Blast from the Past: Lancia Thema 8.32
The four-door Ferrari
The year was 1984. Frankie Goes to Hollywood topped the UK charts with "Relax", Tetris dropped its first block, Michael Jackson's hair caught fire and Lancia were working on a new car to compete with the automotive empire of Germany - they called it the Thema.
Lancia is well known for dominating the World Rally Championship for six consecutive years from 1987 to 1992. Cars like the Delta and Stratos grew to become legends in the realm of motorsport but before that, things were different. Many people believed that two-wheel would never come close to all-wheel drive cars on the rally scene, Lancia were ready to refute. Work started on their 037 project in 1980 and by '82 it was ready to take the podium with legend Walter Rorhl behind the wheel.
Audi at this point had already dazzled the nation and claimed the title thanks to its all-wheel drive system, but the 037 had also homologated. 1983 arrived and Lancia slipped its 037 Rear-wheel drive rally car under the table, kicking Audi's Quattro in the shins and leaving it rather embarrassed. David had beaten Goliath and Lancia was on top of the world.
Thema 8.32 engine
Among all the glam and success, Lancia had started to build the Thema which was later released to the public in 1984 for £12,495. It shared the same 'Type 4' platform as the Saab 9000 and Alfa Romeo 164, meaning front-wheel drive and the choice of either a 4-speed auto or 5-speed manual gearbox. The Pininfarina-designed styling was box-like, not looking out of place next to BMW's E28 5 Series or Mercedes's W124 E Class. The engine range consisted of various turbocharged units and also Alfa Romeo's 3.0L V6. However, with the competition offering supercar-rivalling performance models that appealed to a more toe-heavy audience, Lancia didn't want to miss out and the Thema 8.32 was conceived.
The 8.32 featured a 2.9L naturally aspirated V8 with 32 valves per cylinder (8.32) from Ferrari's Mondial QV and 308, which gave it plenty of straight-line thump. All of this was not cheap though and landed on showroom floors at a base price of £37,500. It had to stand out to steal sales from the Germans, and so it was offered with new technology; for example - sensors allowed the headrests in the rear to automatically deploy if someone is sitting in the back seat. It was the first road car to feature an active rear spoiler and even had adjustable electronic seats, but unlike the German cars, it was still front-wheel drive.
Lashings of alcantara and wood could be found in the cabin, whilst everything else was covered in leather. The wizards in the design department had really gone the extra mile to push this car to the top, forcing people to consider, and with Enzo Ferrari being chauffeured around in one, it was hard not to.
Thema 8.32 interior
After Lancia's hard climb to the top, the FCA (Fiat Chrysler Automobiles), who own the marque, decided in 1990 that Lancia would simply sell re-badged models only and new models with classic names would be built. The Delta would go from rally hero to grandmothers' daily shopping cart (with the Delta 3); and the Lancia Thema? That became the Chrysler 300c...
And although a new Lancia may not see a rally track or be the synonym of a visionary designer's dream, good used 'classic' examples are still around. In fact, an 8.32 can cost as little as £8,000 nowadays and a nearly immaculate one can stretch up to £27,000, meaning that you can still experience some of Lancia's classic automotive genius.