From £130,0378
Pending a full road test, we taste Italian chassis maestro Dallara's first road-legal model on British B-roads
27 September 2019

What is it?

To fully understand the buzz around Dallara’s first road car, a flyweight roadster simply known as the Stradale, you need to know a bit about Dallara himself. 

Giampaolo Dallara’s trajectory was set when he failed to win a place reading mechanical engineering at the Polytechnic University of Milan. He settled for aeronautical engineering, which was a good choice, because Ferrari realised in the late 1950s that it needed motorsport engineers with a deep understanding of airflow. Already obsessed with racing, Dallara was hired and worked on the Ferrari’s Formula 1 cars and sports prototypes, plus the 250 GTO, before moving to Maserati, where the Tipo 63 ‘Birdcage’ made it onto an incipient CV that would become breathtaking. 

In 1963, at the age of 27, Dallara was poached by upstart Lamborghini and led the team that gave us the Miura. His decision to install the 3.9-litre V12 engine transversely was inspired in part by the layout of the new Mini; Alec Issigonis was a hero of Dallara's, if not quite to the same extent as Lotus founder Colin Chapman, who famously prioritised lightness. It’s no coincidence the Stradale weighs only 855kg without fluids.

As for how the Stradale weighs so little, you need to look at Dallara Automobili da Competizione, which Dallara founded in 1973 after working with Frank Williams on De Tomaso's Formula 1 effort. It has been a huge success story. Even decades after Dallara Automobili helped build icons such as the Lancia LC1 and LC2 Le Mans prototypes, which not even the Porsche 956 could match for single-lap pace, the company still ranks as a leading chassis builder in motorsport and consultancy.

Today, there’s barely a single-seater formula in which its hardware isn’t being used, though the main focus is Formula 3 and Indycar. Dallara has become a master of turning expensive ‘prepreg’ carbonfibre into fast cars, and but for its aluminium subframes, the road-going Stradale is built almost entirely from the stuff. 

Dallara long had ambitions to inject his firm’s expertise into a road car that anyone could drive, and on typical British roads, the result looks spectacular, if quite alien.

How to describe it? If they revived the Targa Florio today but invited entries that had somehow time-travelled back from 20 years in the future, those cars might look something like the Stradale. The panels are slick, the shutlines tight and the beady headlights angry, but the silhouette bears a resemblance to the Birdcage that Dallara helped design more than half a century ago.

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What's it like?

Not that you get anything as exotic as a Maserati 3.0-litre V12. Transversely mounted ahead of the rear axle is a 2.3-litre in-line four built by Ford and tuned electronically to 395bhp and 369lb ft by Bosch. It gives the Stadale a power-to-weight ratio to match that of the Porsche 911 GT2 RS, but because it’s so light, the car needs only cast-iron brakes from Brembo and does without power steering.

The six-speed manual transmission is also from Ford - a robotised version is optionally available, for a 40kg weight penalty - and there’s a mechanical limited-slip differential between the rear wheels. Our test car, borrowed from importer Joe Macari, is finished off with a set of expensive Pirelli P Zero Trofeo R tyres, which aren’t so much trackday tyres as the trackday tyres you choose to obliterate everything else.

At the back sits an optional carbonfibre wing that reduces the top speed from 174mph to 165mph but maximizes downforce. Overall, the Stradale makes an astonishing 820kg of downforce – 20kg more than a McLaren Senna, even though it has a much smaller surface area to exploit. There are wide intakes and broad bargeboards, but it’s the wing that truly muddles your perceptions. The Dallara is both narrower and shorter than the BMW 1 Series yet it has so much presence that you’d swear its footprint was more 5 Series.

Get up close you’ll notice the windscreen is dramatically domed, its extremities sitting well within the carbonfibre bodywork in true prototype style. The central wiper arm is then pure Group C racer (no, I never thought a windscreen wiper could be so evocative, either). There are no doors, but the sills are low enough to straddle easily, and Dallara has helpfully put written ‘STEP HERE’ onto recesses in the seats.

The interior itself is compact: essentially two chutes for driver and passenger to slip their legs down and some leather trim to soften the starkness of an exposed carbonfibre tub and take some of the sting of a €159,600 (currently £140,550) list price, rising to €233,000 (£205,200) for this car. Still, in the Stradale, the seats are essentially only padding fixed to the structure, so to get ‘comfortable’ you slide the pedal box by pulling a lever hidden away to the left. The steering wheel – with its little 320mm rim – then comes out a long way to meet you, and the gearlever – and I don’t say this lightly – is perfectly positioned. It’s a good driving position overall, if not quite Caterham Seven good.      

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The name means ‘Dallara for the road’, and that’s where we have it today, but the Stradale is really intended for the track. You learn this quickly. The coarse-surfaced pedals are weighty but the throttle sensitive and the clutch biting point both high and perilously thin. The brake pedal bites similarly early, is boosted considerably and generally feels calibrated more for 150mph hammerings than softer B-road inputs.

 Ford’s turbocharged engine booms loudly through Dallara’s sports exhaust, and the small digital display isn’t casual, but the cockpit is at least better isolated from vibrations better than most monocoque-based trackday specials. Because the front tyres are only 205-section, manoeuvring the car also becomes easy enough once you’re truddling along at walking pace. It feels open and raw in here, but the carbonfibre weave is so neat and the steering wheel so pro that you find yourself percieving the Stradale as luxury product, which of course it is. Shame about the Ford gearlever.

On the move, you start to realise just how good Dallara is at chassis. The steering is remarkable: feather light at speed but then linear as can be when the loadings increase and the resistance flows in, as it does generously. It’s a similar story with many unassisted setups, but there’s better-than-average finesse and delicacy in the Stradale's, and yet the double wishbones don’t deflect if you’re squeezed over towards the gutters or hit a rut. That seems like witchcraft when the sense of connection to the road is this rich, so while you’d expect a car like the Stradale to fight you on rough surfaces, the opposite is true.  

The quality of the damping, which is adjustable for rebound as well as high and low-speed compression, isn’t far behind. Here we have the suspension in its mid-setting, where at town speeds it can punish your backside severely, but once loaded up, it supports the tub as though it were suspended on a giant expanse of thick, taut clingfilm. Just like the steering, it’s never fighting the road and allows generous vertical travel but almost no roll through corners. This lack of roll is made all the more impressive, because the front tyres grip like limpets and make it easy to work the chassis eye-poppingly hard through second and third-gear corners. The unity with which this car corners is also startling, the rear axle tracing the front like its midday shadow.

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Should I buy one?

Today, the main takeaway from driving the Stradale is that there’s an absurd level of untapped potential. And some of that potential will remain untapped. Bosch has done a good job of tuning Ford’s engine to be more responsive and powerful any Focus RS owner would recognise, but it’s no patch on the scalpel-sharp Toyota V6 in the Lotus Exige Sport 410.

The same applies to the gearbox, which is fine for a red-hot hatchback but lacks precision in the context of a thinly disguised trackday special. Perhaps Dallara should have taken Ariel’s lead and gone to Honda instead, with its oversquare VTEC engine and phenomenal gearshift. Maybe next time. 

The tappable potential lies in the chassis. On the road, you get supreme balance that leads to huge grip, which then results in very little understeer before the rear axle starts to rotate, with the driver’s coccyx as the centre point. That feels fantastic. The steering is almost perfectly transparent and the chassis simultaneously benign but more capable and serious than you’d ever need.

The Stradale is expensive compared with certain rivals and lacks an evocative powertrain, but it’s also a landmark creation for one of the most respected names in the business and sublime on the right road. It might well also prove mindblowing on track. 

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Dallara Stradale specification

Where Bedfordshire, UK Price €159,600 (currently £140,550) On sale Now Engine 4 cyls in-line, 2300cc, turbocharged, petrol Power 395bhp @ 6200rpm Torque 369lb ft @ 3000-6000rpm Gearbox 6-spd manual Kerb weight 855 (dry) Top speed 165mph 0-62mph 3.3sec Fuel economy tbc CO2 tbc Rivals Lotus 3-Eleven, BAC Mono R, Radical RXC

Join the debate

Add a comment…
randdy123311 30 October 2019


I like this a lot

Gazzathehutt 18 October 2019

Buy a Zenos E10R and save yourself £160k

The Zenos E10R has the same engine, same weight, same (lack of) creature comforts and is quite exciting enough on the road.  The Dallara will be quicker on track by virtue of its aero but not sure the driver will be having £160k more fun.  Also, would you rather take a £200k toy on track or a £40k toy?

289 27 September 2019

For that money....

..... you could have an Ultima Evo or RS fully built to your spec. At least that would have a real engne!

D-B 28 September 2019

289 wrote:

289 wrote:

..... you could have an Ultima Evo or RS fully built to your spec. At least that would have a real engne!

Would be a trading a small step up to a ''real' engine for a big step down in chassis sophistication and competence,

289 29 September 2019

@ D-B

....and you base this opinion on what.....?

How many miles have you covered in an Ultima Evo/RS?

D-B 29 September 2019

289 wrote:

289 wrote:

....and you base this opinion on what.....?

The fact that Ultima has zero competition heritage, other than a few kit car races in the early days, compared to gridfulls of Dallaras and on the rare occasion an Ultima has managed to be tested by a respected driver or journalist it hasn't come off that well.