The Stratos story began with an over-the-top 1970 Turin show car, the Stratos Zero, a pure wedge. However improbable its appearance, it was a running car, with a Lancia Fulvia V-4 engine behind the seats. A legendary story tells of Nuccio Bertone showing up for an appointment at the Lancia factory in it. Being refused entrance, he simply drove the thigh-high car under the waist-high barrier and went to the meeting that ultimately resulted in a production contract. In a complicated Italian combinazione, a specific fiberglass-body rally car was developed that carried the Stratos name but not the Zero's shape or mechanical components.
Bertone built two preproduction aluminum-bodied Stratos examples, one using a Lancia Beta in-line four-cylinder engine, the other a Fiat/Ferrari Dino V-6. It's not widely known that Gandini did the entire design, not just the body shape, determining package, wheelbase, chassis structure . . . everything that made the Stratos such an overwhelming rally winner through the '70s. He says that it was lighter and faster with the Abarth-tuned four-cylinder than with the heavier V-6, but Cesare Fiorio, Lancia's competitions manager, insisted on the bigger engine. Perhaps that had something to do with Fiorio's subsequent job at Ferrari. Or Fiat's desire to amortize the iron-block V-6, which was put into series production for a Ferrari Formula 2 car.
Gandini showed his car drawings to Nuccio Bertone in 1963, but Giugiaro, Carrozzeria Bertone's principal designer at the time, opposed hiring him. When Giugiaro left for Ghia in 1965, the twenty-seven-year-old Gandini was called in. He stayed with Bertone for fourteen years, seven of them as an underpaid stylist (his first design was the lovely little ASA 1000 "Ferrarina" coupe). Then he served as, first, creator of Stile Bertone in the Turin suburb of Caprie, then as general manager of that center, responsible for show cars, contracts, prototype construction, and staff. He was better rewarded then, but he says wryly that on Bertone's part, it was probably "more a question of shame than love."
In our talks, Gandini was clear that his design interests are focused on vehicle architecture, construction, assembly, and mechanisms - not appearance. "Just styling is not fun," he says, and he stopped doing pure styling years ago. Asked about other design activities, he mentioned a house in Corsica that he designed and built, then sold, as well as a nightclub interior - "happily, it burned," he says now. I had known of his lovely one-man helicopter design, the Angel, of which a few hundred units were built, but I didn't know that Gandini had been an active ultralight pilot, parachuting instructor, and delta-wing-glider enthusiast in the 1960s. "Flying is too expensive," he says now, so he doesn't do it anymore. Still, he continues to think about flying machines, and he showed us drawings for a 36-hp, one-man helicopter weighing only 156 pounds, plus a two-place development of the Angel with an innovative, purely aerodynamic, no-moving-part antitorque system that functions solely by main-rotor downwash.