The test we're revisiting today came six years after the Stratos's WRC programme proper was curtailed and followed two previous experiences we'd had with the car.
It happened because we described the new Audi Quattro of 1980 as "the world's fastest rally car" — an assertation that John Warner, whose The Chequered Flag team had independently run a Stratos in a British Rally Championship dominated by the Ford Escort RS, took exception to.
He claimed that "given traction, the Stratos would be the faster car in a straight line — if not throughout the mid-range". He also suggested that we might like to see "just how quick a Stratos could be with a four-valve-per-cylinder engine installed, a unit (using cylinder heads derived directly from the Formula 2 V6) which was run before new rules prevented such evolutionary changes in the rally cars".
Fortunately, a private owner of a road-registered Stratos with the 24-valve engine offered his car for comparison. The benchmarks would be the timings for the Quattro, as well as rallying versions of the Vauxhall Chevette, Talbot Sunbeam Lotus and Opel Ascona.
In order to fairly compare the rally machine and the 24-valver, The Chequered Flag prepared the latter to a comparative spec, with Tarmac rally suspension, ventilated brake discs, plus 8in and 10in-wide, 15in-diameter wheels shod with 345/35 rear and 225/50 front Pirelli P7 tyres.
For non-WRC obsessives, the Stratos's mechanical make-up was thus: the car was a mere 12ft 2in long, with a square-section steel tube chassis containing a cockpit just big enough for a six-foot-tall driver. Fore of him was double-wishbone front suspension and aft of him a MacPherson struts with a wide-based lower wishbone for location.
Power came from a 2.4-litre, 65deg dual overhead cam V6, taken from Ferrari's Dino 246 GT and sitting crosswise atop the drivetrain casing.
Dynamometer readings from our 1982 test showed that "the 12-valve rally car made 255bhp at 7800rpm and 183lb ft at 5000rpm, while the 24-valve engine turned out no less than 294bhp at 8500rpm". We continued: "The power curve rises steeply from 5500rpm where this fabulous motor is already turning out 200bhp. It revs to 9000rpm. All that in a car weighing 975kg with nearly full tanks. The rally car tipped the scales a little heavier, at 1016kg, and that was with very little fuel on board."
We set about the test with "a set of gears that would give 108mph at the 8000rpm limit and thus do the rally car justice". "Getting the temperatures up seemed to take an age," we said, "but this gave us time to reacquaint ourselves with the Stratos's controls and to master the rather awkward gearchange."