The year was 1977 and the first Gioretto Giugiaro and Walter de Silva designed FSO Polonezes just started rolling off the assembly line in Warsaw. Those were not only the pride of the factory but also of the nation – everyone wanted one. Meanwhile Poland’s best rally driver just wrecked his Lancia Stratos and thus missed out being named the European rally champion. While the car was totalled, the drivetrain and parts of chassis were salvaged.
This set of cicumstances created a marketing opportunity for the new car (even if there was a ten year waiting list for it) and a new source of potential national pride (call it propaganda). It required a ton of red tape and the blessing of some high ranking but otherwise irrelevant officials to allow the project to commence. Finally, the Lancia chassis mated with a Polonez body and the Stratopolonez was born. In the fall of 1978 the mid-engined “Stratopolonez” entered its first race. Despite the lack of any kind of prior road testing or even a proper alignment, and the three spin-outs in encountered during the race, the Stratopolonez has won the race.
In all fairness, the victory of that race may had more to do with the lack of equal compatition, but a win was a win.
The FSO engineers cut out the rear floor out of the Polonez, inserted the engine and transmission, and built a tube chassis around it in the rear of the car. In the front they installed a radiator of Polish STAR truck. They extended the rear fenders and put 330mm wide tires onto the Stratos wheels. The brakes and suspension was also a straight swap from the Stratos, and the the Polonez body received some extra vents all around.
The 260hp 2.4 liter V6 from the Stratos (and the Ferrari Dino) received a boost of twenty-five horsepower from reworked intake and exhaust systems. And that was just about the extend of of race modifications. Why did a conversion which would take any good old boy few weeks in his home garage took a facotry over a year? Communism: lack of resources, tools, and everything else wrapped around in a bureaucratic tape.
The Stratopolonez was raced up until 1985, often seen along side of cars such as Porsche 911 or Renault 5 Turbo, the heavy hitters of te era. Obviously only one was made, because there was only one wrecked Stratos available. It currently resides in the Museum of Technology in Warsaw.
With 0-62mph in between 5 and 6 seconds and the top speed of 155mph, the Stratopolonez was competative for its time. However, it was not easy to drive. There was a significant lack of downforce, imperfect suspension geometry, and poor weight distribution which resulted in snap-oversteer.
Now… imagine showing up to a LeMons race with an old Polonez that pays homage to this car. A old Polonez chassis can be picked up for free. I’m thinking a Fiero engine in the middle but I am open to other suggestions.