams behind the Lancia Stratos’ gives us a clearer perspective on the vehicle’s iconic history. Lancia created their customer racing department in 1972. The Italian manufacturer aimed to build an optimized rallying car service department that simultaneously provided expert technical insight. Promising young rising race car drivers and a lightened schedule set the stage for Lancia to deliver in major events like the World and European Championship.
Lancia created a permanent rally car racing department in 1973 to fuel the successful competition of future rallies. Driving teams and race car drivers significantly benefitted from the advice of this new department. 1974 marked the arrival of team Stratos models, which led to increased levels of organization in Lancia’s car-servicing department. Lancia knew they needed to improve the car-servicing practices with the department’s previous issues on models like the Fulvia.
Two main problems stemmed from Lancia distributing Fulvia spare parts through a car dealership network:
Lancia decided to solve these issues by introducing a warehouse of spare parts specifically designed for racing clientele. The competition department within Lancia was a driving force behind this specialized warehouse’s development.
This Italian manufacturer’s works team continued its shift in practices by equipping a service van with two mechanics and spare parts in 1975. Lancia’s new service van support was present during every subsequent championship round, which greatly benefitted the teams’ car preparers. It wasn’t long before Lancia developed privately run cars that outdid the competitive performance of the team’s official cars. Innovation was in the air.
There’s no arguing that the Lancia Stratos’ development is truly breathtaking—but how does the Audi Quattro’s racing history compare?
1978 marked the start of Audi’s deep commitment to motorsport competition. 1981 featured the Audi Quattro presenting a strong showing at the Monte Carlo Rally. This competition was especially significant because Audi’s Quattro passed a Lancia Stratos on a snow-covered track. The Lancia Stratos that Audi passed in 1981 started a whole minute before the Quattro. More 1981 victories by Audi soon followed with the Quattro winning an Autumn WRC round at the San Remo Rally. This win marked the first competition’s first victory from a female driver, Michéle Mouton.
The Ur-Quattro’s convincing victories propelled the Audi Quattro’s market success at the World Rally Championship from 1982-1984. Audi had the bragging rights of gathering two drivers’ and manufacturers’ titles during this World Rally Championship time frame.
Various versions of the Quattro fueled Audi’s success in the Pikes Peak Hillclimb from 1984-1987. Three successive victories were more than enough to solidify the Quattro’s status as one of racing’s most memorable vehicles. Audi’s 1987 Pikes Peak Hillclimb Quattro was noteworthy given the driver’s record-breaking finish that clocked in just above the eleven-minute mark.
Rallying accolades like these deserve a closer look.
The 1980s rally scene had an edge that featured some of racing history’s most exciting cars. Many race car fans have no issue crowning the Audi Quattro as the top rallying car of the 1980s. The Audi Quattro served as the genesis of modern-day Audi. Gaining a more thorough understanding of the Audi Quattro’s rallying dominance requires us to look at the cars that came before. Rally cars were solely 2WD before the 1980s. This configuration paved the way for manufacturers like Lancia to dominate the rallying landscape. A regulation shift allowing 4WD cars to compete led to Audi developing an interest in rally racing.
The Audi 80 served as the basis for the initial Quattro as similar parts and panels were integrated. Beginning Quattro engine specs boasted 197 horsepower through a 2.1-liter 5-cylinder ten valve turbocharged engine. A modification soon followed that allowed the Quattro’s engine to produce peak torque in a lower rev range. Horsepower lovers will have no problem falling in love with the 1989 Quattro’s 20 valve engine that produced an impressive 217 horsepower.
Audi’s initial rally Quattro was released the same year as its first production Quattro. This rally-ready Quattro produced a whopping 300 horsepower in peak competition form. Audi experienced a successful 1980 rally season and continued on a path toward further development. The Quattro won the 31st International Swedish Rally by leaning on its four-wheel-drive system. Newly introduced Group B rules led to Audi producing A1 and A2 versions of the Quattro. The A1 Quattro made its debut in 1983 and went on to win the Swedish Rally and Rally Portugal.
There were thoughts among Audi development team members that the Quattro’s high levels of horsepower and traction wouldn’t be enough to secure future victories. This hunch proved true in 1984 when Peugeot’s 205 T16 dominated rallying. The Audi Quattro lagged behind Peugeot’s 205 T16 with its heavyweight and significant amounts of understeer. A proper response was initiated when Audi developed and introduced the Sport Quattro S1 in 1984.
A limited number of Sport Quattro S1’s were produced within the Group B racing category. Understeer problems within the Quattro were corrected when Audi shortened the car’s wheelbase. The Sport Quattro S1 contained an all-aluminum alloy 2.1-liter 20 valve 5-cylinder turbocharged engine. Audi’s road-approved version of the Sport Quattro S1 awarded drivers with 302 horsepower while the rallying version packed a punch with 444 horsepower. Wider tires within the Sport Quattro S1 were supported by a carbon-Kevlar body that featured prominent wheel arches. It was this version of the Quattro that broke the Pikes Peak record in 1985. The fact that the Sport Quattro S1 could compete in Group B racing and win Pikes Peak is an accomplishment beyond belief.
Audi wasn’t finished holding their ground against key competitors like Peugeot and Lancia. The 1985 Sport Quattro S1 E2 featured an updated 2.1-liter 5-cylinder engine that produced a stunning 470 horsepower. The Rally of Finland marked an unofficial registering of the 1985 Sport Quattro S1 E2 engine’s horsepower at mind-rattling 590. Audi reached these remarkable horsepower levels by utilizing a recirculating air system for the engine’s turbocharger. This new configuration gave Audi’s race car drivers the ability to keep the turbo spinning at an ultra-fast rpm. A fresh aerodynamic package balanced out the Sport Quattro E2’s groundbreaking power.
1986 was the year that marked an important transition for Audi’s racing department. Audi waved goodbye to rallying and shifted their focus to circuit racing. Four separate Audi drivers collected 23 world championships by 1986. Audi went out in style before altering their focus to circuit racing by winning the Safari Rally during their pivotal 1987 transitional year. The Quattro confidently represented technical motorsport innovation.
Audi followed the Quattro’s successful rallying run with a brand suitable for circuit competition. The first circuit-racing Audi Quattro was the Audi 200 Quattro in 1988. 1990 and 1991 led to Audi’s circuit-racing V8 Quattro gathering two victories at the German Touring Car Championship. 1996 is arguably Audi’s most noteworthy circuit-racing year for the Quattro, with victories in seven countries.
Let’s wrap up with our final verdict comparing these two legendary racing vehicles.
While Audi produced incredible power within later Quattro models like the Sport Quattro S1 E2, their efforts fell short of the Peugeot 205 T16’s performance. Lancia’s Delta S4 continued to give the Quattro a run for its money during the mid-portion of the 1980s, which led to several consecutive victories. Rumors circulated that Audi was producing a 1,000 horsepower, but experts agreed that the Quattro needed more than horsepower to claim racing victories. These facts lead us to our final verdict that the Lancia Stratos was slightly more significant than the Audi Quattro.
Here’s why that’s the case:
All entrepreneurship, including auto entrepreneurship, thrives on innovation. Lancia was able to make key internal shifts within their organization and develop specialized departments that laid the groundwork for an exceptional racing legacy. Head members of Lancia looked closely at past problems and took risks to solve them. These risks paid off with several consecutive victories and a key victory over Audi in 1983 during the World Rally Championship.
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Joe Webster began his journey in the auto transport field by attending the University of Southern California (USC), where he graduated with a Bachelor of Business Marketing.
After college, he started his career in the auto transport industry from the bottom up and has done virtually every job there is to do at A-1 Auto Transport, including but not limited to: Truck Driver, Dispatch, Sales, PR, Bookkeeping, Transport Planner, Transport Manager, International Transport Manager, Brokering, Customer Service, and Marketing. Working with his mentor Tony Taylor, Joe Webster has learned the ins and outs of this industry which is largely misunderstood.
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