Every time I try to think about Ferrari, the weight of modern mixed-messages these cars emanate ruins the whole venture. If you’re tough enough to read through the first part of Enzo’s biography, two things that strike the most are: how well his clientele matches his character and general inability to even think about leaving the race-car field. Can’t judge them too hard, having such comfort zone is a dream for many including the likes of myself. Uncertainty between 9.3 and 10.0:1 compression on a flat 12 cylinder sitting at the center of Testarossa is a wonderful dilemma to have. And while there were many one-offs, the first true four-seater Ferrari ever made, in 1953 to be exact, was named 250 GTE. Packed three liters with only acceptable amount of pistons, no-brainer. Two-door Grand Tourer, with extended interior area designed for a “whole” family blasting through entire Italy to watch a race at some very famous place people think is basically a southern French city. It’s not. Just as Pinin isn’t really a true Ferrari sedan, but an ambition-driven personal crusade of Sergio Pininfarina. And yet, we always wanted to see Italy competing for a place between Lagonda and BMW 7-series that actually works. Wonderful idea, that got turned into something that looks like a Volvo, sounds like a Mercedes and drives like a Citroen.
In 1969 Fiat owned 50% of Ferrari, both undergoing huge changes. Was it a forced transition? I leave that one to you. Fact is, they were just about to start producing first mid-engined supercars, offer an entry-level option and make California join the lineup… forever. What was without a doubt a magnificent, wide product-spectrum, additionally turned into a strange relationship. Overall amount of projects became too misleading for Italian magnates not to step on each others feet. They had to start sharing bread with one another other like it’s family reunion.
Despite all possible reasons for not being the only child, having lots of siblings can create a mess. Even a useful one. Mom’s ancient Kintsugi vase with anniversary roses inside smashes dad’s head spilling water all over shabby suede armchair. Panic, will he need stitches? Everybody starts pointing at each other covering land with sonic noise. Parents look around, hopefully understanding the pointlessness of a witch-hunt, focusing on the damage done. Preaching’s gonna come, free ancient truisms for everybody, take your seat. Lesson learned or ignored, doesn’t matter. They got away, and that could turn out to be a way more malicious insight.
A decade later, Overlords from Turin had to deal with even bigger bunch of acolytes. Some already grown, some still in adolescence. All sitting around the table, tinkering. Revolution of the past doesn’t matter, there’s Another Thing Coming in three years, so enjoy the sound of “In The Navy” one mustache after another mullet while you still can. Wrapped in yellow shirts, tucked into silk bell-bottoms, started discussing life, cocaine, different styles of combing techniques, matriarchal families. No one cared if the sun was shining, they seemed to be shining. Maybe it’s just drugs… besides, with no windows and watches too expensive to read, how can you even tell the time? Nothing but their business was given a damn. With noble exception of mescaline. Yeah it was hard to top the market again, it always is. Some time already passed since Dali’s final “Lincoln in Dalivision” and turning into artistic grandfather, swallowed by shadows of the new hype. Hell, even uncle Jackson P wasn’t around anymore. Border-breaking turbo fever brought by Saab 99 was on. Alfa Spider became such an important icon of style, no one noticed utterly hideous F12 diesel minivan, also known as… Alfa Romeo Romeo. Ain’t gonna bash the little one, had Perkins diesel. Even Fiat had something to show for, the mighty X1/9. Engine in the middle, weight of 880 kilograms, holy rear wheel drive. All, as you would expect, conspiring to kill you but who cares? It’s the eighties! Money gets burned, cocaine prices rise so crack arrives. Alongside the split of even more radical views piling up to create an elegant eggshell around decadence underbelly.
Cards on the table, bottles all over the counters. Stereotype. Red and white checkered tablecloth. Red and white wine. Red and white faces. Lone, bright light-bulb hanging in the center like it’s Jesus coming back. Turd-looking cigars puffed in each other’s faces. Tipo Quattro platform was taking shape. Alfa Romeo 164, Saab 9000 and Fiat Corma, were about to be given life. The main problem here was Lancia, still recovering from financial baseball bat hit in the kidneys. Huge variety of options Beta hopefully tried to present, backfired. It didn’t matter how many school diplomas she had. Didn’t matter HPE looked fine with its latina booty. Anti-corrosion protection was nothing new back then and somehow, while constructing the car in question such matter turned out to be rocket science. The result of that – everybody sitting knew very well about – were degrading key elements of the sub-frame. You know old comedy sketches, cars cracking in half? This could actually happen to you while driving along. To a car few years old. Time taking its toll couldn’t be stopped, but measures for slowing it down were out there, just to be picked up. No wonder they were angry:
– Non puoi dipendere, told ya not to hire a regazza.
– Hey! My Rosa can’t even wash dishes without breaking ’em.
– But she sure can give Stefano some pompino speciale.
– Which one is it Avi? The wagon or cabriolet?
– You fuckin’ stronzo, better stop talking ’bout my Rosa! I’ll cut yo’ face!
– Stefano! Just… don’t.
– I’ve heard it’s a coupe, poco costoso.
– Non funzionante, that’s fo’sure.
– Mangia merde Horacio, pour some more Kahlua.
– It’s a hatchback.
– Naah, berlina is fo’ rallyin’.
– Maybe she’ll show up, I dunno.
– Fuggedabouther! Where’s your glass?
– Stop this nonsense Luca, this is important.
– I mean… eventually. After Britannico market dies. I don’t like their minchia weather.
– …e la moda.
– Oh yeee…
– If you were listening to me for once, we wouldn’t have such problems.
– Avi, who could predict buy-backs?
– There can only be one Enzo.
– That’s true.
– Ya’ve heard the rumor? Some 037 comin’?
– If Don Fiat approves, I don’t care.
Sharing limited amount of toys with your brothers and sisters can momentarily be a bit frustrating. And Lancia, was that special kind of child to get advantage over the situation once all toys are broken, just to go on and steal more of everybody elses’ getting away with it, because of special prodigy treatment. She finally arrived. This time, with the best car of them all. You see, the top of the iceberg issue of infamous Pinin was quality. Sportscars, with all their romanticism, providing expensive thrills of speed and status every once in a while, too often exchanged the meaning of sensual carnality into actual merging of flesh and blood at the breaking point of breaking ability. Even more so, with a sedan you’d like to be in every day. Thema though, was not only rigid but better looking, more comfortable, fast(-ish). Rubbed shoulders with higher class crowd like Mercedes and Jaguar. Unfortunately, at the very beginning, already ruined reputation in the eyes of people looking for a car that’ll first of all drive, still dragged behind every finished automobile in Turin.
If there was something we could do, something like our racing division, to bring back the speed, the beauty and the prestige of Lancia ownership. I’ve heard these Ducati mechanics are quite cheap, whatever it is that they’re doing. Right. Just need to find an engine bigger than V-twin for them to work on.
Power-plant choices throughout Thema’s life consisted of 12 four-cylinder options ranging from 116 naturally aspirated horsepower, some 2.5l diesel afterthought, all the way to 200-and-five hp for Delta-sourced turbo version. 2.9 V6’es been quite good. Still manufactured by Lancia – ancient, that means. 12 valves, low revs, next big sedan had 3.0 Busso stolen from Alfa Romeo but we’re not there yet, last breath of independence on both sides. Going beyond? There isn’t much from the peoples still sitting at the table. Saab would never give out their 2.3, not after their crash test of Thema turned out to be of insufficient result. What about Ferrari then? Crazy thought, but what the hell, wouldn’t hurt to try would it?
Mondial. Designed to pick up what 250 GT/E left, on paper at least. Ride cross-continent on a two-weeks trip in a family of four where only two can get past adolescent height. Full on Italian style. Pop-up headlights, classic five-spoke alloys, beginning of new design language. Great. Arguably the slowest Ferrari ever. In fact, with its surprising weight of 100kg above Thema, it accelerated to 100kph in 10 seconds – first Golf GTI at the time did it in 9.2. So here we are again – you can be romantic all you want, there’s no hiding that limpness between the legs. Every fifth day, you wouldn’t even get anywhere close to ANY speed. Faulty Bosch fuel injection and tricky gearbox worked very hard on that. That, and 308 are usually references to where top of the line Thema got its engine from. But the mighty F105L V8 was much more than that. While it might not sound like anything, engineers answering Ferrari’s emergency call to action pushed forward a brand new, updated QV version of Mondial and 308, second one pushing 240 horsepower. Abbreviation of it, standing for Quattrovalve – 4 valves per cylinder. 8 cylinders times 4 explains “Thema 8.32” name but where’s the mystery? Lancia LC2. Martini liveried, twin-turbocharged monster pushing God only knows how much horsepower although claims state that on overboost it could be over a thousand. Near 9k rpm.
So it has a mythical engine, what about competition? BMW 5 series had two ways to be faster – pack a V8 of their own or full M-division prep. No point in listing others. That’s because of how much cash Italians wanted. Three times the base price, two times the M5. It’s was a huge drawback. In late-2018 money? Buy an Audi RS6 with Mini Clubman and you’re there. Seriously. English estimation is £100.000. House-building amount. For me it’s hard to think about money looking at it. Lost 98% of the value as some expected. In my eyes it also lacks seriousness in the modern perspective. I can’t imagine many potential drivers and even if I’m wrong, they wouldn’t ride it enough. Thema 8.32 was a shock, no doubt, but of rather showy kind. Celebration time? First sedan to have a true, Maranello heart after all. Except, it’s the eighties still. Ferrari stubbornness becomes almost ironic. 2.9l needed some additional work from the get go. Cross-plane crank at an angle of 90 degrees instead of 180 so it can fit in the engine bay. Smaller valves because obviously it needed to trade power for reliability. Different firing order too, so it won’t sound like a Ferrari by any chance. Oh, and put the “by Ferrari” badge someplace hidden. Yes! On the engine cover, perfect, but without our logo! Or is it a coincidence that only I refuse to accept?
215 horsepower it made. Not enough. Mondial at the start of production made that kind of power. Four years earlier. With half as much valves dating further back to death of Pablo Picasso. Premiere teased petrolheads and investors alike. The point of expectations sky-rocketed to a distance of better perspective. From there, experienced enthusiasts started to worry about handling. We could make an argument that its front wheel drive so more power would make it undriveable. 62% of weight rests on the front axle and Germans have better idea on how to do it avoiding heavy front bias. You’re not racing this car even in stock form. All actual use of power comes every straight opening up. But being Italian, creating a luxury muscle sedan with 300hp Mondial T engine wouldn’t work ideologically. It’s not like any other accidental manufacturer called… um… I forgot how, sold a sedan in the same class with 4.9 litre V8 right?
No, and we’re going to ignore the fact De Tomaso owns it now, Maserati used to shake hands with the French so screw ’em – I’m beating a dead horse here, I know. Don’t hate on me, I just love Lancias. They had every possible thing needed to make it just right. Hard for me to ignore the fact that V8 needed to be re-designed for their use. The cost was unbelievable and possibly caused such price. Paying attention to the fact that this power plant is just another derivative of Dino-series only makes it worse. They’ve already tempered with it in the past. Dealing with usual objections from Ferrari. 2.4l V6. Coupled with 5-speed transmission to transfer all of its 190 horsepower to the rear wheels of Stratos. It’s a racing engine too.
How they presented it?
Promotional video clip lasting over 5 minutes shows in a marketing matter completely nothing of substance. Tries very hard to establish important relationship between Ferrari and Lancia tip toeing on a minefield really. Hiding the Formula 1 rivalry, camouflaged hate, mixed feelings towards each other. Effect of this – meaningless fillers of history only stretching the ad in length. It boasts with acceleration time to 100kph and standing kilometer run, boring. Huge amount of shots focused on active wing popping out of the trunk. It repeats a bunch of times. Indicating the number of times you’ve already slowed down as another Panda cut you away. Clip switches tone, calms down a bit moving on to the interior, music doesn’t sound like 80’s porn so people probably slept during the unveiling. New frames, of people delicately manufacturing the most important features of complicated Thema. One. Slow. Move. After. Another.
So here comes the pretentious part – in stoic philosophy, first thema is nothing but equally complicated exercise in logic, but plowing through its unforgiving language we can find portions of their approach helpful with understanding the real 8.32:
1. Men are disturbed not by things, but by the perspective of them.
2. Choose your perspective, and do it wisely because: see point 1.
3. Opinions tend to form unconsciously, but rely on perspective.
Different example of such thinking is “Lincoln In Dalivision” already mentioned earlier. While it might be just the kind of painting to be sold for a bargain price to people not really caring all that much about art, it represents a grand idea. Because ‘they’, only see one face of such purchase. “Oh! It’s an original Dali, oh, delightful, I hope it goes well with Marcel Wanders livingroom of our Malibu summer-house“. So it rots, up on the wall. Next summer comes, doors are wide open with confused faces asking foolish questions. Seeing the painting from afar for the first time. Given all that, I call 8.32 – “Little Bentley”. You see, luxury and quality are main priorities here. It’s easy to give in, look at what marketing and sales departments try to push forward. Trying to drive it like a sports car, which it clearly isn’t, implies the assumption you’ve made rather than actual discovery of any fault. Speeds achieved don’t matter, the “how” and “why” are more important. Limited amount of horse symbolism should be a sufficient indicator of such character. Power these animals represent used to be spread around with a flavour of nobility. Upper class means of transportation at hard to imagine speeds, providing better perspective from literal up high. These animals aren’t violent. Endangered, will fight – left alone, would rather escape. Use in combat? Human invention of the past. History proves such claim, as Ferrari has been beaten many times during individual clashes, not only by Ford but pretty much by everyone. But no one, came even close to Ferrari’s endurance and willingness to just simply show up for the art of it. What explains their aversion towards Lancia – they started out racing and innovating the automotive world just to go few steps too far, ending up with sinusoidal win-lose curve throughout the rest of their history. 308 drivers weren’t fast, but back then and even today, people give them voluntarily superhero status.
Back to 8.32, what it became for Lancia? Limited edition premium collectible with intended future of the brand written all over it. Not so much an Italian halo car, meant to draw people in, as if Kia sold Stinger with more suede and fire shooting out back (can’t believe I’m making such reference). Just another magnificent piece of romantic, artistic machinery saying gently – “here I am, and you can’t have me”.
After decommission of Beta and Gamma, overall rating went back up. Reliability was a thing to expect again. Infamous rusting-skid-mark-protection was no longer an issue, preserving newer models in tighty-whities condition as it should from the get go. And yeah, let’s get this over with: first “mass-produced” car to feature active rear spoiler, nice. That’s probably why advertisement showed it so much. Till this day I’m waiting for someone capable of accurate weight transfer calculation, taking into the account back lid with rising system added up to about 10 tonnes. Button on the dash must’ve been the coolest thing back in the day. Exceeding highway speeds, seeing this black bullet passing you with wing raising itself for additional downforce. Inside, Italian splendour. Next incarnation of Trevi dashboard which is a fancy way of saying it has a lot of holes. Leather quality is excellent and unrestored cars don’t suffer from tearing apart. So nice to seat and see everything going out of your way, offering service. Interior is not trying to separate you like a tank. Modern city cars try hard to do so for some reason. Ashtrays and cigarette lighters for everybody. When ticked, Poltrona Frau upholstery option with real wood inserts gave you even more Ferrari-inspired details.
What is it like to live with?
Not quite sure.
Don’t trust people with big claims destined to cover holes in the narrative. While tire size on these cars makes your evening at the end of the season a big longer, it’s nothing special as some tend to think. What I did noticed – leaks. Many. Both oil and coolant. Maybe even some blood. Showroom floor needed rubber floor-mats hidden underneath, serving as urine bottles because expectedly, 70 kilometer run turned out to be exhausting past basic life functions. Ride is mushy with actual steering feel, although onsite specialist claims it varies from car to car. Hey, guy had a beard and leaned against Repsol Integrale so in my eyes he’s an Italian Gandalf and I’m going to listen to him. Electric witchcraft is nowhere to be found but at the end of the day, somebody’s gotta pay for it, let’s just stick to that. Having such complicated and fragile engine crammed into where humble four-banger used to reside requires special, dental approach. With all appearance traits muscling-up the message it’s easy for an untrained eye to mislead it for E500 rival. It’s as if you pushed Elijah Price off of another staircase.
Call it redundant, laugh at its wing smaller than the V8 sticker. Thema can handle it. We, car enthusiasts (incoming title-bomb) have asked for it anyway.
And no one cares. People walk by, squint trying to understand but never stop. Even Jeremy Clakrson got the numbers wrong, trying to cram it into a Top Gear episode million years ago. Reserved styling on the outside turned boring. Doesn’t seem to age in a glorious Radwood way. Coupled with features scattered all over for detail-minded the whole image sells like Mensa membership. Exceptional interior quality and comfort cannot be denied, alright, that’s the righteous argument. The only one. This here, at the photo, is screaming a bit because owner felt like Ferrari badges belong there. Final effect is something similar to binge-watching “best of Richard Dawkins” compilation in dire need of more arguments to throw at people because it’s THEIR fault they don’t remember you.
Taking repeating history for granted breeds cynicism. Yes, many things shout at us fighting for attention. Ideological wrestling on our screens creates an illusion of necessity, neon cut-out clothes of summer-break students shows off their sexuality, up to four summer hits played everywhere on a loop get in our heads and want to be a part everybody’s lives. 80’s throwback reference slides in with Queen members all in drag, singing along “I Want to Break Free”. Lancia’s dead now, so hopes for a sequel are pointless. But even though creating something so unique and discreet without shouting at the devil took place alongside Howard the Duck, we never got to see a proper continuation of these people’s effort. At least they got away with it, and that point of history will wait for it’s another incarnation.