lancia thema 1988 8.32

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Cars you didn’t know you want: Lancia Thema 8.32

A boxy Italian with the heart of a Ferrari

No one could ever accuse the Lancia Thema of being a good-looking car. The archetypical box on wheels, Lancia’s mid-size executive saloon rarely challenged the likes of BMW and Mercedes for the hearts and wallets of mid-level managers everywhere.

But…

One variant of the Lancia Thema stirred the soul, continues to stir the soul even today, some 34 years after it first made its debut.

Meet the Lancia Thema 8.32, a boxy mid-sized sedan with a difference, because under that squared off bonnet beats the heart of Maranello’s finest. That’s right, the Thema 8.32 is powered by a 2.9-litre, 32 valve, Ferrari V8 engine.

Huh?

One can only imagine the product planning meeting at Lancia HQ in the mid-1980s.

“Hey, how can we make the Thema better?”
“Add some curves.”
“No, too hard.”
“How about we shoehorn a Ferrari V8 under the bonnet?”
“Great idea.”

And so it was. Billed as a luxury saloon, the Thema 8.32 was built to order at Lancia’s San Paolo factory in Turin between 1987-92. That glorious V8 came straight out of the Ferrari 308 with some subtle tweaks to better suit the Thema’s sedan platform.

Lancia replaced the incumbent flat-plane crankshaft with a cross-plane version, while smaller valves and a different firing order ensured the Maranello heartbeat was better suited to a luxury sedan. That V8 pumped out 158kW at 6750rpm and 285Nm at 4500rpm, giving the box on wheels a 0-100km/h sprint time of 6.8 seconds, not too shabby for the time. That stacked up well against the donor car’s dash to triple figures, the Ferrari 308 GTB taking 6.5 seconds to reach the metric tonne. Top speed was a claimed 240km/h.

All that power generated by the transverse-mounted Fezza V8 was transmitted to the front wheels via a five-speed manual gearbox.

Outside, there was little to distinguish the 8.32 from regular run-of-the-mill Themas. The alloy wheels and yellow 8.32 badging were dead giveaways as was the retractable rear spoiler (operated by a button inside the cabin).

Inside, a handmade interior greeted lucky Thema 8.32 owners. Lashings of wood and Alcantara came standard or those with deeper pockets could option the sumptuous Poltrona Frau leather. The dashboard was covered in leather as was the steering wheel, gear lever, handbrake, centre console, door panels and sun visors. The headlining was finished in Alcantara.

An analogue instrument cluster comprised a speedo and tacho as well as six smaller auxiliary gauges. All dials were faced in black with racy yellow markings and needles.

The Thema sat on 15-inch alloys with 205/55 VR15 Goodyear rubber developed specifically for the 8.32 while electronically controlled damping offered a blend of sportiness and plushness to the ride.

Options available for the Thema 8.32 included a sunroof, electrically adjustable and heated front seats and electrically adjustable rear seats, as well as the Poltrona Frau leather interior.

No surprise then the Thema 8.32 wasn’t cheap back in the day, with a commanding price tag of £37,500 (without options, which could bump the final sticker closer to £43,000) when new in 1988. A new Ferrari 328 (the 308 was retired in 1985) asked for around £45,000.

Scarcity has seen the Thema 8.32 hold its value. It’s estimated less than 4000 Thema 8.32s rolled off the San Paolo production line. All were left-hand drive.

A pristine example was recently listed on an Australian classifieds site for $47,500 while overseas classifieds reveal prices in the region of AUD$25,000-$35,000.

It might not be pretty, or a bona fide classic in the same way its donor car is, but the Lancia Thema 8.32 is hard not to like with its Ferrari heartbeat. And it just might represent the cheapest way to nab yourself a Ferrari V8.

Thanks to reader John Stuchbery for suggesting the Lancia Thema 8.32. If you'd like to see a car featured in the Cars You Didn't Know You Want series, drop a line in the comments below.

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