Rooftop Rendezvous: The Ferrari 512S Pininfarina Modulo & Lancia Stratos Zero Meet In Turin
Photography by Rosario Liberti
The Lancia Stratos HF Zero and the Ferrari 512 S Modulo appear to have more in common with machines that fly than the ones that don’t.
As automobile designers and manufacturers prepared to shed the shapely radii of the 1960s in favor of a pointier future, concepts like Marcello Gandini’s Marzal for Lamborghini and his Carabo for Alfa Romeo sired fresh appreciation for the aesthetics of doorstops and led the new wave of wedge styling. The world was rife with new ways of interpreting itself during the headiest years of free love and cheap drugs, and even the less with-it folks at motor shows were coming around to the notion that a sports car didn’t have to look like a lozenge or a fuselage in order to attain, and more importantly, convey, high speed.
Beach buggies and runabouts for bon vivants were also popular concepts during this transitionary period, but nothing spelled tomorrow quite like Gandini’s Lancia or Paolo Martin’s Ferrari. In addition to the bombastic visual payloads they delivered, these two one-offs were also linked to some of Italy’s greatest racing machinery. One led to an all-conquering world rally car while the other was constructed around the mechanically gutted remains of a circuit racer meant to travel on smooth surfaces at well over 200 mile per hour pace. Let’s start with the latter.
The Ferrari 512 S was conceived to contest the 24 Hours of Le Mans and the rest of the World Sportscar Championship and was homologated in time for the 1970 season, but at the big French test of endurance that year none of the factory team’s four entries made it to the finish line on Sunday afternoon. Porsche occupied all three steps on the podium, and in the following year Enzo opted out of Le Mans and decided to instead fit a Group 6 prototype shell over his three-liter Formula 1 car to get a head start on the looming rule changes, leaving his customers to continue on with the big five-liter 512s for a bit longer.
Most of these were converted to the honed modificata spec, but Ferrari hadn’t sold all of the surplus 512 chassis he’d had to build to satisfy the FIA’s requirements, and as such decided to make use of a few of them overseas.
Number 27 from the batch was never raced in the WSC in Europe, and the factory converted it to make its racing debut in the American Can-Am series as a 612P, where it held a larger 6.2L version of the 5.0L V12 from the 512 S it started as. Like just about everything else on the grid, it couldn’t keep pace with the Chevy V8-powered McLarens, and ultimately led a very short career as a race car. Upon its return to Italy, Ferrari removed the guts of the engine and gearbox and gave the rest to Pininfarina to play with. Under the keen attention of head stylist Paolo Martin, it assumed yet another identity as the Modulo.
When it was “finished” (it had all the pieces to be functional save for the guts of the V12 and the five-speed gearbox), the Modulo featured a massive sliding glass canopy that granted access to a Kubrickian sci-fi-scape of an interior complete with a pair of symmetrical but ergonomic assortment of seating pads, a Go Go Gadget steering wheel, and two black hemispheres moulded from bowling balls to house the ancillary controls. Contrary to popular belief, its front wheels enjoyed their full range of motion without rubbing the arches, but without a working mill to move it along that fact didn’t really matter—in one older video of the car, it is only shown in motion because it was pushed down a hill.
The Modulo received a color-change to white early in its life, but besides the respray the concept stayed pretty much exactly as-is until 2014, when Ferrari collector and SCG founder Jim Glickenhaus became its second owner after Pininfarina finally let go. Since then, he and his chief mechanic Salvatore Barone and the rest of the team assembled to give life to the Modulo have made sure that the buttons in their bowling bowl holsters are all working properly. They’ve also got the 550hp V12 back to 512 S spec and running for the very first time, ever. It is fully road legal, fully operable, and though it wears the same bright yellow-orange plates you might find on an NYC taxicab, we meet the Modulo in Turin, at the old Fiat Lingotto factory, where it is joined on this special day by a car with the exceptionally rare power to bend attention away from the white wedge.
Fiat finished building its unique production plant with a test track for a hat and opened it for production in 1923, made a lot of cars, made a lot of money, and bought its Turinese neighbor Lancia in 1969. One year later, Nuccio Bertone’s design house revealed the fully-operable Lancia Stratos HF prototype—the “Zero” part was only an internal moniker at the time, to be tacked onto the end later on, and the “Stratos” was cut out of its original name, Stratoslimite.
The figurative cover was removed at the Turin Motor Show in October, where the car became a veritable gravity well of oohs and aahs. Its side windows were at ankle height and similar in size to your modern day microwave door; the engine hatch was a stack of louvered triangles cadged from something spacefaring; the green grid instrument panel looked like it was cut out of the very drafting table it was conceived on; the seats called to mind huge Hershey bars daubed black and melted into position; and the steering wheel and its tilt-away column looked like a contraption that a cig-chomping carney might shove into position to keep people from flying out of Vomitrons.
The press adored it, and a lot of its members championed the Stratos as a successful response to the Modulo unveiled in Geneva earlier that year, but, as the story goes, Bertone and Gandini embarked on their project with a more straightforward set of goals.
The one that everyone loves to regale the uninitiated with is the apparent design brief: to simply answer the question of how close the designers and engineers could get the roof of the car to the bottom of its tires while still fitting a human-sized shape in between to work the controls. Anecdotes of the Stratos limboing under the closed gates at the Lancia factory are corroborating pieces of evidence of this being a job well done, but as the man who designed it, Gandini, recalls, the height of the car was a supplementary part of its base purpose to establish a relationship between the automaker and the styling studio.
It’s a less-fun origin story, but it makes more sense when you consider how much of this drivable concept’s mechanical DNA was spliced together from the Lancia parts bin, and that it was powered by one of the manufacturer’s famous acute-angle V4s, which was allegedly borrowed from the same Fulvia 1.6 HF that lent its double wishbone front suspension assembly to the rear of the Zero. Whatever the driving force behind the concept was, it birthed a collaboration between the two companies in Turin that brought about the Stratos HF Stradale, which would go on to win the World Rally Championship three times in a row.
Seeing the Zero and the Modulo together again, in the city that both were designed in, exploring the near-holy factory of not just Turin’s but Italy’s most successful car brand is enough to make one feel a little reverent. The presence emitted by this pair is hard to wrestle into an adequate description that won’t read like schmaltzy praise, but being around them in person for an afternoon must be similar to a visit from a flying saucer late at night; you’re not sure exactly what you saw, but you aren’t soon going to forget it either.