A pleasant encounter on the streets of Dublin.
You might feel that we have featured the Lancia Thema rather too often on the pages of Driven To Write, but I would contend that it makes up for the blizzard of articles on the Citroën DS, Corvette, E-Type and Beetle found elsewhere on the Internet. With that said, here’s another Thema.
I had to double-check the facts: the Lancia Thema first emerged in 1984, launched in October of that year. Hence, it is something of a shock to realise the Thema’s 40th anniversary is almost upon us. The message I draw from this is that core industrial design principles amount to an enduring and time-proof way to resolve a product. It is the car’s underlying angularity (and the angle of the front windscreen, mostly) that makes the Thema look its age. I would not want to change that, though.
For a long time, I thought the Thema was the least successful of the Type Four platform designs. On reflection, Lancia’s subdued styling lent itself well to the common shape that it, Saab, Fiat and Alfa all had to work to. I find the low-key character of the Lancia thrilling: it’s the equivalent of having a made-to-measure suit in plain grey. You feel well-dressed, but it’s your own private business. I would suppose that such overt discretion embodied by the Thema is no longer in vogue. We can discuss whether the more pronounced grille is pushing the boat out too much or whether it is just discreet enough. I like it, but it does not need to be any more prominent.
As you know, the Kappa replaced the Thema and it also adhered to the Lancia principle of quietness, yet it is still unmistakable, even when seen from a distance. We might ask if the Thesis, successor to the Kappa, went way too far with its romantic forms and jewel-like detailing. That’s not to say I dislike the Thesis but rather that I think a better way forward would have been to apply all the same technology on a car of utmost conservatism and not try to use overt styling to woo customers.
The Thesis could very well have been as delightful inside. The exterior on the other hand could very well have been conceived of as an Italian Volvo in terms of sobriety. They didn’t even need to think of Volvo: the Lancia heritage was sobriety and this Thema (a succesful Lancia, let’s remember) illustrates that concept very well.
At some point I need to test drive one of these. Period reviews tended to talk about torque steer and a less-than-rigid bodyshell. I wonder if Lancia themselves had a settled view as to whether the Thema was supposed to fight Mercedes-Benz for ride quality or BMW for performance and handling, or did it just land by chance between a sofa and a church pew? The other factor is how the ride and steering compare to the Trevi, which the Thema nominally superseded. Undoubtedly, the Thema was better finished, with an interior that was much more refined than the Trevi’s (though the latter is still a thing of wonder). However, I suspect the ride and haptics were more ordinary, something that would not impress the driver of, for example, a Peugeot 405 or 505.
We now walk on past the Thema and continue our Dublin stroll.