The hand of history is joining up the dots: the reborn Lancia Stratos has just been given the ultimate seal of approval – powered by a Ferrari engine just like its predecessor, the new prototype has been caught lapping the Prancing Horse’s legendary test track, Fiorano.

The hand of history is joining up the dots: the reborn Lancia Stratos has just been given the ultimate seal of approval – powered by a Ferrari engine just like its predecessor, the new prototype has been caught lapping the Prancing Horse’s legendary test track, Fiorano. These photos capture the New Stratos in action at Fiorano last Thursday morning.

The test, though, throws up more questions than it answers, particularly in relation to Maranello’s well-known sensitivity to the use or even slightest modification of its hardware. One thing it does unquestionably achieve, however, is seamlessly integrating the timeline from old to new. The association with Ferrari in the original Stratos project is simply the stuff of legend; although these stories have grown into hazy myths and legends over the years, with the dramatic New Stratos, the dream of passionate German industrialist Michael Stoschek, once again that link is forged.

The heart of the New Stratos is, of course, its engine, borrowed from the Ferrari 430 Scuderia. The decision to base the car around the Scuderia’s mechanicals is not just an acknowledgement of its status as one of the premier supercars in the world today, but a nod to history, with the seminal original famously employing the Dino V6.

Despite this, the legendary reputation the employment of the Dino would help create for the Stratos was not foreseen at the time, with Lancia facing great political difficulties in securing the use of the engine for its purpose-built rallycar. Although the original Stradale prototype was first fitted with a Dino unit, Lancia considered a variety of options, including the Fiat/Lancia twin-cam four-cylinder employed to successful effect in the 124 Spider Abarth and X1/9 Prototipo, and even a potential deal with Maserati, which would have seen the Stratos fitted with the Bora’s 4.7-litre V8. Despite negotiations being conducted, the Bora’s engine was heavy and bulky for competition use, and thus always a secondary choice to the Dino. However, the negotiations with Maserati were instrumental in placing political pressure on Enzo Ferrari, who eventually relented and agreed to the use of the Dino engine in the Stratos, helping create the legend which lives again today.

The dramatic arrival of the Stratos at Fiorano means that the new super car skims right at the edges of the recent tradition of factory-blessed coach building projects. During the last few years Ferrari has gone out of its way to encourage a revival of the historic art of coach building, once one of Italy’s proudest traditions, and this skill has flourished again using in a new golden era. Nevertheless, for any blessing to be bestowed by Maranello – and the all-important Cavallino Rampante to remain in situ – very stringent criteria have had to be followed. Most notable is that any project cannot touch the engine in any way, shape or form, so the factory-bestowed horsepower and torque figures remain unaltered, as do many fundamentals of the chassis. This means that the cluster of unique projects to emerge from this new process of openness, often dubbed the "post Brunei" period, while for the most part being visually grabbing, are all unchanged under the bonnet, that is apart from the Stratos.

There is quite a growing list of unique Ferrari-based sports cars that now slot into this glamorous new-generation of coach building. The Ferrari 612-based GG50 was designed by Giorgetto Giugiaro as a "birthday present" to himself, the master craftsman receiving the Ferrari stamp for an indulgent project. Another famous Italian design house, this time Zagato, created the Ferrari 575 GTZ (based on the 575M) and this project has been produced in coupé and barchetta in very limited limited numbers: the first coupé was created for Japanese collector Yushiyuki Hayashi, the other recipients, and indeed the numbers, remain secret although at least one barchetta has been seen in public. Two high-profile projects, both one-offs designed and built by Pininfarina, the creators of the New Stratos, for U.S. collectors and presented in 2006 were the Ferrari 612 'K' (612 Scaglietti-based) for Peter Kallikow and the Ferrari P4/5 for (Enzo-based) for Jim Glickenhaus. Last year Pininfarina designed and built the targa-topped Ferrari "SP2" (599 Fiorano F1-based) the P540 Superfast Aperta, dubbed "the Golden Ferrari", for Edward Walson, the son of the U.S. founder of cable TV. Joining that exclusive list is the Ferrari SP1 (F430-based) for another Japanese collector, this time Junichiro Hiramatsu; this was designed by one of Italy's smaller design houses, Fioravanti, and the project was built by Coggiola and Ferrari. These are the unpublicised ones. There are several projects in the "SP" programme that have never seen the light of day, including a 599 Fiorano-based car designed and built by Pininfarina for a U.S. client which was inspired by a "retro" 410 Superamerica-look, two 599 Fiorano coachbuilt cars created for a Middle Eastern client which were built by Coggiola although the designer remains unclear and finally there are well-placed rumours of a FXX-based coachbuilt car that was sanction by Maranello as part of its "SP" programme although nothing has yet emerged.

The Stratos, although brushing alongside this bold list of Ferrari-sanctioned projects, simply tears this particular convention apart, as not only has its engine reportedly been thoroughly reworked, the donor chassis has been fundamentally renewed to create a much shorter wheelbase and greater chassis stiffness. And of course, being steeped in the ideology of the world's greatest rallying brand, it has no interest in seeking a Ferrari badge. Almost every component of the 430 Scuderia has been modified, enhanced, improved or replaced. So although this it isn’t an official Ferrari-sanctioned project or even a high-performance sports car that seeks to wear a Ferrari badge, the New Stratos’ very presence on the surfaces of Fiorano, the legendary 3,021 m private test track that Enzo Ferrari constructed at Maranello in 1972 and is the piece of asphalt that every single new Ferrari, be it production road car or full-blown racer, turns it first wheels on, was a simply a striking venue for the New Stratos to be seen in action at.

The New Stratos has already been benchmarked over the autumn against well-proven sports cars such as the Porsche 911 GT3 and Lamborghini Gallardo, running back-to-back tests at circuits like Balocco. Insiders enthused that it was significantly more dynamic in every respect, so in comparison to the 430 Scuderia donor with its much shorter wheelbase, lighter weight and significantly uprated engine, it must have been interesting to see how the laps times of the New Stratos at Fiorano worked out relative to the Ferrari – and the reaction of Ferrari’s engineers. Whatever the significance of this latest test, very few cars through history are invited to lap Fiorano at high speed, so it bestows on the New Stratos the seal of Ferrari – once again – exactly four decades later.

by Edd Ellison

ItaliaspeedTV - Ferrari Chairman Luca di Montezemolo test drives the New Stratos at Fiorano

Photos by Roland Ellison / All photos © 2010 Interfuture Media/Italiaspeed