Lancia Thema | Automotive Views

29 Jul 2014 | Author: | Comments Off on Lancia Thema | Automotive Views
Lancia Thema

Automotive Views

The Best of the Sleeper Cars – European Edition

We all know the story…it’s happening right now in countless places all around the globe; somewhere out there, while you’re reading this, there’s a big loudmouth bully picking on an unassuming little guy that was just minding his own business. The little guy stands there, letting the presumptuous jerk run his mouth until finally he can’t take any more and with a solid decisive punch, he knocks the bully out, sending teeth flying across the room.

The power to give one hell of a beating when at the beginning everything points out to a crawling in shame exit strategy  is why I absolutely love sleeper cars. Now, before this goes any further, I have to explain exactly what I’m talking about, more precisely my views on what has become a controversial, frequently incorrectly discussed topic.

Point number one: of course it’s obvious that any modest little car with a big engine is gonna give a nice sports car a run for its money at the very least in a light to light straight line; that’s not a sleeper, that’s a tuned/modded (whatever you wanna call it) car. Point number two, a debagged tarmac tearer is not a sleeper car, that’s called cheating actually; you don’t tear the badge of an M5 and say it’s a sleeper; it’s at best your very flawed and shameful attempt at being “stealthy”. Plus, of course you expect a sporty BMW or Mercedes to be fast, the looks of it alone give it away in a heartbeat.

Sleeper cars are completely stock, they are discrete (at most they have a couple of special badges, slight body style changes, perhaps even a funny looking spoiler) and so, they’ll fly right under the radar of anyone who’s not a car fanatic. At this point some of you may be saying: “stop right there, your logic is flawed!

If someone has a car nice/tuned enough to go around showing off and picking on other cars, surely he/she’ll be able to spot the sleepers, no matter how subtle they act”; you’d think so wouldn’t you? However, the ignorance level out there is much higher than you’d expect.

It’s not only the car aficionados that go for something fast…you’ve got the people who just have too much money on their hands and are looking for something to show off and you also get the kids with 0 notion of everything that came before yesterday afternoon, no historical knowledge whatsoever. Even car guys will overlook sleepers sometimes, these are very low production numbers vehicles, and as such it’s no surprise that they’re completely missing from a lot of people’s mental archive.

This is nothing but good news! Why? Because you can get a decent sleeper at a very affordable price and just like that you’re left with a ready to go speed loving machine that’s a ton of fun to play with when you want to, but that’s also able to carry the kids, dog, the shopping bags and everything else you want around when you need to.

For now this article will be dedicated to European sleepers, the US version will be on Automotive Views soon; I chose my 3 very favorite ones, there are many other great ones so your “top 3” on this topic will probably be different from mine, this is my particular opinion on the subject. Onto what really matters, starting with something truly special.

Lancia Thema

Ladies and gentlemen: the Thema. At this point you’re p robably thinking that this Lancia has about as much presence and beauty as a cereal box, but you’d be wrong…in fact some cereal boxes do much better in those departments. Coming from the same company that blessed us with automotive x-rated goodness like the Stratos, the 037 and the Flaminia GT, the Thema feels as exciting as a brick.

Don’t get me wrong, I actually kind of like, but in terms of excitement…you can’t find anything wrong with it, but you can’t find anything right either. But this whole talk is misleading because despite looking like a regular Thema, what you see in the picture is anything but regular.

You see, back in the mid 80’s someone over at Lancia looked at a Thema and went “meh”, than he probably yawned and continued to do so until he remembered that Lancia was owned by Fiat who just happened to also own Ferrari…(this is the time the little light bulb came on). You see, the Ferrari 308 production had ended in 85 and apparently there were V8’s lying around, and that’s just not right, it’s much better to put them to good use.

So, some mild tweaking later the result was the absolutely amazing Thema 8.32, better known as the Thema Ferrari. Why not call it Thema Ferrari all the time? Because Ferrari is…well, Ferrari; they’re always looking forward to put as much distance as possible from anything that doesn’t meet their high thoroughbred ideal, just look at what happened to poor Dino…so if you open the bonnet on a Thema 8.32 what you’ll find written on the engine is “Lancia by Ferrari”…see the difference?

The designation 8.32 comes from the engine itself actually; it refers to the 8 cylinders and 32 valves on Ferrari’s disowned V8.  So what does this all actually means for the Thema? Well, by today’s standards at first the numbers aren’t really impressive: 215bhp, 0 to 60 in about 6.8 seconds and a top speed of just under 150 mph.

At this point you’re not gasping the way you’d expect to be when you heard the whole Lancia with Ferrari engine concept/pitch right? Well don’t discard the Thema just yet because torque matters and the V8 delivers (especially with the aid of the effective 5 speed manual gearbox), making the Lancia more than capable of getting the jump on someone or coming from far behind and overtaking in a heartbeat.

Plus, with the Lancia you get a great companion to cover large distances with because let’s not forget, this is a serious luxury car after all. So prices…this is where it gets tricky for US buyers; I couldn’t find any one of these available now but there have been a few up for auction and regular sale so if you’re really interested, hang in there, keep your eyes peeled and something will come along. If you’re in Europe, good news!

These are very affordable; sure, it will demand a bit more TLC than your ordinary sedan, but nothing that will become too heavy to handle.

If the Thema isn’t your cup of tea and you’re looking for something a bit more versatile, but that can still go from A to B in “damn that was fast!”, the Swedes came up with something that might just interest you.  Meet the V70 850 R. Like the Lancia, it’s a very interesting…box with wheels…a suburban box as a matter of fact because Volvo station wagons screams soccer mom as laud as your ear drums can take.

However, as you might have guessed by now this is no plain old school run wagon. Back in 95, Volvo asked Porsche for a few pointers in turning the normal 850 Turbo into something a little bit more…defiant; the 850 T5-R was born and it sold out so fast that the Swedish manufacturer decided it would be a good idea to pull the same stunt the following year.

And that is how the 850 R came to be; now, there were two versions, sedan and station wagon and of course, I’m a huge fan of the station because in terms of appearance, it’s one of the ultimate sleepers, by any book. Just look at it, would you ever suspect it?

The V70 850 R holds a very respectable 250bhp (that’s from a 5 cylinder 2.3L engine by the way…) but the real “pièce de résistance” is the acceleration of the thing once the turbo kicks in; from 0 to 60, the V70 will keep you in suspense for over 7 seconds but after that, hold on because it will just keep going like a bat out of hell. Don’t expect a particularly smooth ride; this is after all a performance machine, so the suspension is stiff, but the interior mak es it better; your “rocket bus” has very comfortable seats and all the equipment you can possibly need in a car.

Plus, you won’t mind some slight back pain when the joy of overtaking smug-mobiles all day starts kicking in. James Mackintosh from can sum up the 850R (in his particular case the sedan version, but the principal is the same) much better than me when he says “It’s a strange combination of rock-like solidity and Volvo-ness, and a motor that feels like it’s sucking down gallons of JP8 and spitting out flaming baby skulls.” So…fast, safe, reliable and on top of that a master of disguise; doesn’t get much better than that! Again, a word of warning to US buyers; although you can get clean a V70 850R for a low price, the ones sold in the States are equipped with an automatic 4 speed instead of the proper 5 speed manual in the European models; but again, according to Mackintosh, this was one of the most efficient gearboxes of its time so, you’ll still be able to put it through its paces in style.

Last but certainly not least, my favorite Opel of all time and one of the great sleepers, perhaps “the” greatest: the Lotus Omega. Before we continue, first things first: the pictures I’ve used for this article are of a Vauxhall Carlton. As you know, Opel is marketed in the UK as Vauxhall, why I’ll never know…as far as changes go it’s just putting ugly as sin Vauxhall badges and grills on Opels.

So, the Carlton and the Omega are exactly the same car. Why (might you ask) the lengthy and boring explanation? Because I wanted to make sure you, the reader, had the best pictures possible and these are indeed the best ones out there, so just disregard the stupid looking, wrong badge. On to the important stuff!

Why the Lotus Omega is not just one of the great sleepers, but also one of the most amazing, perfect cars ever made. Back in the early 90’s, the Opel Omega wasn’t exactly sporty (and when I say “exactly”, I mean not at all), it was just a big efficient German sedan to go from A to B. In conclusion, something had to be done about it because Opel’s “neighbors” were up to no good…and why should they have all the fun?

Mercedes had the E500, BMW had the M5, and Opel…well, Opel got a weapon of mass destruction. General Motors bought Lotus back in 86 and somewhere along the line the company decided it would be a good idea to use the British manufacturer’s expertise to promote Opel (Vauxhall) sales. What resulted of the apparently innocent idea was a monster that caused what Tiff Needell referred to as a “national scandal”.

But I’m getting ahead of myself; what Lotus did exactly was take a 3.0L 177 bhp engine and turn it into a 3.6L twinturbo 377 bhp powerhouse! 0 to 60: 5.2 seconds – that’s faster than a 12 cylinder Ferrari Testarossa…top speed: 177mph (and let’s not forget, this is a 3500+ lbs car). To handle the new power, Lotus fitted the Omega with a brilliant six speed manual from the legendary ZR1; the suspension was completely re-imagined and so were the brakes.

It’s impressive to notice that from such a major overhaul, pretty much the only thing that gives the Omega away is the simple body kit and small spoiler. But like I was saying in the beginning of the article, to most people this will still be one heck of a surprise when it blasts by. So, it was incredibly fast, but back to Needell’s comment and why exactly was the Omega such a controversial machine in Britain.

Well, the German giants (Audi, BMW, and Mercedes) had all agreed on a 250kph (155mph) limitation on their cars in order to prevent the escalation of a top speed war; the Omega would beat that by 22mph…in typical British overreaction, the Royal Society for th e Prevention of Accidents described it as a “high speed safety hazard” while the Association of Chief Police Officers considered it “an outrageous invitation to speed”. Although the Lotus Omega wasn’t the Armageddon horseman its critics in the UK claimed it to be, it was indeed a highly desirable target for thieves and that wasn’t good for the cops because the hottest thing they had was a brand new fleet of Senators that would max out at under 150mph…As with the previous two cars, I wanna leave a special note for potential US based buyers; although it’s highly unlikely you’ll ever find one of these for sale in the States, you can legally import it under the Department of Transportation’s “Show and Display” exemption.

So if you can afford it (the car in Europe is not as affordable as the previous ones; it enjoys a well established cult status and that makes it [relatively] pricey), for heaven’s sake man/woman, do it now! They’re getting harder to find every year and in the US, they’d be an even more special and unique sight than they are across the pond.

Consulted Sources and used Images

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