Thesis On Thesis

Saving Lancia – one Thesis at a time…

Image: Top Speed

Attraction is a difficult feeling to describe or give substance to, one man’s glass of Chateau Neuf de Pape is another’s Suzuki X-90. And while I’ve never been allowed into DTW Towers (for reasons that cannot legally be divulged), there is widely believed to exist amid its expansive halls an unbridled acceptance of most things wearing a particular shield badge.

It was through a search for Lancia that these eyes did land upon Driven To Write, a smattering of time ago. Realising the sheer depth upon all matters motoring but leaning heavily towards the FCA (now enigmatic Stellantis) subsumed manufacturer, I dived in – eyes wide – head first. No arm bands, either.

Lancia have had poems of love written about them. Journalists were once known to swoon in admiration. Contrastingly, public comments are often bitter and twisted. Regardless, the mere mention of Vincenzo’s automobiles, even the modern varieties, are often the key to unlock the floodgates marked wax lyrical.

The Lancia Thesis (pronounce the word Tay-sis) has been subjected to several airings on DTW’s digitized pages. Amen to that. Pictures in glorious settings with the car in question most definitely in the spotlight, if not perhaps centre stage. Which, for me is part of the appeal, the attraction towards the obscure. Thus, today’s peering through the murky window of, let’s be honest, challenging looks are not to follow previous tyre tracks. This tale is of a Thesis renovation.

The Devil makes work for idle You Tube searchers – too easy to become ensnared – the Thesis in question below was bought for £300. A paltry amount for such a car, even one with a tale of woe such as this farm truck. Never officially sold in the UK, the steering wheel sits naturally to the left. The registration plates, along with previous owner are Polish.

The colour is maroon; one expects a keen-eyed reader to inform us as to the correct shade. The beige suede seats, along with the whole interior are shamefully filthy. As is the way, the proprietor states, “it ran when it was parked under a tree, a couple of years ago, I think. Other details are sketchy, the car’s power being made by diesel. Trim level has not been ascertained. Service history – lamentable. 

How does a Typ 841 end up like this? Economic crises for the last owner? Lack of available parts? Little interest in looking after things, interior notwithstanding? Just another hunk of metal? Which is of course exactly what this is, but this metal (and real wood) was formed into a Lancia. By definition then, a period controversial car having suffered a dereliction of duty, which adds gravitas.

Were this a German alternative, those with a Bavarian bent or shining a star towards Stuttgart, no doubt a club member would be willing to invest huge amounts of hard-earned into its rebirth. Were it a Jaguar, coo’s of delight would be heard just before being stripped for parts, the rusting hulk then abandoned to a yard corner.

Being Italian, like Pinocchio, this Thesis deserves, nay demands, life. Luckily, Chops Garage (hardly reassuring business nomenclature but our man Chops would appear to run Alfa Regazzi, independent dealers) might just be the south coast based Geppetto.

Built as the Italian executive express to tackle almost everything from convention to aesthetics and most things in between, this particular example needs not only lavish amounts of TLC but someone bearing a shield-shaped heart in order for the car to live again.

But this car simply is not another mode of transportation, a four wheeled flip that certain styles of the garage business (Chops included) deal in. Thesis is a calling. Lead designer Michael Robinson was quoted at the car’s birth saying, “People will be looking for excuses not to buy this car. So, we wanted to be damn sure we didn’t give them anything to hook onto.” All of which explains what exactly? 

Untold investment levels, cutting edge technology, just 16,000 made in an eight year production period, with it appears, precious few still in working order. Is the car a damning indictment of the state of Lancia at that time? That answer is of course in the affirmative. And remains sadly so. And how we, the aficionados of the products brought forth from the Rivalta and Mirafiori plants weep in despair. (Almost) never mind the car, we deserve better.

But am I the man to rescue this basket case? As one who knows how to wield a spanner but prefers his knuckles with skin still attached, I would fully expect that the changing of a clutch to be a beastly affair. Long hours of difficult toil – not for me, thankfully.

The interior on the other hand would find me a happier bunny. With the correct materials and enough elbow grease to plagiarise Nero, even a Neanderthal such as I could have those grubby carpets looking like new. As for the seats, a trip to the parts specialists, perhaps. Mechanically with such a car, niggling problems will surface by the minute; fuses, connectors, specific bolts and grommets will all require finding, payment, then fitting. All far too trying for my patience.

One could spend a lifetime extrapolating Venn diagrams explaining the connections between heart, head and Lancias in general; incalculable hours attributing equations relating ones personal involvement and the cold, hard, uneconomical truths.

Or be a modern day hero, saying to blazes with convention and having the guts to owning, running and having the confidence to utter, without irony or arrogance, “I drive a Lancia Thesis.” Brave pills are not on prescription.

Since writing this in the summer of 2020, the car remains with Chops Garage due to registration problems and a lack of cold hard cash. Could YOU be the one to jump headfirst into such an enigma?

YouTube link to the five videos 

Author: Andrew Miles

Beyond hope there lie dreams; after those, custard creams?

36 thoughts on “Thesis On Thesis”

  1. Great article Andrew. I’ve a soft spot for Lancias. They’ve produced some great cars over the years, but rust prevention was never their strong point. Who remembers the tales of engines falling out due to rust on the Beta models. Let’s hope someone can find the enthusiasm and cash to save this poor soul.

    1. As the former owner of a beta Spider I can confirm the corrosion proneness of these cars. Mine needed new sills, rear side panels, front inner wings and bonnet after a mere five years – the cost of this work was the reason I got it for next to nothing.
      But corrosion certainly is not the problem of the Thesis. Today’s Fiats, Alfas and Lancias don’t corrode more than the rest and maybe even less if I look at the problems Mercedes, BMW and even Audi are currently producing with cars that last the length of their leasing contract and then start to corrode just everywhere.
      The Thesis’ (as for all small series products from FCA like Alfa 916, Fiat barchetta) killer will be lack of spares parts. You can get brake pads, cam belts and such things that come from suppliers anyway but anything specific to the model is simply unavailable. Second hand parts dealers are the only source – there’s a guy in the Netherlands who buys every barchetta he can get and then rips it apart and sells the parts. Last time the cambelt on my barchetta was changed it took five weeks to locate a (used) cambelt cover. You wouldn’t want this on a car in everyday use.

    2. Tim: I may be forced to enact some form of penalty for reflexive references to the R-word in relation to Lancia.

      I might also have to inform the alliteration police and turn myself in…

  2. Good morning Andrew. What an interesting find. Mr Chops seems primarily to deal in the, ahem, cheap and cheerful end of the automotive spectrum, flipping superminis for a small turn, so one must assume that, like many before him, he lost the run of himself, seduced by the beguiling charms of a Lancia.

    Will it end well? I hope he will be able to use and enjoy the Thesis, once he sorts out the registration issue, but I fear for its future. Is it a ticking time-bomb, one significant mechanical failure or minor accident away from oblivion?

    1. There are two Alfa GTV 916s and a 156 in the film, so this guy is certainly mad enough.
      Any significant failure on an FCA product from that age will be the certain death of the car because of the spare parts situation.

  3. I suspect the Beta didn’t corrode any worse- in general- than other cars of the era; our 1981 Peugeot 305 was garaged overnight but looked shocking after 3 years. Rather I think it was their very specific and sudden rust problem which acted as a wake up call to the industry. Engines “Dropping out” because a badly designed subframe rusted through was the perfect news story even though it was distinctly old news by the time the press got hold of it. I believe the 1979 Delta was the first car to offer a 5 year rust warrenty.

    On a more general point what “Style language” is the Thesis using? It’s clearly Appia and Aurelia inspired but it doesn’t feel retro in the way contemporary Jaguar’s and Rover’s did. Is it post-modern? Is there a bit of Art Deco in there? The side profile makes me think of those Japanese domestic market flagship saloons that have evolved in isolation from the rest of the motoring world.

    The cross eyed look we see here has cross pollinated Alfa’s over the last few years but is pure Lancia in origin and I bet the inspiration was the earliest Viotti bodied Aurelia’s which had slightly oval headlamps.

    1. Good morning Richard. I think you’re right about the Beta. Because its corrosion problem was structural rather than merely cosmetic, it was far more newsworthy. Ironically, I don’t recall seeing Betas with serious bodywork corrosion. Perhaps they had all been scrapped with corroded sub-frames beforehand?

    2. I just came across this UK advertisement for the Beta:

      What a hostage to fortune!

    3. Lancia had attractive buy-back schemes where you’d get a full refund for your corroded car under the provision you bought another one from them.
      Alfa did the same and we made use of it when they paid full money for an eighteen months old ‘Sud my sister owned which had developed a large hole in the middle of the roof (the sud, not my sister).

      Italian car makers were ahead of their time as the beta and the ‘Sud were the first fully biodegradable cars…

    4. I personally consider the Thesis part of the ‘New Romantics’ era, alongside cars like the Alfa 156 and Maserati Quattroporte V – none of which are retro designs, but intentionally hark back to the past, courtesy of direct or ‘spiritual’ references.

  4. I don’t remember seeing a rusty one either, in contrast say to all those 4 year old Mercedes vans that prove poor corrosion resistance hasn’t gone totally out of fashion… It may be that automotive Darwinism had already culled the rusted Lancias already.
    I did once get chance to peek down at a Beta Berlina engine compartment- N registration I think, so 1974/5- I couldn’t see the offending subframe (Or it’s “n” section replacement), there was just too much “Engine-ness” in the way. I concluded that unless you were an owner with axle stands you couldn’t have kept an eye on the subframe or used an old coathanger to unclog the critical drain holes.

    1. You can’t compare commercial vehicles to privately owned ones.
      Mercedes Sprinters are rigorously calculated to last the time it takes to write them off against tax, five years. You then throw them away.
      In the sector of privately owned cars this starts also with those manufacturers dominating the leasing market calculating their cars to last for one leasing contract plus three years. Maybe that’s good anyway because I wouldn’t dare to drive one of their Arcade-game-on-wheels vehicles when it’s ten years old.

  5. Thesis. Really interesting car. Never seen one in the UK, but have stumbled across one or two when in France. It seems to have even more toys than a C6 and, to my eyes, in the details looks like a higher quality item than the Citroën (door pockets excepted). Both cars were a case of ‘wrong car’ for the times … and I don’t see those times have changed at all either. It will be interesting to see how up-market and expensive Stellantis tries to push Lancia in the next 10 years.

  6. Hello Andrew,
    I’m not surprised by the Polish plates. I’m Polish myself and Lancias back in the 90s had quite big esteem (or stigma?) in Poland as they were the official government cars. Mostly Themas and, later, Kappas. This was due the fact that Polish government had close ties with Fiat, they sold the Tychy Factory to them back in early nineties. By 00’s, government moved to BMWs and Audis, but Thesis was quite popular premium car on Polish roads. Of course, given lack of parts and questionable robustness, they mostly disappeared from our roads. Mercs, BMW’s and Audis of this vintage are still plentiful.

  7. Respect. Trying to bring a 300£ Lancia Thesis back to life and onto the road. Of all the funny adventures I heard, this is one of the funniest. And one to burn money in a very easy way. You could also put the money in small notes on the roof of the car and just drive away. Oh I forgot, it’s not driving yet….

  8. Terrific story. The Thesis is one of those cars I so want to like (and from some angles, do) but its dumpy side profile always gets in the way of my truly appreciating it. I once saw one driving along the same stretch of motorway as me and it did look better in motion I thought. The interior looks lovely in any case.

  9. Great stuff Andrew. Unfortunately Mr Chops seems not to have heard about the 2 bucket method for car washing, nor that one should use a wool mitt or similar instead of a sponge. All that aside I admire his enthusiasm and perseverance in getting the car running and looking pretty good too. The interior came up well and it was a shame we couldn’t get a better sight of the bodywork although the colour looked lovely.
    I have driven in Poland and am not surprised that the car suffered from rust. Similarly I assume he may have had to change some suspension components as the roads out there were badly rutted.

    1. … was enthralled and ready to hit the “buy” button until the word “diesel” popped up. Apologies for my dervish prejudice and sacrilege, but I would need to locate a more fragrant and aurally satisfying powertrain: would a Busso V6 fit?

  10. Lovely article – I think the colour is ‘Tintoretto Bordeaux’.

    ‘Michael Robinson was quoted at the car’s birth saying, “People will be looking for excuses not to buy this car. So, we wanted to be damn sure we didn’t give them anything to hook onto.”’ That is optimistic.

    I think they’re lovely cars, but only if someone else is paying – the sort of car I would like someone else to own, so that I could admire it from afar and travel in it, occasionally.

    1. Thanks Charles, I’m noticing the unusual Honda-style double wishbone front suspension. Here’s another drawing.

    1. Great find! I’ve never seen this before.
      The front looks a bit Saab-ish from some angles – which is no disadvantage in my eyes.

    2. Thanks, Simon. Yes, a very ‘modern 1940s’ design – just when pontoon styling was coming in. I think that transition period produced some really great designs – especially from Ford and De Soto, among many others in the US, and Morris with the Minor in Britain. And SAAB, as you rightly say.

  11. Would love to have had a look at the alternative styling schemes for both the Lancia Thesis and Lancia Lybra.

    Fiat’s handicapping of Lancia in favour of Alfa Romeo brings to mind a more recent example roughly a decade or so back, where it was reported Volkswagen was planning to basically handicap Skoda in order to justify the continued existence of SEAT.

    1. This seems to be a common problem for corporations with too many marques in similar segments. Peugeot’s downgrading of Citroën with their stupid DS initiative comes to my mind. I wonder what this game will look like within ‘Stellantis’…

    2. Thanks Charles

      Can sort of see where they were coming from with the Dialogos in heavily drawing upon the Aurelia, though cannot say it or the Thesis were well executed given the limitations and half-heartedly approach in going down the retro route, unlike Fiat with the 500 or even Lancia with the Fulvia Coupe concept.

      In some respects Lancia would have been better off not going down the retro-esque route with the Thesis and Lybra, at the same time they would have probably been better off drawing upon the Flavia / 2000 and Flaminia instead of the Aurelia.

    3. The various styling mock-ups that led to the Dialogos are fairly well-known but the main ones are in the first pic below – from left, the Tikal (Andrea Bassi), Arca (Pietro Camardella) and Agora (Marco Tencone). These were all from 1996; until recently I hadn’t seen the second pic which shows the Arca mockup alongside the contemporary 5 and E-Class. I also recently saw the final pic for the first time – it’s nothing new as such but emphasises how clean the Dialogos’ front end was. The Thesis’ front end isn’t bad but it definitely lost something with the compromises necessary for production.

  12. At the time the Thesis was for sale, in May 2003, I drove one for one day to see if I liked it, with the 3 litre ex-Alfa 164 Busso V6. I drove it some 300 km that day, on mixed roads in western Switzerland, including the climb to the Gd St Bernard pass.
    It was a nice car, but somehow I did not like it enough to buy it. It felt quite heavy, and complicated, with its Skyhook suspension and all those electronic systems. Performance was adequate, but nothing special – the engine was hard at work, to move all that weight uphill. Also that retro styling did not make the car attractive to my wife.
    I then bought a Citroen XM V6 with 4 speed automatic from 1999, that was much more to my liking, less weight, and more nimble. That car was also easy to service, and did not cause any trouble, until I sold it with 240’000 km. After an interlude with a Subaru, I then had an opportunity to try out a Citroen C6, with the same petrol V6 : much heavier than the XM, the petrol V6 was just not acceptable in the C6 : it felt underpowered while accelerating in a motorway entrance. A few years later I found a 3 litre V6 diesel C6, which I still have. It is everything the Thesis should have been : a refined luxury car, with well behaved V6 diesel engine, and effortless performance. Also very reliable, if service is done by a C6-knowledgeable Citroen workshop. I use it as my long distance car, and will keep it as long as I can.

  13. Unfortunately a comment on the most recent of the Thesis videos suggests that “Chops” sold it on, but it has since been scrapped. I am surprised that it took so long – at £300 for a large and probably unfixable LHD saloon, I would have expected the ‘banger racer’ community to buy that, probably make a good profit by selling parts, and racing the shell. Perhaps that was eventually its fate – it got a brief moment in the spotlight at least.

  14. I got one😁
    It’s a strange car, I don’t understand why they did what they did……
    But it fits me perfectly!
    And the Bose sound is a pluss.

    The engine sub-frame MUST be checked for rust!
    That is the nummer one problem.
    That, and the ground problems, but thats easy to fix.

    This is not my first Lancia with turbo.
    Just love them….😍

    1. Hi Petter. Great to have another Lancia enthusiast on board!

      One would have thought that Lancia would have learnt the lesson from the Beta regarding engine subframe related rust issues (although, on the Beta, it wasn’t the subframe itself, but the box section in the floorpan to which it was bolted that rusted out).

  15. Hi Petter
    Welcome to DTW and thanks for the brief outline regarding your Thesis.

    Can you offer any more information, please? And why do you believe the car strange? The looks, rarity, demeanour? A Bose system usually sounds great – does it drown out the engine noise?

    Lancia fans both old and new here ate DTW would love to hear more.

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