The Fast & The Forbidden: 1986-‘92 Lancia Thema 8.32 [w/ Video]
Few automotive nameplates have a better batting average of successful joint ventures than Ferrari and Lancia. After Lancia was forced to withdraw from Formula 1 for financial reasons in 1955, the company’s racing operations, including its grand prix car – the radical D50 – was given to Ferrari, who used it (with some modifications) to win the 1956 world championship with Juan-Manuel Fangio. The 1970s saw Lancia turn the rallying world upside down with the spacey, Bertone-styled Stratos, which was propelled by Ferrari’s 2.4L Dino V6.
Consequently, when rumors of a new Lancia-Ferrari road car collaboration began circulating in the mid-‘80s, not many people were caught off-guard by them. However, the vehicle behind said rumors – the Thema 8.32 – raised more than its share of eyebrows. And if you ask us, it still does.
The standard Lancia Thema first appeared in 1984, sharing its front-drive Type Four platform with the Fiat Croma and Saab 9000 (The Alfa Romeo 164, which arrived in 1987, also utilized this architecture.). It was available in sedan and station wagon forms, with power coming from a smattering of gasoline inline-fours and V6s (the former group counting a 2.0L turbo version amongst its ranks), as well as a 2.5L inline-four turbodiesel. In other words, it was a thoroughly conventional large (as European car buyers would call what us North Americans would call midsize) family car by the standards of the day.
Lancia management wasn’t too keen on the Thema being just another face in the crowd, though. Thus, a deal was made with Ferrari (which, like Lancia, was and is part of the Fiat empire), whereby the Maranello-headquartered sports car specialists would provide the Prancing Horse’s 3.0L DOHC V8 for a limited edition, full-tilt-boogie Thema. (The 8.32 in the name stands for the number of cylinders and valves, respectively, in the engine.) In case you’re wondering how Lancia got a Ferrari V8 to fit sideways under the hood of the Thema, be aware that the 3.0L V8 was mounted transversely anyway in the Ferrari 308 GTB/GTS and Mondial, albeit just behind the cockpit rather than ahead of it.
But the location of the engine wasn’t the only change. The block, heads and other components were cast by Ferrari in Maranello, but assembled by Ducati. The 32 valves were slightly smaller, and the crankshaft was of a cross-plane design rather than the flat-plane design used in the Ferrari applications. That different crank arrangement (along with a different firing order) meant the Lancia version had a flatter, more civilized power curve and smoother operation, though it did have a slight adverse effect on output and exhaust note. Lancia rated the engine at 212hp and 210 lb.-ft of torque on early, catalytic-converter-free models, while later cars fitted with cats made 202hp and 194 lb.-ft. The lone transmission offered during the whole production run was a 5-speed manual.
Not surprisingly for a mid-size sedan with at most 212hp, the Thema 8.32 didn’t put up earth-shattering performance numbers. Acceleration from a standstill to 62 mph took 6.8 seconds on non-catalyst cars, while top speed was 149 mph. Those figures were quite good for the time, but today? Not too remarkable, particularly given the origins of its powerplant.
However, the modest performance isn’t all that bothersome when you’re sitting in the staggeringly plush cabin. The seats, door panels, steering wheel, shift knob and other interior surfaces are covered with hand-stitched Poltrona Frau leather, while the dashboard and door panels feature burled walnut trim. Exterior changes include “8.32” and “Powered by Ferrari” badges, as well as a pop-up rear spoiler atop the trunklid. Plus, 32 numbered Rosso Corsa (the archetypal Ferrari hue) special editions each of the Series 1 (not-catalyst) and Series 2 (catalyst) cars were produced.
Those 64 Rosso Corsa edition cars were among the 3,971 ever built, not a single one coming to the U.S. This is hardly surprising, considering Lancia withdrew from this market along with parent company Fiat at the end of 1982, but disappointing just the same. Residents in many states other than the ones south of Oregon, west of Nevada and east of Hawaii can import an ’86 or ’87 Thema 8.32, but other than that, you can’t touch this sport sedan. However, if you want a new V8-powered Lancia Thema, it’s easy to get one: Just import a Thema grille insert, badges and emblems and install them on your current-gen Chrysler 300C. Call us crazy but, in our estimation, a Gen 3 Hemi doesn’t carry quite the snob appeal a Ferrari Quattrovalvole V8 does.