Rare Rides: Ferrari-Powered 1991 Lancia Thema 8.32, the Superior Sister of Saab and Alfa Romeo

Corey Lewis
by Corey Lewis

It would be understandable if the Lancia Thema you see above put you immediately in mind of a Rare Ride from a few days ago, the gold-plated DeLorean DMC-12. While that car had an entirely different purpose from the Lancia you see before you, the two did have a couple of things in common. Both were designed by Italian legend Giorgetto Giugiaro. And like the DeLorean, the Lancia also suffered (in normal trims) with the same Peugeot-Renault-Volvo V6 engine that made Eagle Premier owners miserable.

But that’s where the similarities end. Because today’s Thema sheds its multinational, mediocre V6 power for some purebred Ferrari horses. And you don’t even have to do the import paperwork.

Like all good things, the story starts back in the 1980s. Lancia, Fiat, and Ferrari were all under the Fiat S.p.A umbrella, while Saab was still an independent. All players were interested in a new midsize executive sedan, and agreed cost-sharing was in their mutual interest. Thus, the Type Four platform was developed.

Four cars came from this collaboration, two of which we received in the United States. Most well-known of the lot is the Saab 9000 (a beauty) large sedan. A little less known, the Alfa Romeo 164 was the final Alfa sedan product offered on North American shores; the brand bailed after 1995. The other two obscurities were the Fiat Croma (meh) and the Lancia Thema (sweet).

Before we continue, watch one of my favorite presenters, Chris Goffey, review the 164, Thema, and 9000 on old old Top Gear.

Most versions were rather mundane, with standard small European gasoline and diesel engines. Except for one. Lancia decided it would build a range-topping sports sedan, and endowed the Thema with a modified 2.9-liter V8 from the Mondial. It used a cross-plane crankshaft rather than a flat-plane, and was built at the Ducati factory instead of at Ferrari. A number of horses between 200 and 250 (it’s unclear) raced to the front wheels through the five-speed manual.

The nomenclature 8.32 stands for the average number of times it would be in the shop each month number of cylinders, plus the number of valves in the engine.

The car started at £40,000 in Great Britain circa 1987, or £107,600 in today’s money ($145,147 USD). Because of the astronomical price, just nine were sold in the UK. There were two model versions of the Thema 8.32 — Series 1 from 1986 to 1988 (2,370 produced) and Series 2 from 1989 to 1992 (1,601 produced).

Today’s example is a Series 2 imported by a brave owner to the small town of Seattle, which is somewhere north of downtown Los Angeles.

The seller indicates a recent engine overhaul, and otherwise excellent condition, aside from some sun damage to the leather dash and unfaithful front power windows. The leather interior was a seriously costly additional extra, even at this level.

With low miles and high rarity, the asking price of $15,000 seems reasonable for a chunk of Italian unobtanium. You can have it serviced at your local unicorn store.

[Images via seller]

Corey Lewis
Corey Lewis

Interested in lots of cars and their various historical contexts. Started writing articles for TTAC in late 2016, when my first posts were QOTDs. From there I started a few new series like Rare Rides, Buy/Drive/Burn, Abandoned History, and most recently Rare Rides Icons. Operating from a home base in Cincinnati, Ohio, a relative auto journalist dead zone. Many of my articles are prompted by something I'll see on social media that sparks my interest and causes me to research. Finding articles and information from the early days of the internet and beyond that covers the little details lost to time: trim packages, color and wheel choices, interior fabrics. Beyond those, I'm fascinated by automotive industry experiments, both failures and successes. Lately I've taken an interest in AI, and generating "what if" type images for car models long dead. Reincarnating a modern Toyota Paseo, Lincoln Mark IX, or Isuzu Trooper through a text prompt is fun. Fun to post them on Twitter too, and watch people overreact. To that end, the social media I use most is Twitter, @CoreyLewis86. I also contribute pieces for Forbes Wheels and Forbes Home.

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2 of 29 comments
  • B234R B234R on Sep 22, 2017

    There were actually plans for another V8 tipo 4 car as well, a saab 9000 with basically just two saab 2,0 I4s put together to make a V8. That was logical since the saab engine was "originally" a half of a triumph V8. Naturally GM is at least partially responsible for that V8 never being produced. One driveable car and two engines still exist. https://www.saabisti.fi/miscellanea/saab-v8-engine-the-complete-story/

  • Hawox Hawox on Sep 23, 2017

    that platform was quite rubbish, it lack stiffness. base models sold quite well because were reasonably priced well equiped and fast (because of lightness). but thema ferrari was known for being unreliable and unbalanced. rumor was that the standard turbo (1/2 the price) was faster on very real road.

  • Theflyersfan I wonder how many people recalled these after watching EuroCrash. There's someone one street over that has a similar yellow one of these, and you can tell he loves that car. It was just a tough sell - too expensive, way too heavy, zero passenger space, limited cargo bed, but for a chunk of the population, looked awesome. This was always meant to be a one and done car. Hopefully some are still running 20 years from now so we have a "remember when?" moment with them.
  • Lorenzo A friend bought one of these new. Six months later he traded it in for a Chrysler PT Cruiser. He already had a 1998 Corvette, so I thought he just wanted more passenger space. It turned out someone broke into the SSR and stole $1500 of tools, without even breaking the lock. He figured nobody breaks into a PT Cruiser, but he had a custom trunk lock installed.
  • Jeff Not bad just oil changes and tire rotations. Most of the recalls on my Maverick have been fixed with programming. Did have to buy 1 new tire for my Maverick got a nail in the sidewall.
  • Carson D Some of my friends used to drive Tacomas. They bought them new about fifteen years ago, and they kept them for at least a decade. While it is true that they replaced their Tacomas with full-sized pickups that cost a fair amount of money, I don't think they'd have been Tacoma buyers in 2008 if a well-equipped 4x4 Tacoma cost the equivalent of $65K today. Call it a theory.
  • Eliyahu A fine sedan made even nicer with the turbo. Honda could take a lesson in seat comfort.