Jay Leno has plenty of Italian supercars in his collection, but he'd never driven a Lancia Stratos. Until this 1975 Stratos HF (short for "High Fidelity") rolled into his garage, that is.
Inspired by a 1970 Bertone concept car, the Stratos was the first purpose-built rally car, kicking off an era of innovation and one-upmanship that hasn't been seen since. The Stratos remains one of the most successful rally cars in history, with 18 World Rally Championship (WRC) victories. It raced in the WRC from 1974 to 1981, when it was replaced by the Lancia 037 Group B car.
As with other WRC cars, Lancia had to build a certain number of road-going versions to homologate the Stratos for competition. But where most rally cars before and since were based on ordinary sedans and hatchbacks, the Stratos was a bespoke two-seat, mid-engine affair.
1975 Lancia Stratos HF on Jay Leno's Garage
Lancia built 492 road cars for homologation, according to Leno. The car featured here is one of them, despite the decals and rally lights. It's powered by a Ferrari-sourced 2.4-liter V-6 that makes 190 hp in road-car spec.
Notable quirks of the Stratos include ledges in the doors to hold helmets, a slide mechanism for the windows in place of winders, and a very short wheelbase that helped increase agility for rally stages, but also makes the car a bit twitchy on the street, according to Leno. Based on his reactions to driving the Stratos, he didn't seem to mind.
The car featured here belonged to the late John Campion, a car collector with a fondness for Lancias, and is now owned by Stratas Auctions. Lancia itself withered under the stewardship of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA), which recently merged with France's PSA Group to become Stellantis. It's unclear what plans Stellantis has for the legendary Italian brand.