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Monday, December 28, 2015

Hot Wheels Lancia Stratos

Small exotic cars from Europe have their own unique nitch: they're not fast or famous, but they still can look good and handle extremely well.  One example was the Ferrari Dino 246 that I reviewed last year, and another is a vehicle that shares the same underpinnings, the Lancia Stratos that returns to the Hot Wheels line for 2015.

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Like the Renault Alpine that i'll review in the coming days, Lancia was looking for a better way to be a better rally car than just making one out of your own product line and placing it in rally competition races.  Instead, a completely new car was devised just for rally races and a limited run was made for the streets.  Lancia started with a new steel space frame with integrated roll cage, then outline the fiberglass body with the wedge-shaped lines first seen on the Bertone-designed Lancia Stratos Zero concept car in the 1970's, and then contact Ferrari to order the 2.4L DOHC V6 from the Dino that produces 190 hp. through a 5-speed manual just behind the rear seats and voila, you got a rally car that was lighter, faster, and a winner on the rally circuits.  New rules for the rally championship ended the Stratos racing career at the end of the 1970's, but the car still carried on successfully in other races at the beginning of the 1980's.  Even a new Stratos was created in 2010, but the production plans were cancelled at the last minute.

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Hot Wheels released their Stratos casting in 2002 and what a looker it was.  It was as small as a Mini Cooper, as low as a supercar yet have plenty of ground clearance for rally circuits, and two different versions as well.  The first one was a simple red with Lancia badge on the front nose and gold PR5 wheels.  The front has the wedge-shape nose with radiator exit vents on the hood, small grille, pop-up headlights, and signal lights/foglights on the sides of the grille.  The cab has a wrap-around windshield just like a racing helmet, rollbar just behind the cab, and flared fenders to set off the wedge shape.  The rear has a louvered engine cover, duck tail rear spoiler that curves around the sides of the rear fenders, round taillights, central plate area, and dual exhausts below.  Indeed it looks that good!

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The interior has a race-like setup with left-hand driving position, seating for two that is really close together and really snug per Top Gear UK, and yes that V6 is powerful in a lightweight car that, if you're not paying close attention, can swing its tail around and spin you out (again, per Top Gear UK).  Now the 2002 variation also comes in with the same red and PR5 wheels, but also adds white, red, and green stripes on each fender area just above the wheels.  It gives this casting more flair and a little bit of racing as well.  For a full racing deco look at the 2003 version in yellow with number 52 and the Italian colors again joining the banner of sponsor names.  A color variation on the interior and rear engine cover from white to black with a more tinted window.  After that the car was very quiet until the resurrection in 2015 with a casting modification.

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The blue with orange stripe is the Hot Wheels trademark here and with the Hot Wheels logo on the sides gives the Stratos a racing appearance, and those orange 5-spoke wheels look great on this car!  Now the changes: The lower front grille is now part of the metal body and is now larger, the hood vent is much more sharper in detail, and the rear now incorporates the rear plate with the plastic base and personally I wish the exhaust was bigger as now there's a lot of blank real estate between the exhaust tips and plate area.

It's great to see this small, sleek, and fast car back in the line and not even a few minor cost-cutting trims on the body can still mess with this sleek rally car winner.

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