Imagine walking into Automobili Lamborghini in the summer of ’1965. Bearing witness to the artistry of an elegant 350GT rolling chassis, freshly delivered by Touring, being married to a Bizzarrini-designed V12. Watching the machismo of young men given free rein to let their imaginations run free. The heat and noise. The sheer energy of the place.
Only a precocious, daring environment such as that could give birth to the Miura – a car that looked at Issigonis’s Mini and re-purposed its ingenuity with a transversely mounted V12 engine pushed back to the middle of a sports car chassis. A car conceived and engineered in a few short months, then wrapped in that sinfully beautiful Bertone bodywork.
It was a magical time, no question. Yet Giampaolo Dallara, then still in his twenties yet already technical director of this vibrant young company, knows well that the relentless development speed of the time led to many mistakes. When we caught up with him recently as he took delivery of his freshly restored Miura he suggested he’d love to show the young engineers at his own company, Dallara, the manifestation of the impetuousness of youth.
‘I’ll show them how we built one of the most amazing cars in history while making so many mistakes with safety – or the lack of it,’ he said. ‘Putting too much weight over the back and using four tyres of the same size… I’ll make them laugh when I tell them how Ford’s R&D department bought one and sent us a picture showing how, during their test, the metal bar linking the suspension bent.’ These were the times of trial and error. Of drawing boards, hungry carburettors and top-speed runs in the dead of night on unlit autostrade. A handful of young men working on their instincts.
Like the Miura, the new Dallara Stradale was developed in a matter of months. It, too, uses a mid-engined layout with a transverse motor to centralise the mass, and could only have been conceived and developed in this place: Dallara Automobili’s incredible facility in Varano de’ Melegari, Italy. Over 50 years later, though, the breathless, accelerated development process of Dallara’s new baby wasn’t powered by naïvety, ego and espresso but by CFD, simulators, wind tunnels and cutting-edge materials technology. This first road car to wear a Dallara badge brings together Giampaolo’s personal Chapman-inspired obsession with lightweight construction and his company’s world-class experience in aerodynamics, computer-aided design and, of course, carbonfibre.
So what exactly is it? In simple terms the Stradale is a compact two-seater mid-engined roadster with a carbonfibre tub, a 2.3-litre turbocharged Ford-sourced four-cylinder engine, and either a six-speed manual or six-speed paddleshift transmission. Suspension is by double wishbones at each corner. Despite its ‘Stradale’ billing, this car is as at home on track as it is on the street, and there are options to swing the focus more sharply towards lap times should you so desire. Its physical footprint shares a wheelbase with a Porsche 718 Boxster, but it’s barely longer than a Mazda MX-5 and it’s as wide as a BMW M3. In the raw it looks low, wide and dramatic from the rear, a little awkward from the front. Form, it seems, has been dictated mostly by function.
Dig deeper into the numbers and you start to understand what this car is all about. It weighs 855kg dry, the engine produces 400bhp and a fulsome 369lb ft, and this little car has huge performance. Dallara claims 0-62mph in 3.25sec and a top speed of 174mph. More impressive still is the aerodynamic performance. Even without the track options, the Stradale produces around 400kg of downforce at its maximum speed. Go for the big rear wing – which allows the front diffuser to be switched on to balance the aero loads – and that figure leaps to over 820kg of invisible force squeezing the car and the tyres into the surface. Now imagine the spring rates required to support that level of downforce… It all sounds a disaster for driving on the streets that give the car its name.
And yet, once I’ve stepped over the bodywork (doors would only reduce aerodynamic efficiency and add weight) and threaded my legs into the narrow footwell, I find a car able to handle the lumps and bumps of rural Italy with remarkable poise. Yes, the ride borders on uncomfortable at very low speeds, but once you’re past 20mph or so the suspension finds its range and the Stradale breezes along on an endless wave of easy torque.
Riding alongside me is test-driver Loris Bicocchi, a man who started his career at Lamborghini and has built his own myth and legend ever since. Like Dallara, his hands and his sensibilities have touched so many cars: Bugatti EB110, Pagani Zonda, Dauer 962 and, most recently, the Bugatti Chiron. ‘Of course I wanted to be involved with this car,’ he says. ‘Mr Dallara is like family and he’s a genius. I feel honoured to be a part of the team.’
Loris is a fascinating character, softly spoken but with weight in every word. His fingerprints are evident in everything the Stradale does. Fluidity, consistent steering response with no ‘edges’, and seamless body control are his trademarks, and this platform provided the perfect tool to ply his craft. You sense the rigidity of the carbonfibre structure, how it frees up the suspension to work with absolute precision. The steering is unassisted, yet it feels smooth with very little kickback as it paints a vivid picture of the surface and where the limits of grip lie.
Our time on the road is short, and it’s a weekend. So our coastal test route has attracted bikers from far and wide. They love the Stradale, popping wheelies when they see it or waving us on encouragingly. But it only takes the sudden appearance of one Panigale fully cranked-over on a blind corner to know that this isn’t the place to explore the Stradale’s limits. Instead, I just enjoy that deliciously tactile steering, the car’s dazzling agility and its huge, instantaneous acceleration between turns as I breathe in the cool air and the views of the Adriatic sea. Dallara himself dreamed of a lightweight car built purely for the joy of driving, the sort of car you’d pull out of the garage on a weekend to seek out a road like this. So far, so good.
Dallara’s younger engineers wanted that, too. But they also wanted to demonstrate the company’s capabilities in rapid CFD modelling, dynamic set-up work via F1-style simulators and, of course, their cutting-edge aerodynamic skills. Remember, this is the company that supplies the entire IndyCar grid as well as GP2 and GP3 chassis, Formula E, World Series by Renault, and Indy Lights. Oh, and Dallara designed and builds the Haas F1 machines. So we’re heading to the Nardo test track to explore the other side of the Stradale’s character. And this one’s got wings. Before we go any further we need to discuss the ugly subject of money. The Stradale costs from €155,000 plus local taxes. And that’s just the start. Because you probably want a windscreen, for €16,600. Maybe even the neatlooking Targa roof configuration with gullwing openings so you can use the car for longer trips and in any weather? That’s another €15,000.
Now, let’s deal with performance options. It’s seems a no-brainer to get the suspension that lowers into a more aggressive Track mode at the touch of a button (€3800) and sooner or later you’ll want to visit a racetrack to try it out. So you’ll probably want the stickier Trofeo R tyres (€1900). Once you’ve really got to know the car you might as well unleash its true aero potential with the big rear wing (€9500), too. Now we’re up to €201,800 plus tax, circa £206,500 at today’s exchange rate. Up to 600 Stradales will be built, arguably a pretty ambitious target.
The car waiting for us at Nardo has the windscreen, suspension, sticky tyres, big rear wing and some cool swirly prototype graphics. It looks sensationally tough and you sense every scuff and scrape was hard won around the amazing 3.8-mile handling track that’s coiled into one small corner of the vast 7.8-mile oval. The Stradale’s other test driver – ex-racer Marco Apicella – will be our guide. ‘The car has very strong aerodynamics,’ he says. ‘Trust the car and enjoy the track. It is an amazing place.’
It turns out that’s an understatement. I’d heard good things about Nardo’s handling track from various engineers, test drivers and journalists, but to experience it first-hand and in a car with such phenomenal capabilities is something else. Turn One is a long, long left-hander that disappears out of sight behind trees and the Stradale approaches it at around 140mph. Apicella is ahead and we can communicate via intercom. ‘Don’t lift,’ he says. ‘This corner is flat.’ I may have lifted a bit. And possibly braked.
Later there’s a fifth-gear jump where the Stradale gets a little airborne before a hard braking zone for a third-gear left. Soon after comes a blind crest into a fifth-gear left-right, and so it goes on. I’m living on my nerves but the Stradale is well within its comfort zone. With all the aero addenda the chassis feels very different but the same traits – consistency, balance and stability – are still very evident. With full aero loads, the steering weights up markedly, but the rack feels quicker to respond as the Stradale’s supple, almost playful road demeanour is replaced by something more serious, locked down, ultraprecise. It’s an eye-widening, heart-thumping experience and deeply, deeply impressive.
Even with the pops and crackles of the optional Race exhaust system, though, the engine remains more a device to make the Stradale go very fast than a living, breathing, crucial part of the experience. It’s just not that special. The brakes also need work. They’re very powerful, but an initial dead travel leads to an abrupt, clumsy actuation at odds with the polish of the rest of the package. Also, this track car has an optional paddleshift ’box (another €12,900, thank you very much), which should be faster and smoother.
Apicella and Bicocchi know it and they’re working on these issues even as customer cars are being delivered. You sense that they care about this stuff deeply and each is trying to home in on the perfect compromise. After my laps I splutter some words of awe and fear but Apicella is simply examining ways to go faster. ‘I would like it stiffer for the track,’ says Marco, ‘but Loris has to make it work on the road. It is a constant back-and-forth.’
But they’ve already produced something special. The grip and stability on track are simply extraordinary and it would take many, many hours to feel you’re truly operating the car to its full potential. I guess that’s part of the appeal. The simple challenge of raising your game. So how will the Stradale be remembered? That’s hard to predict. It lacks the ingredients to become a Miura-like icon, despite being so much more complete, so much faster and more capable. It won’t kickstart the Dallara badge as a new supercar power, either. Why compromise your core business of engineering and supplying chassis for the likes of Bugatti, Alfa Romeo and Lamborghini for a small slice of a small market, when you already work with its biggest players on so many projects?
However, the Stradale is an object of great pride for the team who created it, and a great advertisement for Dallara Automobili’s multi-faceted capabilities. More than that, though, it’s the realisation of a dream for Giampaolo Dallara. It’s his car, built in a new facility on the site of his first workshop, literally in his own back garden.
An indulgence? Perhaps. But with Miura, Stratos, Ferrari 333 SP, Pantera and dozens more road and race icons on his CV, it’s a well-deserved one. Giampaolo Dallara’s 80th birthday was marked by his first encounter with his newly restored Miura, the car that represents both his talent and how much he still had to learn. On his 81st, he took delivery of the first Dallara Stradale, the technical showcase whose thread leads all the way back to Sant’Agata in the ’60s.
The Stradale, just like the Miura before it, is about pushing boundaries while respecting the simple and timeless pleasure of driving for driving’s sake. And that’s something we can all celebrate.
From top Dallara (second from left) discusses a Cooper-Maserati with Roger Penske and Bruce McLaren; a visit from Enzo Ferrari; prototype Stradale on test; author Bovingdon recovers from tailing test driver and ex-racer Marco Apicella on track. From top Dallara in selfdesigned racer; with Jacky Ickx; showing a Miura to Colin Chapman and Jim Clark; taking delivery of the first Stradale. Above and below Stradale is playful on the road, deeply impressive on the track. You’ll want the optional windscreen…
‘LIKE THE MIURA, THE NEW DALLARA STRADALE WAS DEVELOPED IN A MATTER OF MONTHS’
‘WE’RE DOING 140MPH. “DON’T LIFT,” HE SAYS, “THIS CORNER IS FLAT.” I MAY HAVE LIFTED A BIT. AND POSSIBLY BRAKED’