The Carchive: The '93 Lancia Thema

Summer returned to the UK for just a couple of hours this afternoon, not that I noticed as I had made my descent once more into the other-worldly void that is The Carchive. There I bravely battled fierce creatures, the defenders of the realm, in an effort to purloin and return to the surface the priceless relic you see before you.
While I was in there I searched everywhere for a Thema 8.32 brochure, but it was in vain. I know there’s a pre-facelift one knocking about somewhere, too. But for today we’ll make do with the “New” and “Improved” Thema The Second, For which this is the ’93 brochure.

It’s reasonably fair to say, isn’t it, that the Fiat Croma and Lancia Thema were always the “Others” of the Type Four cars. The Saab 9000 was probably the most successful, globally, the Alfa 164 came second, and the Thema and Croma were left trading punches at the back of the class.
It’s not hard to see why. The Saab still managed to present itself with a degree of Saabishness, and certainly felt heavily built, even compared to other Type Fours, the Alfa was blessed with unique and wonderful bodywork and interior styling and an extremely charismatic Alfa V6.
The Fiat and the Lancia were a little more difficult to quantify. The Fiat was, well, just a big car and is only really of interest today thanks to its scarcity, and while the 9000 and 164 are actually strong enough to stand on their own merits, the Thema needs a bit more contemplation to see the appeal.
“The Fascination of the new Lancia Thema is seen in the subtle lines that lend dignity to such a spirited performer”.
“Subtle” would be correct. This body shape was the work of Pininfarina, and I can’t see it being one of the famous styling house’s more challenging projects, especially since the doors are wholly the same as on the Saab and Fiat. Nevertheless, it was inoffensive enough.
What it lacked, then and now, was presence. It became a little bit invisible when placed in the presence of cars from the other upscale European brands. This facelifted car with its prominent front grille, was launched as an effort to rectify that failing. But it wasn’t really enough.
“…..we don’t have anything terribly interesting to say about the interior”
The greatest attribute of the Thema was its spacious and extremely well appointed interior, and I’m baffled as to why the brochure says barely a word about it. Seat facings were in either woolcloth on the lower models or a fabulous alcantara suede on the proper trim levels. There were swathes of delicately polished real wood; the doors were capped with it and the dashboard had fillets which slid out of view to conceal the stereo equipment.
It looked great, and even the ACS (Automatic Climate System) panel, identical to that fitted to the Saab 9000 managed to look more stylish in this car. Yes, the Thema was undoubtedly a nice place to sit.
“Lancia have built the supreme expression of exuberant performance in the two-litre class with a saloon that reaches 62 mph in seven seconds”.
And while you’re sitting, you might as well be propelled along at high speed. While it’s true that all of the type four cars had high-performance variants, the quickest Themas were particularly scorching.
Though V6’s were offered (and there was a particular V8 variant you may have heard of) the mainstay of the range was the four-cylinder, two litre model. Based on a long-lived Aurelio Lampredi Fiat engine design, after turbocharging it kicked out 205hp and 224 ft lb of torque. The Thema Turbo, thus equipped, was good for 143 mph.
There were diesels, too, but let’s not spoil the mood.
“The Thema is therefore preferred by the independent thinker, the driver who prefers classic understatement to an overdemonstrative statement of power.”
That’s patently bollocks, isn’t it? The Lancia Thema was, in terms of its market appeal, almost certainly the Lincoln Town Car or Rover 800 of its native land. It wasn’t going to appeal to anybody much with upwardly mobile aspirations, and that was its downfall. It was always going to appeal to a core demographic of a certain age.
And I have to say I find quite a lot of appeal in having a car which looks as vanilla as this yet which goes so hard. Also I’d much rather have one of these than a Chrysler 300.
(All images are of original manufacturer publicity materials, copyright remains property of FCA. A Chrysler with alcantara seats just doesn’t quite set my senses tingling)

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  1. Frank T. Cat Avatar
    Frank T. Cat

    Couldn’t you get the Thema with a Ferrari V8, and in wagon form to boot? That certainly stands it apart from its Type-4 brethren.

    1. nanoop Avatar

      I’ve heard about that before!

    2. JTuhka Avatar

      The wagon never got the 8.32 but at least it was available with the turbo 16v and Alfa Romeo “Busso” 3.0 V6.

  2. nanoop Avatar

    You are right about the marketing perspective (core demographic of a certain age), but that demographic had the reputation to be well dressed and have a certain level of taste concerning food and style.
    I’d get the Saab, though.

  3. Adrian S Avatar
    Adrian S

    When living in Wellington, New Zealand in the late 80’s, I used to fit car stereos to these, Fiat Cromas and Saab 9000s for Continental Motors.
    Whereas the Croma interior felt (and was) cheap and nasty, the Thema felt much more upmarket and was much nicer, even compared to the more expensive 5 series and E-Class (all black plastic and cloth or MB-Tex)

  4. duurtlang Avatar

    It’s amazing how scarce these have become. All type 4s, but especially the Fiat and Lancia. Because of this I was utterly amazed when a neighbour of my father in law suddenly showed up in a 1986 Fiat Chroma. Diesel. 2 months ago. He bought it because he saw it for sale and couldn’t help himself. My respect for that guy would’ve risen to unmeasurable amounts right then and there, hadn’t it been for his huge horn rimmed hipster glasses.

  5. Rover 1 Avatar
    Rover 1

    I hate to be the pedant.
    But although Pininfarina designed many Lancias, including the Thema’s predecessor the Gamma, (and actually made the Gamma Coupe in their own factory at Grugliasco on the same line as the 365/400i Ferraris)
    The Thema was the work of Ital design and Giorgetto Guigiaro, who designed the Croma and the 9000 at the same time. (As they share the same doors, though of course Saab changed them so much they don’t really swap.). Pininfarina designed the Alfa164 and did design and manufacture the Thema Estate, of which, yes, a few were converted into 8.32 Estates

    1. Rust-MyEnemy Avatar

      Pedantry gratefully accepted. You’re right, Pininfarina only did the wagon. Phew. Talk about a lunchtime project!
      The Poltrona Frau interior on the 8.32 was certainly striking, but I always thought it unnecessarily old-fashioned. I really, really need a brochure for the 8.32, without bankrupting myself if at all possible.

      1. Rover 1 Avatar
        Rover 1
        I very nearly bought a Thema Turbo but it was a bit mucked round with, with a cheap respray. Then I looked at some V6s but those automatics…So I bought my first W124.
        The Lancias have nicer interiors than the Mercs.

        1. Rust-MyEnemy Avatar

          There’s something about 80’s Italian car interiors. Even the bad ones are interesting and, er, good.

    2. jim Avatar

      The limo version also had 5 stud wheels.

      1. Rover 1 Avatar
        Rover 1

        You’re right, that’s how they used up those Gamma wheels. Thanks. 🙂
        And if anyone has a spare set of 8.32wheels, I’d like some for my Gamma Coupe.

    3. Maymar Avatar

      I’m a sucker for a plain, fairly clean design, but I would love that Thema wagon.

      1. Rover 1 Avatar
        Rover 1

        Me too. I’ve started scanning through The Agnelli family definitely had 8.32 Estatet, or at least one. This came up at Bonhams in 2005. It’s pricing was quite good IMHO. Or you could make your own out of a damaged 8.32 and an ordinary estate. I’ve seen coverage of a blue one in Europe done this way. But a nice Alfa V6 powered example, or even an earlier PRV V6 example would be fine.

  6. mve Avatar

    I just can’t the feeling that it looks like a Chinese knockoff of a 9000. I know there wasn’t much to work with, but it looks like the Saab from every angle.

    1. Rover 1 Avatar
      Rover 1

      They were both from the same designer at the same time, designed as a joint venture. Saab changed many things,however, mainly to improve strength and crash resistance. For example, Saab internal engineering requirements required that the car must be able to be dragged, (say, out of a ditch), by the door handles, so the doors are made from thicker metal and the handles are different to the Saab. And of course the final, Alfa, version changed every outer panel.
      The next Fiat/Lancia/Alfa/Saab joint venture happened after the GM takeover of Saab and resulted in only one car, the Alfa 159. Saab did a lot of the engineering and there seems to be some consensus that this quite heavy car, engineered to take the GM Northstar V8 but only appearing with the Fiat fours and GM sourced V6s, could have been a 6star NCAP achiever if such a thing existed, so Saab’s engineer’s efforts weren’t entirely wasted, despite there never eventuating a Saab version of the platform, (or indeed any GM derivatives).
      The whole GM/Fiat alliance ended disastrously with GM paying Fiat $2 billion to extricate itself from the deal which would have required GM to purchase the other 80% of Fiat. Luckily this gave Fiat the financial leverage to buy Chrysler – ironic as much of the reason for the GM/Fiat deal was to stop the then Daimler/Chrysler from taking over Fiat and their assets.
      So the Type Fours fit into a larger, longer story, that at present seems to end sadly with the end of Lancia.

  7. theskitter Avatar

    Alas, dragons hath consum’d the EightThreeTwo. Now thou, Turbo, doth take the halo and rule as Thema of the Lancia.

  8. CraigSu Avatar

    That’s a lot of idiot lights on that instrument panel.

  9. cronn Avatar

    I have a really interesting magazine article about the Type Four cars, as seen from a Saab engineer’s point of view. The downside is that it is in Swedish. It’s in PDF form, so just ping me if you’re interested in it.
    One of the anecdotes in the article is from the first round of crash testing. After the first test, the italian engineers were completely satisfied with the results and went to lunch. The Saab people however were devastated because by their standards it was a complete failure. In the end, Saab managed to convince the other Type Four members to design the tooling to allow Saab to use slightly thicker steel for the 9000.
    Saab engineers also apparently experimented with the V6 powerplant from the Ford Taurus and had pretty successful results, but the Saab bigwigs halted those plans immediately. The 9000 would use their homegrown 4-cylinder engines, period. This is probably also why they never offered a turbodiesel version. Meanwhile, European customers were lining up to buy diesel-powered Mercs, VWs and Peugeots.

    1. Sjalabais Avatar

      Ping! There are some Swedish-reading people here so an upload would be appreciated.

        1. Sjalabais Avatar

          A round table – how could it get more Swedish? Thanks a lot!

    2. nanoop Avatar

      Interested, too. I am an interweb idiot, does Disqs offer a messaging system, or do I need to post my email address here?

      1. cronn Avatar

        See my reply to Sjalabais.

        1. nanoop Avatar

          Takk så mycket! There goes my Saturday night:

  10. salguod Avatar

    It looks like someone mashed together the most mundane bits of the contemporary Jetta and Eagle Premier.

    1. wunno sev Avatar
      wunno sev

      i see the Volvo 850 and 940.

  11. jim Avatar

    I know that this may seem weird, but i would love to see pictures of the Carchive.

  12. Jaap Avatar

    Two very mid-eighties notes about the Lancia Thema. First was the testdrive in a Turbo I’ve experiecened. It accelerated pretty competent toeards 100 km/h and then turbo came in, an exoerience not equalled by the Alfa Sprint, BMW 3-series or Lancia Prisma my dad was considering at the time.
    Whooooom! All the way into illegality.
    More umportant, I dreamt of haing a go with a certain girl and to advise her dad – next day, at breakfast – to get rid of his W123 for the Thema. Do I need to report materialising this dream?

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