University Motors was established in Genoa, in its current premises in Via Majorana, at the end of 1971.
Mauro Ambrogi, the founder, with his great professionalism, results, and the specific “race car preparation”, allowed the Genoese auto body to rank at the top of national competition car preparers.
Mauro began his career by working for a few years in an workshop in Genoa, where he was already involved in motorsport preparation; in 1971 he started working at University Motors, specialising from the very beginning in the preparation of rally cars. The first car is a Mini Cooper, and like all first loves he never forgets, and therefore never abandons it; in 2002, with a Cooper S, University Motors wins the Italian Historic (endurance) championship led by Enrico Questa, and the last car in preparation is an Austin Mini Cooper S with which he wants to take part in the Rallye de Montecarlo Historique in 2021.
The 1972 marks the meeting with the Lancia cars, Renzo Magnani, Mauro Pregliasco and Giacomo Pelganta are the ones to lead the cars prepared in the Genoese auto body in rallies.
The University links up its name with the cars of Turin until the end of the 80’s, by preparing cars for the two most important Italian teams, the Grifone and the Jolly Club, and for several private individuals. The 70s are marked by the fantastic Lancia Stratos. A car that brought University Motors to the pinnacle of fame…
In love with this car and thanks to the Grifone and the Jolly Club, which have believed in this auto body, Mauro studies and develops this car obtaining extraordinary results on a par with Lancia itself. Fifty years later, everyone still remembers the roar or, as many people say, the “music” of Stratos University, sound obtained with the creation of the 6-in-1 exhaust, without forgetting the injection engine, designed, developed and tested in the Genoa test room. The story continues with the Lancia 037, (the most important one prepared for Francis Serpaggi, with whom in 1983 they obtained a 10th place overall and first place among the private teams in the Rallye de Montecarlo) with the 131, the Abarth formula, with which the University won the championship in 1981 thanks to a very young Emanuele Pirro, then there were the Fiat Ritmo Totip and the Uno Totip with the young Tony Fassina and Alex Fiorio, up to the Lancia Delta, where Franco Cunico won the Italian title.
With the end of the Lancia Delta, the University’s rallying period also came to an end. Due to various circumstances and customer requests, the University moved to the Italian and European racetracks, preparing the Sierra Cosworth for the Superturismo, Ferrari 355 for the Challenge, Lotus Elise, Honda Integra, BMW M3, Alfa Romeo 147 Evo and Ferrari 430, building a single Alfa Romeo GT in a 24-hour special configuration in 2007. There is no need to list the results of these decades which have been numerous and important. Nigel Mansell, Alessandro Nannini, Attilio Bettega, Mauro Pregliasco, Jean-Claude Andruet, Fabrizio Tabaton, Tony Carello, “Tony” Fassina, Emanuele Pirro, Mario Simone Vullo, Franco Cunico, Alex Fiorio, Paolo Andreucci, Ferté, Oscar Larrauri, the names of the most famous drivers who have entrusted their vehicles to the expert hands of Mauro Ambrogi. Just at the end of the 90’s and early 2000’s, Mauro began to look back and rediscover his passion for historic cars, starting from exactly where he had started: MINI COOPER S for the Challenge Championship of Historic Cars. In 2008, after winning the ETCS championship with the Alfa Romeo GT and the class in the EGTS F430, without any development project Mauro decided to retire from the racetracks, which had become too expensive and risky, and started having fun again with historic cars…. The passion for mechanical adjustments takes over and University Motors is reborn from where it started. In 2011 a new challenge… to return to rallying with a Stratos at the height of competitiveness….. A challenge accepted not only by Mauro but by all the staff who worked hard in 2011 to get back on track the very car that had made the Factory famous all over the world. Mauro took up his manuscripts of the time (which he had jealously guarded for many years) and began again to study how he could improve while remaining faithful to the historical chip and the regulations, but using new working techniques. Exactly 40 years after the debut of the first Stratos at the Tour Auto, University Motors brought the Lancia Stratos back to the top of Europe, winning the 2013 Tour Auto Optic with Erik Comas and Isabelle De Sadeleer, more than four hundred victories and the same number of podiums in almost 50 years of activity are a business card that the members of the agile Genoese structure proudly display.
More than 250 victories …
- 1971 G.2 mountain championship
- 1975 TRN Rally Championship
- 1977 England Champions Cup
- 1979 Fiat Day Classe 2000
- 1980 Formula Fiat Abarth
- 1980 Tour of Italy GT
- 1981 G.N Zone Rhythm Championship
- 1985 Panda 4 × 4 Ice Snow Championship
- 1985 Trofeo Uno Fiat Rally Championship
- 1987 Rally Championship G.N
- 1997 Cooper S Historic Championship
- 1999 Cooper S Historic Championship
- 2000 6h Vallelunga Silver Cup
- 2001 24 H Nurburgring GN
- 2002 Italian Historic Car Challenge Championship
- 2008 ETCS 24H Sp.2.0
- 2008 EGTS GtOpen
- 2012 Rally of Sanremo G4
- 2013 Tour Auto
- 2013 Mille Miglia Ladies Cup
Some of the most significant podiums
- 1972 Italian Rally Championship Fulvia HF G4
- 1973 Fulvia HF G4 Zone Rally Championship
- 1975 Italian Rally Championship Lancia Stratos G4
- 1976 Italian Rally Championship Lancia Stratos G4
- 1977 ZRW Rally Lancia Stratos G4 Championship
- 1978 Italian Rally Championship Lancia Stratos G4
Intervista Mauro Ambrogi
Endowed with great flexibility, she has collaborated over the years with important car manufacturers and contributed to the success of numerous drivers.
“In 1971, with my brother Roberto and Nick Bianchi, we started this adventure. At the beginning we were developing the Mini Cooper, and that same year we won the Mountain Championship with Marco Dal Bello and Franco Capietti, the latter at the wheel of a Ford Escort BDA ”
After just one year, Nick Bianchi is called by Audetto and Fiorio to collaborate with the Lancia Racing Team: that transfer opens the doors of “Universtity Motors” to a fruitful collaboration with the Turin car manufacturer.
“In 1972 we started working on the Fulvia: the first was Giacomo Pelganta’s HF, which raced with the colors of the Grifone. I attended a Turin course to understand all the secrets of that car: back then there was only the HF in racing for the Chivasso brand. “
Then came the Beta Coupes:
“For the whole of 1973 we still worked on the Fulvia, the Group 4 of Pregliasco, and the Group 3 of Magnani and Billia. The following year, Lancia commissioned us to develop the Beta Coupé and the first example to come out of our workshop was the one driven by Metha at the Sanremo Rally. Then came those with the injection engine for Carello, Ambrogetti, Cavallari, Magnani and Codognelli. The parenthesis with the Beta lasted only a year, then Lancia abandoned the project to make way for the Stratos. “
At this point you too have concentrated your interest in the new born:
“In 1975 we prepared the first Stratos for Carlo Bianchi, who also won the Elba Island Rally. Other private drivers turned to us to set up a car in Group 4 and it was the turn of Alessandro Cola and Gian Franco Billia who in the meantime had left the Beta. “
Even if university motors cannot be defined as a true research and development center for the Lancia Corse Department, the relationships with the manufacturer and the passion that Ambrogi and his team have always lavished on the evolution of cars, has meant that the he Genoese workshop soon became a melting pot where technologically advanced solutions were studied and tested.
“We mostly did experiments – Ambrogi points out – which we then punctually paid for in the race! We were the first to install the injection, the pinless ignition of the Magneti Marelli, we also built a double ignition cylinder head. All for passion, for the desire to seek the best performance for our customers.”
Was there a modification that “signed” the models of university motorss?
“In addition to the modifications I have already told you, which were perhaps more difficult to recognize on the car, there was certainly the 6 in 1 exhaust, which was instead easily identifiable and which distinguished all our cars, except for the first one, that that Bianchi used on the Island of Elba in ’76. “
What were the advantages of this solution?
“On the test bench they had verified that the traditional exhausts (3 in 1 coming out of the two banks, ed) raised the torque a little too much. Using injection, the exhaust that we had studied (built by OMP) ensured greater power at low revs and thus the car became more progressive and easier to drive. Inside the muffler we then created compensation chambers that avoided the annoying power shortages: in this way, the roar of the engine was also more silenced. I remember, however, that at the first exit with the modified exhaust, at the San Gaicomo di Roburent, Carello’s car did not
it still had the silencer and so the Stratos roared sounded like that of a motorcycle: it was so exciting that when we modified the exhaust, many enthusiasts asked us to go back to the old solution. “
Was the use of the Kugelfischer injection also the result of your work?
“It was just one of our experiments: the intake manifold was built on the instructions of engineer Materazzi. The carburetor version was more violent in acceleration than ours, which became, as already mentioned above, more progressive you could make the most of the available horses. “
How many exactly?
“270 to 7,600 rpm with the 12 valve version, but the power available at 3,000-4,000 rpm could already be used well.”
Always cheaper than the 24-valve engine …
“Keep in mind that for the advantages I have just listed, a rider like Tony Carello did the same times as the official Stratos that had the 24 valve engine … If we had ever worked on that solution, we would have” pulled out “a boat of horses ! Instead, at the end of 1977 the regulation changed and nothing was done about it. “
Was that just what stopped you from working on the 24-valve cylinder head?
“It was also an economic question – he admits – not all of our client-drivers could afford an economic investment of that kind. As with all processing, it was possible to work in stages: you could choose to mount only four molded pistons, or equip the engine with the initiation, and so on. Already the Lockheed braking system was a drain on its own: however, with those powers it was necessary to brake, otherwise it would only slow down … When in 1978 the regulations changed, for us and for our customers, there were only advantages: we went back to play the game on equal terms. ”
University Motors also prepared the Stratos that raced across the Channel with the Checkered Flag colors: was the preparation the same?
“No, those Stratos didn’t have injection but Weber double-barreled inverted carburettors: the choice was dictated more by comfort than by technology. We did not provide assistance in Great Britain and therefore they chose this solution considering it, rightly, more manageable in the race. ”
As a trainer, what were the strengths and weaknesses of the Stratos?
“It was a wonderful car, but one of the” physical “flaws was the difficulty of adjusting the set-up: then there was the gearbox … If it broke you would go home …”
The cascade of gears, however, represented an advantage:
“Yes, yes, thanks to the possibility of quickly changing the ratios it was possible to always have the“ right gear ”, but if the gears were wrong, it was point and head. The teeth matched but the modules did not and so it would either get stuck or crack. Fortunately, then, the problem was solved by using a “guide” to engage the gearbox that forced the entry of only one gear. ”
Your clients have been pilots of the caliber of Tabaton, Carello, Pittoni, Bettega, Andruet, Vudafieri, Coleman: many important names:
“I would say that we were the Lancia nursery: mostly young drivers were entrusted to us to develop. Just think of Carello, Bettega, Cunico, Tabaton. Then as soon as they grew up they took them away from us … ”
Were they difficult “customers”?
“The car was performing: Carello and Tabaton were very fast. Carello was less wrong, Tabaton instead was too impetuous and it took longer to reach maturity. However, you have to know that the drivers, almost all of them, if they go fast it’s because they are good, if the times don’t come it’s the car that’s wrong … ”
Many, however, were the private drivers who turned to university motors to win at the wheel of the Stratos: which of these do you remember with greater affection?
“No, don’t write this down – he laughs – the pilots are sensitive, then they get offended …”
Which of them impressed you with ability or tenacity?
“They were all riders of great value: Bettega, however, in my opinion, was the most tenacious. Maybe because he came from the “mess tin”, no one had given him anything and to get to his level he had struggled a lot and made many sacrifices. ”
There are also many foreigners such as the French Serpaggi and Ravot, the Spanish De Bragation, as well as the English drivers of the Checkered Flag team. Do you have any memories of their exploits?
“I felt a strong emotion with Sepraggi at the Tour de Corse: he had always been strong in Corsica, it was his home race, but at the time the specials were also 40 minutes long, on impossible, winding and very dangerous roads. Along one of these, Serpaggi remained in the lead for three-quarters of the length, then in the last few kilometers he suffered a physical collapse: at the end of the test he lost consciousness while he was still sitting in the car … Fortunately, Dr. Bortoletti was nearby who revived him giving him one of his providential “concoctions” to allow him to continue. Private pilots, no matter how good they were, had limits, mostly of physical preparation, towards professionals: this is an example. ”
Mauro Ambrogi continues to dig into his memories: what was the greatest emotion you felt with the Stratos?
“The Stratos was a constant emotion: when I finished the preparation work, I left the workshop to go and test it in person. I had studied a circular route that allowed me to try it properly: driving it was really exciting! I went up to Recco and returned to Nervi after putting the engine, trim and brakes on the whip. Today they would arrest me for much less … ”
Among the competitions in which you followed your customers, which was the most exciting?
“Definitely the 1979 Giro d’Italia with Tony Carello: a race that was so tight it made me tired like a whole season. We arrived at the end of the stage in the evening, worked all night and left the following morning. Carello could have won that year, but then some sugar ended up “inexplicably” in the tank and so … ”
A bad memory in a good experience … Were there certainly other disappointments in your life as a trainer?
“No doubt! Big and small. Like the 1976 Italian Championship, when we lost the title by a few points with Bianchi’s Stratos. ”
For the record, another Stratos won that year: that of “Tony” Fassina …
Interview by Gianni Mininni