Remembering Attilio Bettega Lancia 037 Stradale

Destiny. Sometimes it can be ironic, surprising or even shocking. This time, it had a strange surprise for me. In fact I had the honor of taking a rare Lancia 037 Stradale out for a spin on the gravel and tarmac roads outside Brescia. It was May 2nd 2016. On this day, 31 years ago, Attilio Bettega and Massimio Perissinot died in the same car while rallying on Tour the Corse. I must say that this is the sort of coincidence that surprises at first and then makes you cringe at second. I confess that did not think about this in the first place. In fact, I was there to experience one of my dream cars! I eventually discovered it later: this gave me the chills and made me think how special that day was and how lucky I was to experience one in the flesh, in real life.

The Lancia 037 is a special car. It’s rare, yes, but it is one of those few cars that fall into the “homologation special” cathegory, meaning is only a step away from the real thing. Of course, the difference between the Group B spec 037 and this road going “Rally” version is immense, but if you want a rally car to drive on regular roads, this is what you want to get. Inside the cockpit you feel like you’ve been thrown back in time, in 1982 on a testing session in the outskirts of Turin. With your hands you touch and feel what Lancia and Abarth were capable of, 30 years ago. By looking at the mid mounted Volumex-equipped engine and at the exposed rear structure I just think about the great ingenuity of Eng.Claudio Lombardi and Sergio Limone. It is so cool to see. Sitting in the driver’s seat with the open door you rest your left arm on part of the stiffening structure: this really makes you feel like a Lancia Works driver waiting for the go, before the race. At this point it’s not that difficult to imagine Cesare Fiorio on your left side, discussing with you race strategies and the car’s handling.

Everything on this car feels race-ready. You have your three spoke leather steering wheel, the exposed fuse box and if you look through the rear window you realize you’re seat is inches away from the engine. Rear view is also dominated by the giant black spoiler, identical to the one found in the Group B spec car. This particular feature is very desiderable nowadays yet it was a bloody expensive option for the time: it used to cost about 3 million Lire (about 3000 Euros nowadays).

On the outside, the car feels nothing like the tiny Beta Montecarlo on which it was based, as it is lower, wider and with a muscular looks. The 037 or the “Zero”, the nickname used by Lancisti, was initially based on the middle section of the mass produced Beta. It has the same lower sills but completely different front and rear structure, made out of robust steel tubes to accomodate the different front suspension architecture and the longitudinal mounted 2 liter straight 4. This unit came directly from the famous and successful 131 Abarth: on this particular car, it featured a dry sump lubrication system and a roots supercharger (aka he Volumex) which lowered the center of gravity and increased power output to 205 bhp in the road going version. Also found in this 037 is the Weber two barrel 40 mm carburetor. Paired to the engine is a ZF 5 speed “5DS25” dogbox.

Despite 205 bhp do not sound as much power output in 2015, they surprise by their sharpness. By stomping on the throttle, you appreciate the lower rpm torque and the eagerness they have to rev up to the redline. At 4,000 rpm the cockpit is pervaded by the signature whine of the supercharger as the cars enters the full “torque zone”. It pulls and pulls with anger and the sound and the experience is just exhilarating. There is nothing, and there will be nothing like it. It’s so unique. In honor of Attilio and with our hearts to Maurizio, who survived (but sadly died the year after) the terrible accident on the 1985 Tour de Corse we rev the engine to the redline. Because silence is sometimes offensive for a lost race car driver.

We took this car out on both gravel and tarmac, and it proved to be a capable car on both situations. On public roads, its ride is not super harsh as you would expect and the occupants can have a bit of comfort, provided also by the beautiful velvet seats. It sits low on the ground and it has a neutral behaviour in both cornering and acceleration, with little body roll and nose yaw. It understeers on tight corners: if you drive it hard around a roundabout, the front tires struggle to get the grip and the whole car shakes for the lateral acceleration. It is not bad though, as you can kill it with opening the steering angle to come out of the corner. This will make the car predictably pass from understeer to a controllable oversteer. Control it with quick and precise steering wheel imputs and with a bit of throttle. Nothing too bad I think, as the chassis always proves to be perfectly balanced and stiff enough to withstand high lateral G acceleration forces.

Despite being an agile and fantastic road car, the 037 proves its worth on gravel. In fact, during our testing, I felt the car incredibly stable during stand still accelerations and it does have good grip, even though the tires were from 1982! When taking up in speed, it just wanted to dance between each corner, and it inspired confidence in its handling, yet we did not want to push the car too much. The scream of the supercharger is in your ears and is just mesmerizing: when all power is unleashed at 4000 rpm, it feels like the car is launching into another dimension. In fact, the 037 is a throwback in time. By listening to the engine noise and feeling the incredible balance of the chassis, you just think about the early eighties, when Abarth was building and designing these cars in Viale Marche, in Turin.  You just think how cool cars used to be back then and how capable Italian engineers were. It’s easy to dream when you’re sitting inside such a car: you feel like Markku Allen and you can easily picture the white and blue Martini Racing livery instead of the orange one.

The 037 is the ultimate dream machine for rally fans and any car enthusiast. It is so special. Being inside one is one of the ultimate car experiences. It is the quintessential sports car: extreme, fast and bloody sexy. Thinking that it was the only competitive Group B car with 2 wheel drive and won against Audi is just emotional. The 037 is one of the best cars I’ve ever driven.

We thank our Friend Andrea Lussana for the amazing experience.

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