Last weekend I was absent-mindedly flicking through the auction catalogues when I spotted an unobtrusive-looking Lancia Thema.
Admittedly I've always had a bit of soft spot for the boxy Italian saloon, which was the result of a joint project with Saab, Fiat and Alfa. What really grabbed my attention, however, was the fact that it was an '8.32' variant.
Back in the late ’80s, many manufacturers were busy releasing saloons that offered near-supercar performance. Companies like BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Audi and even Ford were all serving up suitably potent yet subtle cars, designed to appeal to well-heeled individuals who enjoyed driving.
Lancia, sensing that it was missing out on a lucrative opportunity, obviously spent too long in a bar one evening. It decided that what it should really do was make a V8-engined version of its front-wheel-drive Thema saloon.
Drawing on some local support the Italian manufacturer settled on using a 2.9-litre V8 with 32 valves, hence the car's '8.32' moniker. The engine was based on the Ferrari unit found in the Mondial and 308 and shared many components with its Prancing Horse equivalents.
With the new engine crammed into the Lancia's nose, and 212bhp being transmitted to the front wheels through a five-speed manual gearbox, the Thema could sprint from 0-60mph in around 6.8 seconds.
Further improvements came in the form of a significantly more luxurious interior, minor styling tweaks, unique wheels, an adaptive damping system, better brakes, upgraded steering and an electronically raised rear spoiler.
Road tests of the time were remarkably complimentary about the car, praising it for its performance and comfort. Surprisingly torque steer wasn't a prevalent problem but many found that if you pushed the Lancia hard it would understeer heavily.
Besides issues like the potential for crushing maintenance bills, there was one other major problem with the V8-powered Thema. Lancia had long offered a turbocharged version of its saloon which could easily keep up with, if not out-pace, the V8 version.
Despite the oversights and odd design decisions, however, there's still something appealing about the V8-engined Thema. It's relatively quick, it's comfortable, superbly understated and exotic. With less than ten officially sold here it's a rare sight too.
The example I was looking at was a late Series 1 model. It certainly appeared a good example of the breed, with a comprehensive service history and an odometer showing a fraction under 58,000 miles. Crucially, the timing belt and clutch had also been changed, so the potential for immediate bills was somewhat minimised.