Allow us to introduce you to ‘The Duck’. Steeped in American road-racing history, this 1976 Lancia Stratos HF has, in recent years, fallen into a sad state of disrepair. Taken with its fascinating provenance and mind-blowing documentation, we acquired the during the summer. And now we’re going to bring you along for the ride as we go about restoring this unique Stratos back to its former glory...
We know what you’re thinking. That we must be crazy. In all honesty, that’s probably not untrue. But after discovering the fascinating story of this Group IV-specification Lancia Stratos HF, understanding the extent to which it was documented by its mere two owners, and losing yourself in the sheer disrepair, we defy anyone who even remotely shares our enthusiasm not to fall head over heels in love with this car.
Unusually for a Stratos, its story was forged not on the special stages of the World Rally Championship, but rather on the history-steeped road-racing circuits of the United States of America. Originally built as a Giallo Fly road car with a Bleu interior (hence why it became affectionately known as ‘The Duck’), the car was acquired new by the Oklahoma-based entrepreneur, Ferrari dealer and oil industry heir Anatoly ‘Toly’ Arutunoff.
“Unusually, this Stratos’ story was forged not on the special stages of Europe, but rather on the history-steeped road-racing circuits of America.”
Arutunoff was the youngest son of the Russian émigré Armais Arutunoff, who’d built a sizeable fortune after inventing the world’s first submergible oil pump. A reportedly charming and colourful character, ‘Toly’ had begun racing in 1959 and, over the course of the next three decades, earned a number of accolades both stateside and in Europe.
On a brisk November morning in 1976, Arutunoff arrived at the Lancia factory in Turin to personally collect his new Stratos HF, for which he’d paid the princely sum of 13,542 US dollars. Adorned with the temporary export registration ‘EE 74313’, this car was driven through the night to Cherbourg in Northern France, where it was loaded aboard the S.S. Queen Elizabeth 2 and set sail for New York.
It gets better. Arutunoff took this Lancia fresh off the boat after its maiden voyage and drove 1,400 miles through thick snow and treacherous ice to Tulsa, Oklahoma. During the transatlantic crossing and with several hundred Stratos miles under his belt, ‘Toly’ had already begun to think about what special modifications he was going to make to his new car to make it as user-friendly and, perhaps most importantly, competitive on the racetrack as possible. Almost unbelievably, we have Arutunoff’s hand-written notes about the car on the S.S. Queen Elizabeth headed paper.
“Arutunoff took this Lancia fresh off the ship and drove 1,400 miles through thick snow and treacherous ice from New York to Oklahoma.”
We digress. This Lancia was duly converted to Group IV endurance road-racing specification by Automobiles International Incorporated in Oklahoma, which, as our documentation shows, consulted closely with marque specialists in Europe such as University Motors.
What followed were nine years of competition in the below-two-litre GTU category right across the United States, encompassing all the great American endurance racing classics, from the Daytona 24 Hours and the 12 Hours of Sebring to the Watkins Glen Six Hours and the Road America 500 Miles. Each event was fastidiously documented by Arutunoff – he kept everything. Hand-written set-up notes comprising circuit-specific gear ratios and tyre pressures. Event itineraries. And technical passports. Everything.
There is only one thing better than hindsight, and that’s foresight. And good old ‘Toly’ had it in spades. In 1986, ten years after his epic cross-continental maiden shakedown, Arutunoff parted ways with his beloved Stratos. This chassis was acquired by its final private owner, one Bennett Smith from Texas, who, save for a handful of regional race meetings, seldom used the car.
“There is only one thing better than hindsight, and that’s foresight. And good old ‘Toly’ had it in spades.”
In recent years, this Lancia has sadly fallen into a sad state of disrepair and in August of this year, the car was offered for sale in California, which is where Girardo & Co. enters the fray. After Max, Marcus and Davide had spent a frankly inordinate amount of time crawling over every inch of the car and poring over the fabulous competition history and the sheer quantity of documentation (the like of which we’ve never seen with a Stratos), we took the decision to acquire the car, with a view to comprehensively restoring it.
Fast-forward to October and, having made its way back across the Atlantic for the first time since 1976, the car was delivered to us here at Belchers Farm. So, what’s next? Well, we’re about to embark on one hell of a journey as we go about restoring this Lancia Stratos HF back to its former glory. And we’re going to bring you, our clients, friends and followers, along for every step of the way.
There will be blood, sweat and tears, but we’re confident that they’ll be worth it. And the thought of finding it a fantastic new home, only its third in almost 50 years, is positively exciting. Watch this space!
Photos: Alex Lawrence / The Whitewall for Girardo & Co.