Why was the Thema 8.32 even made?

Call it a celebration of the relationship between Lancia and Ferrari, which had kicked off in 1972 when the Stratos was equipped with the Dino’s V6 engine. The partnership stretched right into the ’80s with Lancia running engines from Maranello in the LC2 Group C racer, but it was 1986 when Lancia sat a 2,927cc V8 under the hood of its big luxury sedan, the Thema.

Not only was it awesome to see this beautiful example of an 8.32 participate in this year’s Marronnier Run in Nikko, but to see it parked up next to a Ferrari 308 – the model that donated its powerplant to make the project happen – well, it’s something I’m not going to forget for a while.

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But my infatuation with this car goes back a lot further. The Thema 8.32 was something of a legend when I was growing up, and I can remember kids in my elementary school talking about a Lancia Ferrari that was so fast nothing could keep up with it. The car was rare and expensive, costing almost double what a regular 2.0-liter 16-valve Thema sold for, and nobody had actually ever seen one.

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For years the 8.32 held this image. Once in a while you’d hear that a friend of someone dad’s uncle had one and it was insanely fast, which only added to the car’s mystical aura. The only examples I ever ended up seeing in person were finished in the same metallic aqua blue as this one, or a darker burgundy. Aside from the rear pop-out spoiler, the 8.32 could also be identified by the pin-striping that ran downs its side and across the rear.

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Lancia could have gone way wilder, but it obviously preferred to keep the execution more subtle, looks-wise at least. The 15-inch wheels shod in 205/55R15 tires were a little hint at the car’s link to Ferrari with their five-spoke design.

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But it was mainly that 8.32 yellow badge on the grille and elsewhere around the car that gave you the real confirmation. The ‘8’ stands for eight-cylinders and the ’32’ for the number of valves. This is something I remember Jeremy Clarkson got totally wrong on an episode of Top Gear in the ’90s while I was growing up in the UK; he said the ’32’ was used to denote the 3.2L capacity.

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The 3.0L V8 may have been shared by the 308 and the Mondial, but for it to be mated properly to a big sedan like the Thema, some changes were made. The most notable was the crankshaft, which was changed from a flat-plane or 180-degree type, to a more conventional cross-plane 90-degree design. This, as well as the revised firing order and smaller valves, was done to give the engine a more torquey nature for everyday driving.

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According to the owner of this particular car, you still need to rev the engine to get it to pull properly, though. That’s partly because there is only 205hp being developed in this 1989 catalytic converter-equipped car, where pre-catalyzer models boasted an additional 10hp.

But who really cares about the power; this is one of those cars that made the ’80s a little more special. By the way, take a look at the intake plenum design and the way it employs a twin mechanical throttle body setup linked over the intake. This looks way better that what the fuel injected version of the 308 engine looked like in the 308 itself. This plenum was a redesign that replaced the larger one used on the earlier, pre-facelift Themas.

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This Thema has 73,000km (45,0000mi) on the odometer, has been garaged since day one, and is still with its original owner. It’s in remarkable condition; used but well taken care of.

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The only issue that keeps presenting itself is chronic overheating. In this instance the radiator and some cooing components have been upgraded, but as I shot a million pictures around it, it was still dripping a little coolant on the ground.

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The thing that me and my school friends went really crazy for in the day was the car’s pop-out trunk spoiler.

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How cool is that?! I forgot to ask the owner how reliable this thing actually is, but I noticed it always remained in the ‘out’ position. Of course, Italian electronics are more known for the way they fail rather than the way they work.

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Check out how much space is boxed off on the inside of the trunk lid for the wing mechanism. As expected, it’s very heavy so you have to accompany the lid all the way down before allowing it to drop onto the lock.

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There’s that pin-stripe line I mentioned earlier.

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Being a 1989 car, this proudly wore the ‘Lancia World Rally Champion 1989′ sticker, one I vividly remember seeing on the back window of so many Lancias of the same year. Sad isn’t it? 30 years ago Lancia had this Thema and it was winning on the international rally stage with the mighty Delta Integrale. Now it sells one model in the domestic market with zero plans to revive the brand and all that it once stood for.

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But we have to move on, I suppose.

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Along with the engine itself, it was the interior that made the 8.32 a special car.

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The seats, the dash, and the door trims were designed and finished by Poltrona Frau, which on top of being a rather well known and respected furniture company, also trims the interiors of Ferraris.

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The front seats were even power adjustable, but I’d be very surprised if any of these switches do anything now.

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This car smelled simply amazing inside, a distinct background scent of mid-to-late-’80s Italian car – which brought back memories of my dad’s 75 and 164 – mixed with an almost tangible aroma of well-seasoned hide, and a few accents of fuel and oil to spice it all up. The stock Lancia leather steering wheel has been swapped out for a Ferrari item, something that I thought was an awesome touch.

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Of course, this model was only offered as a manual.

Of all the unique interior details, my favorite is the Ferrari yellow-on-black instrumentation.

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This turned out to be an extended spotlight, but I’m sure you’ve already figured out that I have an unshakeable attraction to these cars. I don’t want to drive one though, as I’m afraid it will spoil the dream. If it’s anything like our Alfa 164 was (same Type 4 platform shared with the Thema, Saab 9000 and Fiat Croma) it will be comically crap to throw around corners and plain dangerous to try and stop.

But then again, that’s sort of the lure of these old performance cars from the ’80s and ’90s! Let’s talk about it more in the comments below…

Dino Dalle Carbonare
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dino@speedhunters.com



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