The Lancia Stratos Zero concept car, designed by Marcello Gandini, the great master of the wedge, wowed the world when it was unveiled in 1970. This past weekend, this legendary show car took the honors and appeared on frozen Lake St. Moritz.
There is currently a lot of discussion about the unknown objects that reside in the stratosphere. But despite its intriguing alien appearance, this wedge-shaped creation is neither a case of high-tech espionage, nor a weather balloon, nor even a UFO from a galaxy far, far away. However, we like to think that when it was unveiled during the 1970 Turin Motor Show, viewers must have looked at this car with the same amazement as the ape creatures depicted in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001 sci-fi classic: A Space Odyssey. A mysterious black monolith. After all, this futuristic concept car looks like it was carved from a solid piece of metal, flat as a flying saucer, and so different it might have come from somewhere outside our solar system.
In fact, Bertone’s “Progetto Zero” mission was to reinvent the Lancia brand and surprise the manufacturer’s executives with an exciting successor concept, following in the footsteps of the cars that, with their wedge-shaped shape, had already revived car design: Alfa’s Romeo Carapo Marcello Gandini designed for Bertone in 1968 and the Ferrari Modulo created by Paolo Martin of Pininfarina and unveiled at the Geneva Motor Show in the spring of 1970. When the skins were pulled from this Lancia, the car was officially called the “Stratos HF”. Nuccio Bertone originally wanted to call it Stratolimite – “the limit of the stratosphere”. These frontiers of the stratosphere are inspired by space age design while at the same time suggesting the universally fantastic possibilities of interstellar travel. Eventually, the creation became famous under its internal moniker: Zero.
It is reported that months ago, Nuccio Bertone himself took the wheel of the Zero onto public roads to meet Lancia executives and discuss a more realistic sports car project that would evolve into the Stratos Stradale. While the production Stratos bears little resemblance to Marcello Gandini’s dream, its role in Lancia’s revival and subsequent rally success cannot be overstated. Nevertheless, the Stratos Zero is likely one of the most iconic creations in automotive history.
This past weekend, the Lancia Stratos caused quite a stir when it was presented at ICE St. Moritz at sub-zero temperatures. The owner, California-based car collector Philip Sarofem, even took the test car for a few laps on the frozen lake ice track—a sight of an orange wedge hurtling through the snow with mountain peaks as a backdrop we won’t soon forget. You have to imagine: unleashing a one-off concept with fragile technology, hardly any ground clearance and only 84 cm of height on an icy lake is undoubtedly the stunt of the year. In the end, Philip rightfully received the Best of Show award of the year for daring a game-changing show in the middle of the Alps.
We at Classic Driver have had the pleasure of seeing the Stratos Zero in the flesh on a number of occasions after it was auctioned off at RM Sotheby’s in 2011. In 2018, the Stratos Zero generated great excitement among spectators and jurors at the Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este. Shortly thereafter, Philippe Sarofem and photographer Kevin Van Campenhout gave us the chance to meet the gorgeous Wedge in the south of France. This time, on a Sunday morning after The ICE, Kevin and I had another opportunity for a tête-a-tête with Zero – a photo session in freezing temperatures against the breathtaking view of the Swiss Alps. And sometimes, the wildest dreams come true!
Photographs: Kevin Van Campenhout
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