Yes, it may not have six wheels and it's as boring as toothpaste, but the Lancia Thema 8.32 is actually quite the strange beast. There's no point in hiding its killer feature: an electrically-movable rear spoiler, integrated into the trunk lid.
Ok, that's not what makes this car special…though it certainly helps. Many of you will know that this Lancia—remember Lancia?—had a Ferrari heart and front-wheel-drive.
With an engine borrowed from the Ferrari 308, this 2,728-cc V8 engine made a maximum of 212 horsepower—with the figure dropping slightly in the so-called 'phase 2' cars. The engine was tuned differently for sedan use, though the all-important 0-100 km/h run was done in just 6.8 seconds. Don't tell anyone that the far less expensive 2.0-litre turbocharged 16-valve 4-cylinder Thema was almost quicker in a straight line, though…
A period, not particularly decisive review (linked to below) had an interesting passage on its performance that I'd like to share:
"It will reel off 0-60mph in a fairly ordinary 7 seconds plus, but then it really starts to get into its long-legged stride and will demolish a standing quarter-mile in around 15 seconds and 100mph in 16.5."
In my eyes, the 8.32 is Lancia's last hurrah, one last stab at staying relevant against 80s German V8-powered luxury sedans. In Italy, the onslaught—500E, S6, and M5—must have felt like a Blitzkrieg. Somehow, impossibly, the market really wanted drab, grey German sedans, and even if buyers weren't up for a Porsche-fied Merc, they could at least take comfort in the vault-like surroundings and car phone-fitted interiors of even the most plebian E Class.
Actually, the Porsche-Mercedes 500E is a useful comparison for this car. Ferrari built all of the early motors, stamped the block "Ferrari", and only later outsourced construction to Ducati…with '80s Ferrari quality control staff present. Maybe it wasn't given the same engineering attention as Porsche lent to its 500E program, of course, but both companies tried.
Now, after the Germans were soundly surprised and trounced by the Japanese—IE, Lexus—in the '90s, the market seems a world away from an era when all luxury buyers demanded was a nice interior, Ferrari engine, and understated looks.
We live in a world of big wheels and aggressive body kits, shouty exhausts and carbon fibre badging. The Q-Ship is dead—unless you're the pantomime Alex Roy—and even Lancia Thema 8.32 aficionados estimate there are fewer than 50 of these cars still in top working condition. There are many more out there, of course, but like an old Citroën given to a Ford mechanic, cheap shortcut fixes under the skin will eventually fester and fail in spectacular fashion.
Lancia has always been about engineering prowess, but after the Thema and original Delta Integrale were killed off, it became a shell with which to hock tarted-up Fiats and, now, Chryslers.
What I want in a car: a great powertrain and understated exterior. Looking at the 8.32, I must admit that it appears as though enthusiasts have lost something. Capable, understated cars are extinct, and I'm starting to feel as though the 8.32 represents the last of its breed.
(If you don't care for hyperbole, and you don't mind beige, the 8.32 is now easily matched—if not on the top end—in performance by a beige V6 Toyota Camry…)