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Renowned Watch Collector Branched Out to Purchase a Childhood Dream—a 1970 Lancia

Thomas Mao never thought he could be the caretaker of such an important piece of automotive history…

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During an RM Auctions sale at the 2011 Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este in Italy, THOMAS MAO, founder of the watch-collector community ThePuristS.com, raised his paddle and placed the winning bid for the 1970 Lancia Stratos HF Zero, a one-of-a-kind concept car that he had coveted since childhood. The car is now on long-term loan to the Indianapolis Museum of Art.

“I’m attracted to cars that are exceptional in their design and in their performance. I’d find it difficult to drive an ugly car, no matter how high its performance—but I would also get frustrated very quickly if I were driving a beautiful car whose looks promised more than the chassis or drivetrain could deliver. The Zero is widely recognized as the ultimate car of the wedge design language. It directly inspired the Lamborghini Countach, which was the ideal for a car-loving boy during the 1970s. And as outlandish and beautiful as its design is, the Zero actually runs. It drove from Turin to Milan on the autostrada back in the ’70s, and the sound from the car’s handmade custom exhaust is glorious.

“While I was wiping the morning dew off my Lamborghini Diablo VT during a road trip years ago, a passerby asked me, ‘How does it feel to drive a car that makes other people smile?’ That encapsulates why I acquired this car. It’s a transcendent vehicle, a seminal design that was—and still is—an inspiration. During the late 1960s and early 1970s, the automotive design houses Pininfarina and Bertone constantly tried to one-up each other by creating the lowest car. Pininfarina designed the Modulo, which looked like a flying saucer, and the Lancia Stratos HF Zero was Bertone’s retort. The car’s impact is so visceral and emotional that you can’t help but be wowed by it. Love it or hate it, you can’t walk away from it untouched.  

“Prior to the Villa d’Este concours, I never would have believed that I could be the caretaker of such an important piece of automotive history and design. I don’t consider myself a savior of any sort, but it would have been a tragedy if the car had disappeared into a private collection, hidden from public view. That’s why the car is at the museum. It was an inspiration in its time, and so long as it remains in the public eye, the Zero will continue to be an inspiration. Being able to share it and knowing that the car will inspire a new generation of artists and automotive designers is the greatest reward of all.”

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