Review and road test of the Lancia Thema (1986 - 1994)
VARIATIONS ON A THEMA
BY ANDY ENRIGHT
Lancia's Thema, whilst overshadowed by the rally replica Delta, nevertheless enjoyed an eight year existence during which quite a few found homes in the UK. Buying new and buying used are two very different propositions, however, and a used Thema can spell serious trouble. Take the time to do some research and you can pick up a well looked after example that offers a lot of style and speed for very little money. You'll need a bit of luck, a lot of patience and no little determination.
Models Covered: 4 DOOR SALOON 2.0, 2.8, 3.2 (I.E, LE, LS, LX, V6, 8.32)
The Thema has an interesting parentage. In the early eighties, Lancia, Fiat, Alfa Romeo and Saab collaborated to develop a common platform for their executive cars - the so-called Type Four platform. Whilst a great idea in principle, sharing the cost amongst the four manufacturers proved to be a tricky task. The Saab 9000 and the Lancia Thema eventually ended up as very different cars with the doors being obviously similar and the transverse mounting for a front engine but aside from that diverging development requirements separated them widely. While the idea of 'platform sharing' was well ahead of its time, it's interesting to note that all of the constituent partners in this scheme would eventually come together under the aegis of General Motors.
Upon launch there were i.e and LX versions of the 165bhp turbocharged 2.0-litre engine and also a 2.8-litre V6 injection automatic that was priced between the two turbo cars but which made a modest 150bhp. A 155bhp 16v normally aspirated engine was subsequently introduced and the Turbo powerplant ended its life developing a healthy 210bhp. A very rare Thema 8.32 was also manufactured between 1986 and 1991 with the 3.0-litre 205bhp 'quattrovalvole' engine from the Ferrari 308. Although this model is heavier in the nose and no quicker than the 16v Turbo Thema models, it is of most interest to collectors due to its quirky nature and Prancing Horse association. 1989 saw the Thema range get catalytic converters fitted to comply with emissions regulations. The Thema was offered for sale right up to the time that Lancia quit the UK in 1994.
What You Get
A bit of a gamble here. On a good day the Thema offers extremely comfortable and - if you opt for a turbocharged model - sinfully rapid executive transport. The interiors are spacious although the seats are rather flat in all models. The Thema's split/fold rear seats fold forwards, allowing access to the huge boot but there's a lack of useable stowage space around the cabin. Rear seat accommodation is particularly good, the long wheelbase of the Type 4 chassis offering plenty of legroom. The styling still looks distinguished and equipment levels aren't bad. The Thema isn't a modern car, however and if you're accustomed to even very modest cars packing anti lock brakes, airbags, air conditioning, stability control and so on, the Lancia may come as a bit of a shock.
What to Look For
The V6 engine can misfire under heavy acceleration (due to faulty engine management) and the cooling system can leak at the water pump and the bottom radiator hose joint. Tyre wear is heavy at the front and clutch wear in common on V6 models (expect to replace the clutch at 60,000 miles).
The gearboxes were quite good, but look out for a weak synchromesh on 3rd gear on some early V6 models. The gear linkage has also been known to break, leaving some cars stuck in gear. Check all the gadgets as these can be expensive to fix. The 8.32 model should really be looked over by a specialist as it needs constant maintenance. Otherwise look for blue smoke blowing from the exhausts of Turbo models and look at the tyres for signs of suspension misalignment. Body panels are increasingly difficult to get hold of and try to find a car that has a decent stainless steel exhaust fitted.
(approx based on a 1992 2.0 16v) A clutch assembly will be around £150. A starter motor will be about £250. Brake pads front and rear are about £100 and £65 per pair. A replacement headlamp is close to £125.
On the Road
Its easy to tailor a comfortable driving position in the Thema thanks to the height adjustable seat and steering column although lateral support through corners isn't great, due to the fact that the seats are so flat and wide. The 2.0-litre Turbo engines are the driver's choice but even the normally aspirated 120bhp 16v car will dip under ten seconds for the sprint to 60. Handling is surprisingly taut for such a big car although the later Turbo cars suffer from some torque steer, the front wheels having a job transmitting 210bhp of spiky turbo power delivery to the tarmac. The steering feels lively and the overall handling balance is wonderfully neutral.
The Thema will always be specialist interest but it sold steadily for eight years on the strength of its style, handling and performance, three attributes which still stand up to scrutiny today. The 8.32 model is a rare bird and requires specialist attention. Normally we'd recommend taking a look at several but as supply is limited you may have to wait until you find a Thema with your name on it.
Lancia Thema (1986 - 1994) review by ANDY ENRIGHT