Jason Barlow30 November 2010

Exclusive first drive in new Stratos supercar

Top Gear hits the track in the one-off, Pininfarina-designed special

Stratos

A brilliant montage of the original Lancia Stratos in the heat of competition battle is playing on a big screen, backed by some great period rock tunes. One of the most successful rally cars of the 1970s, the Stratos is one of those cars that exerts a magical hold over the people who lived through its imperial period, and for many beyond that too. Just 492 were made, and it was conceived purely as a pretty terrifying competition weapon. It is, to use an over-used word, a legend.

Now it's back. To the strains of Rolling Stones classic 'You Can't Always Get What You Want', it's obvious that for German businessman and Stratos enthusiast Michael Stoschek, sometimes you can get exactly what you want.

The new Stratos represents an eight-year labour of love for all involved. Car designer and Stratos nut Chris Hrabalek worked up a full-sized proposal which he showed at Geneva back in 2005. Then he badgered Stoschek into building this one-off, literally popping out of hedges to ambush him. Hrabalek's persistence has paid off, and the result is almost certainly the best one-off special to have emerged in the past 20 years.

Squeezing into the ultra-lightweight carbon-backed race seat and clamped into place by a six-point harness, I'm about to become only the second journalist in the world to drive the new Stratos. It's worth around three million pounds, it's the only one that exists, and just to crank up the pressure a bit more, former F1 driver Tiago Monteiro is my co-pilot. Nervous? You could say that...

See more pics of the new Stratos

It's instantly apparent that this is an exceptional bit of kit. Designed and built by Pininfarina, its carbon-fibre body clothes a cut-down Ferrari 430 Scuderia chassis. It also uses the Scud's powertrain, so the underpinnings are about as good as it gets.

The gearchange is sensationally fast, and with a new free-flowing titanium exhaust and a few other electronic mods, the Scud's 510bhp output is up to 540bhp. Weight is down 80kg to just 1,247kg. You do the maths...

Stoschek is a successful competition driver, so the new Stratos feels like a racing car: there is almost zero slack in its steering and handling. It's one of those cars that thinks its way from one corner to the next and gets there so fast, it takes your breath away. It's 10 per cent stiffer than the Scud, and feels amazingly tight and beautifully engineered. The development team benchmarked it against the Scud, but also the Porsche 911 GT3 RS. Yes, it's that good.

Top speed is close to 200mph, 62mph about 3.3 seconds. It's also a proper handful, and moves with the wired nervousness of a competition car. We weren't able to really stretch it, but its high-speed stability and overall balance are said to be impressive.

Stoschek admits that it would need to be tweaked a bit depending on which circuit it was being driven on, and there was a bit of understeer here at Le Castellet in the south of France. But that's true of any hi-po car on a track and for a one-off, the new Stratos really is an astonishing achievement, a phenomenally well-executed, ultra-modern version of a quixotic rally legend that pulses with all the spirit of the original.

The talk now is of a run of perhaps 25 production cars. Stoschek is keen for his project to be validated in that way - he wants to share the love rather than keep it all to himself - and the likely cost is half-a-million pounds plus the donor car. For that, the lucky owner wouldn't just be getting a rich man's retro folly, they'd be getting a seriously, seriously good car.

Next up, a GT2 version. Bring it on...

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