As we carve through the Italian Alps, there's plenty of sheer rock for the sound to ricochet off, and when the road opens out again, a vast, mist-cloaked vista rolls out below us. The Stratos pops, bangs and farts its way along, the very essence of explosive fuel/air internal combustion, but underpinned by a thrumming six-cylinder timbre that sounds like 1974 in mechanical form. In the Car versus Mountains battle, nature usually wins. But not today. Today, nature is being kicked in the nuts.
Sunrise is almost upon us, and following this snarling little black beastie, savouring that sound as it strafes the Dolomites and devours the road, is already right up there in my catalogue of life-affirming moments. But you know what they say: you wait ages for one Lancia Stratos to come along, then two turn up at once.
You might recognise the other one: it's the 2010 one-off car, driven by TopGear all too briefly and very carefully – at Le Castellet circuit back in issue 213. Bankrolled by German tycoon Michael Stoschek, we thought that was a pretty special day. But Mr Stoschek decided we ought to have another go, this time on a public road – one of the best in the world, in fact - in the company of his original Stratos. In so many ways, this was an offer we could not refuse.
Not that it is a casual day out for Mr Stoschek. He doesn't really do those. No, today is about commemorating an event he helped to organise back in September 1986, when 67 Lancia Stratos convened at the Hotel Armentarola in San Cassiano, Italy, to drive the epic Sella Ronda in convoy.
It took the team a year to set up, and it's an event he remembers with obvious affection. Walter Röhrl turned up, along with then Stratos kingpin and Lancia competition boss Cesare Fiorio. "The local police even closed the roads for us," Stoschek says in slight disbelief. (Later, we watch a video of the Stratos world rally, a festival not just of amazing cars, but also of hair, alarming leisurewear, and socks. "Don't mention my white socks!" Stoschek says.)
Socks apart, Stoschek is quite a guy. Having taken control of the family firm, Brose, which supplies key components to the car industry – virtually all of the car industry, as far as I can work out – back in the Eighties, he has grown it by a factor of 100. Brose now employs 20,000 people worldwide, working out of 49 different offices, and had a turnover last year of €4.5bn ($5.8bn). As a younger man, Stoschek was Bavaria's number one horse rider, and the 13th best in Germany. When a man like this asks if you fancy a day in the Dolomites with some cars, you agree.
What you don't do is crash. Or have a ‘moment', of even the teensiest proportions. "Remember, this car is worth €5m [$6.5m]," he says over the New Stratos's in-car comms system, as another gigantic tourist coach lumbers down the hillside towards us. Hands glazed in perspiration, my grip on the wheel is so vice-like I'm worried my knuckles are going to pop right out. "Yes, Mr Stoschek," I mumble, "Don't worry, I remember..."
Trouble is, this thing – a genius carbon-fibre facsimile of the legendary original – is absolutely not a car that wants to be driven slowly. In fact, it's probably one of the most aggressive cars I've ever driven, which would be fine by me were it not for its immense value, rarity (one only – that's pretty rare) and the fact that its billionaire owner is sitting about a foot away from me 2,300 metres up a bloody mountain. What's the worst that can happen? My thoughts exactly. I would die, then be killed again for good measure.
This is one of those cars that doesn't just accelerate, it beams itself down the road.