I was there to do a story about the Bertone BAT11 concept that you can read about in next week’s mag, a handsome recreation of one of the company’s 1950s one-offs. The venue for the story was Stile Bertone, the company’s design centre, housed in a wonderful architect-designed building which features a wing full of Bertone’s most famous car designs.
The classic collection reads like a world’s best list - Alfa Giulietta and Montreal, Lamborghini Miura and Countach, Lancia Stratos, Iso Rivolta — and all kept in running order.
After an hour or so chatting, Bertone’s Scottish-born design director David Wilkie made the offer of a life-time: “We could get a couple of cars out of the collection for you to drive if you’d like...”
What to choose? No question really, it had to be the Miura, the first mid-engined supercar, and a car I’ve lusted after since I wore short trousers. And a second? Go on then: the Lancia Stratos, which I first glimpsed in well-thumbed copies of Autosport magazine in the days of black-and-white pictures.
Given that it hadn’t run for a while, the Stratos fired-up pretty easily. When the Miura wouldn’t catch, Bertone’s technicians did the obvious and jump-started it....with the Stratos. Is that a Guinness record for an exotic jump-start?
Myself and an equally-chuffed snapper Stan Papior each had a run around the grounds of the design studio.
The Miura had the star quality you’d expect of a 1960s Italian supercar — arms out, legs bent driving position, little rearward vision, unassisted steering that was heavy at parking speed but lightened-up as we got quicker, a gearchange that required firm yet accurate pressure and brakes of dubious bite, even at very low speed. The engine was terrific, running pretty smoothly, if noisily and all accompanied by four-star fumes. Fabulous.
Just getting into the Statos’ cramped cockpit was hard enough: I am in even greater awe of rally maestros like Sandro Munari who tamed the tiny Lancia. I still can’t work out how they squeezed in a roll cage and left room for the driver and navigator to wear helmets.
On our short track, the Stratos was amazingly nimble. With deference to its age and value, I wasn’t exactly pushing it to the limit – but I could still sense the fabulously sharp steering would devour Col de Turini hairpins with a flick of the wrist. The fabulous Ferrari V6 was as eager as when it was new, there’s no doubting the Stratos is still supercar-quick.
What a great day.