Imagine for a moment, we live in 1970. The Boeing 747 made its first commercial flight; The English rock group The Beatles has just announced its separation; and NASA’s Apollo 13 returned to earth after major problems. The average family car is a three-box design, and enthusiast models typically offer performance by increasing engine capacity over their commuter siblings.
When the Lancia Stratos HF Zero concept was unveiled at the Turin Motor Show in 1970, it was a revelation compared to anything on offer. Passing this car at the 2022 NEC Classic Motor Show a few weekends ago, I almost completely missed it considering how small it was.
Prior to the Turin event, Italian car design houses Bertone and Pininfarina had, for a short time, sought to outdo each other, each unveiling their own concept car. The Bertone-designed Lancia and the Pininfarina-designed Ferrari 512S Modulo faced off in 1970, but the Lancia was ultimately the more extreme vision of the future. It was also a fully functional concept, whereas the Ferrari was not.
The Zero measures just 84cm (33in) to its roofline, a challenge Bertone took on to see how high a car could be built. It also had practical significance, aiding aerodynamics. Bertone sought not only to break the pre-set rules of what a car should look like, but also to provide insight and ultimately usher in a new era of automotive design.
The headlights include numerous bulbs along the front edge, with the taillights hidden in the circumference of the tinted red plastic around the rear.
Rearward vision is somewhat limited, with a center exterior mirror and small side mirrors tucked into the rear of each wheel arch.
Lifting the triangular engine cover exposes the 1.6L V4 engine good for 115 hp. The engine, gearbox and entire subframe and suspension were taken from a crashed Lancia Fulvia at the Lancia factory. This transmission was chosen mainly for its low bridge height, inclined at 45 degrees.
The interior is no less unobtrusive than the exterior with the hinged windshield linked to the steering wheel by a hydraulic linkage, so that one tilts, the other too, allowing slightly more ingress and egress. easy. No, there are no doors as such.
The dashboard dials are hidden in the panel to the left of the driver, along with the rocker controls for the most part.
Having a more than passing resemblance to the Lancia Stratos HF is no coincidence. Although not a direct forerunner, the Zero generated enough interest that Lancia management on the top floor continued the relationship with Bertone and eventually greenlighted the Stratos as a production car.
Today, this one-of-a-kind Stratos HF Zero lives with its owner in the United States, who has a penchant for what can best be described as “wedge” cars. The equally extravagant Aston Martin Bulldog also resides in his care. The Zero was in the UK as it had just undergone a light restoration here.
I don’t believe we’ll ever live to see another era in which such creative automotive visions for the future will take place. Although safety naturally comes first, most cars these days are run by the finance department first and the design department second, which is a shame. This glimpse of what could have been is certainly not bad.