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Lancia Thema 8.32

Right Keith, this is your last lump of Italian metal for a while – make it a good one!

Hearing the news that the Lancia marque has effectively been put out to pasture has left me feeling a little bit numb. When Fiat boss Sergio Marchionne gave his much-anticipated press briefing about the the future of Fiat, Chrysler and Alfa Romeo last week, no mention was made of Lancia, nor were any logos displayed in any of the accompanying PR material. What conclusions are we to draw from that? And why does that have me thinking – yet again – about one of the company’s more flamboyant past masters – the Thema 8.32?
Not a bad engine upgrade for a EuroboxNot a bad engine upgrade for a EuroboxFor a company with so many cars in its back catalogue, such as the Lambda, Aurelia, Stratos, Integrale, picking the Thema 8.32 as the representative of all that was right – and wrong – about Lancia might seem a little puzzling. But bear with me on this – I’ve driven an 8.32, and have pored over them many times, and although some might consider this four-door front-wheel drive saloon to be a waste of a Ferrari V8, I’m one of the few who think it’s wonderfully different, plain bonkers, and I want to own one with every fibre of my body.
As a true PHer you won’t need me to tell you too much about the nuts and bolts of the Thema 8.32. It first went on sale in 1987, and had the potential to be a real hooligan’s car thanks to that Ferrari engine up front. But Lancia played down the 8.32’s sporting credentials, softly tuning the Ducati-assembled V8 and leaving off the flat-plane crank to give it much more rounded power delivery. With 215hp and 210lb ft, it was still pokey for a 3.0-litre four-door (0-60mph in 6.9 seconds, and a maximum speed of 149mph), but it was a long way from being a cutting edge top-end performance saloon – and it wouldn’t have seen which way an E28 BMW M5 went.

Interior is lavish, in an 80s kind of wayInterior is lavish, in an 80s kind of wayBut that wasn’t what the 8.32 was about. Despite the fact the Integrale was about to start sweeping all aside in international rallying, with Alfa Romeo heading for Fiat, Lancia was now moving into the realms of a luxury car manufacturer. And the Thema 8.32 would be its ultimate plutocrat’s flagship. Consequently the tidy ItalDesign-penned styling remained remarkably unchanged – aside from Ferrari-style alloys and a rather natty active rear spoiler that popped out of the boot lid at speed. Whether this was the right call in the era of conspicuous consumption was another matter entirely.
Being a luxury car, the 8.32 came equipped with the most joyous Rosewood and Poltrona Frau interior – the dash was remodelled over the standard Thema’s and was completely stacked with instruments, and the leather was some of the finest ever to grace a car interior. It was offered in some spectacularly tasteful colour combinations, mainly centring on beige, tans and browns. Sounds very 80s period but, trust me, it’s a lovely place to spend time in.

Pretty subtle given what’s under the bonnetPretty subtle given what’s under the bonnetOn the road, the 8.32 is an interesting experience. The V8 sounds to all intents and purposes the same as it does in a Ferrari 308 or Mondial, and that makes it capable of producing easily one of the finest saloon car soundtracks ever; deep, resonant, and properly cultured. It was certainly case in the first one I drove – a 8,000km example, whose first owner was the Patrick Collection and graced with a blowing exhaust for additional drama.
As for performance, it’s deceptively quick, thanks to excellent mid-range torque. And despite all those who will tell you the Integrale 16V-engined Thema Turbo is faster on overboost, I’d say that the 8.32 is much swifter in the real world, and far more pleasurable to drive quickly. Being a Thema, the build quality isn’t quite where it should be – not such an issue for a seasoned classic car fan today who takes such things in their stride, but not such good news for the company directors who splashed out £40,000 to buy one back in the day. And remember, that V8 engine is as tough as old boots, assuming it’s been serviced properly. And that’s certainly not the case with the 2.0-litre 16V Turbo.