This is a Lancia Stratos, except it isn’t. Sure, from the outset, it looks pretty much like the Bertone styled masterpiece which dominated the World Rally Stage in the mid-seventies, but it is in fact a Lister Bell STR. Available in kit form from Lister Bell Car Specialists in the UK, the STR is something really special, and in the case of the one featured here, the closest most of us will get to owning a genuine Lancia Stratos.

For Paul Duncan, the Stratos was always THE car. Growing up, he was captivated by the Bertone wedge shaped body, the noise of the Ferrari Dino V6, and the fact that in the hands of Sandro Munari and Bjorn Waldergaard, its rally legend. Having a been a Lancia fanatic for nearly all his life, he has owned a Delta Integrale and a Fulvia. When Paul found out about the Lister Bell STR, he knew he could finally make his Stratos dream come true.

“The Stratos has always been the car I have wanted ever since I can remember, however, it was hard to find a genuine one, so when I found out about the STR, I knew that dream was within reach,” says Paul.

It took Paul a year or so from placing the order to the kit itself arriving on his door step. Paul would work on the Stratos most weekends throughout the four-year build process, but due to an accident a year ago, it took a while longer than he first thought.

“When I was working shift work at Air New Zealand, I was able to work on it for eight hours straight for one day during the week. However due to a back injury some time ago, I was off from work and any physical activity, which mean the build process took a bit longer than expected.”

Now, one of the biggest challenges all car buffs face, is when they announce to their family, they intend to build a car of their own, but Paul’s family were just as excited as he was. “My wife has been very supportive during the build process, even though she had openly admitted to our friends and family, she is a Stratos widow,” Paul laughed.

When you see Paul’s STR for the first time, it really is difficult to distinguish it from the real deal. Paul’s skills as an aircraft engineer were thoroughly tested during the build process, but boy does the finished product blow you away.

“The biggest challenge of the build was the body itself,” says Paul. “It took a lot longer than expected as I had to sand the whole body, and then polish it with four different coats of polish.”

Paul’s STR is as close as you will get to having the real thing in your garage, little details like genuine Lancia badges, gauges and Bertone insignia are just too cool. Flip up the bonnet, as per the real car, and we find the STR’s beating heart, a 2.5-litre Alfa Romeo V6, mated to an Alfa six-speed manual gearbox out of the 156 Saloon. Now, the standard V6 is fine enough, but Paul’s addition of GTA inlet runners, bring power to 200hp, roughly the same as the original Ferrari Dino V6.

This STR also features steel steering arms made by Paul’s work colleague, because the aluminium ones supplied by Lister Bell are not legal in New Zealand, oddly. Paul has also fitted air conditioning, but when you see the switch-gear, it looks just like should always have been there.

The real Stratos came with a snug cockpit to begin with and the STR is no exception. A dead giveaway this Stratos was home built, boils down to the fact it is right hand drive, as all genuine Stratos’s were left hand drive only. A technique is required to get in without straining any muscles, and it goes like this. First, bum on the sill, swivel your body around legs first into the drivers footwell, then proceed to slide into the seat, not unlike that other Italian pin up, the Lamborghini Countach.

Of course, once this happens you then realise you need to hunt around for every belt of the STR’s four-point race harness, which is when this writer realised, he was sitting on the buckle as he got in. Once you are all buckled up and looking ahead, you realise just how cocooned you are in the STR. You basically wear that wrap around windscreen like a pair of dirty dog shades, and everything is within easy reach. However, one of the biggest Stratos calling cards is the driving position itself. The pedals are slightly offset to the steering wheel, leaving your legs slightly splayed off to the left.

All that is now required on your part is turn key and let that 2.5-litre Alfa V6 erupt into life, and boy does it do just that. Blip the throttle, and its really not hard to go into full Sandro Munari mode. First gear is selected, clutch depressed and we are moving.

At cruising speed, the STR is amazingly docile and doesn’t feel intimidating to drive by any stretch of the imagination. Obviously, this is no day to day hot hatch, but the STR can thrill you on the morning commute like almost nothing else. Also, if you own one of these, you will become very knowledgeable of all shop windows in your area. However, Paul seldom takes his home built Stratos into built up areas, unless for a car show.

The road to from Rangiora to Ashley Gorge in North Canterbury is one of the most exciting drive roads in the greater Christchurch area, combining fast straights and long sweeping bends, with huge drops and rises with tight switchback corners cascading through trees and over gorges. Welcome to Stratos country.

Open the taps, and the lack of weight make itself known very quickly. Instant throttle response allows you open it up to full chat with ease, allowing the STR to shoot forward like Usain Bolt on Red Bull. That Alfa V6 is nothing short of sublime, the power delivery is very linear, and with it working hard basically right behind your spine, you feel an organic part of a machine.

Oh, and that glorious V6 howl right up to the redline at 7,000rpm is one of the automotive world’s best operatic masterpieces. Sure, the Dino V6 from a real Stratos sounds terrific, but the STR sounds very similar indeed, not bad for what some would dismiss as being a ‘mere replica.’

However, when you are carrying that amount of speed in the STR, you need to be awake. On the straights, even the slightest movement of the wheel means you change direction, so you are constantly gripping the wheel, almost fighting the change in direction, in a straight. The STR Stratos commands respect at speed, therefore, one does need to be fully aware of one’s surroundings and factor in how much sleep you had last night.

However, when you are focusing on the job in hand, you find yourself eating up bendy bitumen with biggest grin imaginable. Paul sat quietly next to me, while he let me push his baby a bit harder, but in my mind, he could have been reading out pace notes as we barrelled along this tarmac special stage.

The gearbox is a short sharp throw from gear to gear and in the bends, well let’s put it this way, you can corner like a housefly. Set it up for the bend, and the slightest flick left or right, and you are round it, almost instinctively. You do need to stand on the brakes and the ride is quite firm in places, but then again, isn’t that part of the definitive rally experience?

When one hears the term ‘replica’ all manner of petrol heads will either turn their nose up, or look on in amazement. In my opinion, some replica cars can leave a great deal to be desired, but on the flip-side, there are a number of home-built cars out there which are just as good, if not better, than the car it is meant to replicate.

Such is the case with Paul’s Lancia Stratos by Lister Bell. After four years of toil, tears and sweat, this one of a kind Stratos recreation is nothing short of spectacular. “The best thing I like about it, other than it being my dream car, is the fact I built it. I know every part of it inside and out, and I would never get rid of it.” One can’t really argue with that.

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