Commuter Car Potential: 1993 Lancia Thema Pair

For some reason, Lancia Themas have been popping up on craigslist with increasing regularity. Sure, it’s part of that crop of cars now eligible for more lax importation requirements, but usually it’s the Ferrari-engined 8-32 that gets all the shine. This pair of Themas are more ordinary commuter car-spec examples, with both listed here on craigslist as a duo for $5,500 or individually for $3,500 each.

Thanks to Barn Finds reader Roger for the find. The car in the top picture and above is the one to get, in my opinion, due to having the manual transmission. It’s also equipped with the hotter engine, a turbocharged 2.0L 16V that the seller says did duty in the legendary Delta Integrale 16V. The interior looks fairly clean, with nicely bolstered cloth bucket seats.

The other car is more of a case of “Why bother?” given it’s an automatic and a wheezy naturally-aspirated 2.0L inline-four. The seller notes this car does have impressively low mileage of just 46,000, but the paint job is still rough despite the limited use. Does anyone else think the seller was focused on importing another car and just grabbed these because they were “there”?

I don’t blame him in the least if he did. If you can acquire a desirable specimen and make up the purchase price with a few others, using exchange rates or cheap shipping to your advantage, why not? While I don’t love the Thema enough to entertain using one for daily use, the manual car would still be fun to hustle with little fear of seeing yourself coming or going.


  1. h5mind

    Wow, I just flashed back to the 1988-89 Renault Medallion. A friend bought one new while working at a Renault/Eagle dealer and it was most memorable for its incredibly bland personality. To borrow from Sir Walter Scott, it eventually succumbed to the tin worm, “[Returning] to the vile dust from whence it sprung,
    Unwept, unhonored, and unsung.”

    Like 1
    • SubGothius

      The Medallion/R21 was a completely different car, though I kinda see the resemblance.

      The Thema was a variant of the Type Four (Tipo Quattro) platform shared in common with the Saab 9000, Fiat Croma, and (in modified form) Alfa Romeo 164, so these will drive pretty much like the Saab version we got here, albeit with different engines and suspension tuning.

      Like 1
  2. LARRY

    Perfect use of words h5..describes a lot of vehicles on bf lately but I do like the 5speed turbo version

  3. mike hawke

    I owned one of these with the manual transmission and really liked it…very roomy too.

  4. Hasse B.

    Food for thought: Maybe make use of the sibling relation with the Saab..

    Don´t now if the Opel Vectra (Chevy Cavalier? Saturn???) based Saab New 900/9-3 found its way to the US in all flavours, but those came powered by some real fine 2.3 liter 16 valve turbo engines at best (for a few years the build quality of the engines dropped so investigate on the details before buying anything and of course get the full engine wiring harness along with it). I was at work on dismantling a bunch of crash test cars of both the 9000 and the New 900 so i got the chance to examine them a bit, if memory serves me right most details in the engine/transaxle setup were a match, making the swap rather easy which ought to be about the same for the Thema.

    The Saab engine itself is about as simple as they come when you start wrenching on them, but look for cracks between the valves on early 2.3´s. Later ones in 9000´s has a reputation for being unbreakable. Igniton is a cassette very similar to the one on GM Ecotec engines and for all i know Saab invented it. A computer wiz aquaintance claims he gained some hidden 50+ extra horses from a Saab engine of that kind just by resetting the chip in the factory engine control himself (of course, there are ready-mades to buy from the after-market).

    As for the bottom end, i found that at least the basic older H-series n/a 2.0 version of this engine family uses connecting rods virtually identical in specs to the circa 1980 Chevy 350 V8 (i think the thickness at the crank was 1 mm less for the Chevy rod and that´s it, the turbos have a stronger profile than n/a ones), pointing toward that they could use some Chevy rods and forged pistons to take on a bigger turbo with some minor machining. Could make for a innocent-looking sleeper with everyday commuter capabilty and less hassle or cost than finding and maintaining a high end italian performance engine for it.

    Like 1
  5. Coventrycat

    A 26 year old Italian oddball as a commuter? Hope you have an understanding boss because you’re late from breakdowns.

    Like 2
  6. Hasse B.

    Actually, i´ve never owned a car less than ten years old, so it helps to have an understanding boss or to have walking distance to the work place…:D And me being a mainly Ford (Europe) guy but having wrenched on much else, this would be nothing but a though experiment anyhow.

    Well, if the Lancia Thema is anything like the Saab (the Fiat Chroma has been said to be the worst of the lot) it´s for the most part very reliable if the mileage of the car in question is reasonably low and the listed one looks fresh enough. Can´t tell for sure as the Thema wasn´t avaible in Sweden (Saab had the dealership on Lancia…) but judging by the smaller Prisma sedan it ought to hold up rather well against time. That was a notchback version of the Delta hatchback, which Saab had some lesser influence on than the Type Four platform. The Delta was proudly badged here as the Saab-Lancia 600 but those cars had a bunch of technical issues hardly known to be associated with the more independent Prisma, kind of ironic.

    …Yeah, keeping it as a daily driver might be making a stretch considering it´s a Lancia but it was written a bit with tongue in cheek – just a little. Taking the usual american 55 mph speed limit and freeway/highway roads into the equation, i´d say it ought to stand a good chance compared to the conditions the Saabs have to withstand usually, as still not that rare grocery getters at home and revered by “youngtimer” car enthusiast germans with their free-speed Autobahns.

    Of course the major part of the 9000´s have vanished but mainly due to the usual neglect and the fact that the demolition track racers took a liking to them when the company bankrupted because of all the same reasons the real fans did and still do like them. It´s tough stuff built for hard conditions. One way to deal with quirks if any in a project of sorts would be to gut a scrapped Saab 9000CS (considered by some as the best Saab ever) of its suspension and rear axle too, deal with any replacements needed and make it all fit. I suspect that wouldn´t be such a big deal for any gearhead used to frontrunners, when i was tearing them down at the breakers it took a couple of hours gutting one with air tools on a lift. Easy pieces compared to the previous 900 series.

    The future avaibility of Saab spares seems to be in the hands of the aftermarket since the demise of the Saab brand but with a stately deal still running with a trustee keeping stock inventory for the last models, although that could soon be in the wind if recent questions about the deal appeal to change it. Some Internet stores mostly based in Germany still keeps inventory to keep them going.

    As for the Lancia itself, rumour has it that the original parts inventory for older models was sold off to a company not related to the FCA but still made avaible to the open market, propably with a rise in prices as always with such deals.

    A situation not worse than for most cars that´s come of age, so it´s all oddball stuff like you say but please agree that´s the case for most of the old stuff in this modern-day world. :) /All the best, H.B.

  7. Darren garratt

    I owned a auto 2 litre thema 16v about 5 years ago and it’s a nice combination. Lusty engine that sings right round to the redline and lots of space inside. And not once did it leave me stranded ion the roadside. I would have another like a shot but survival rates are down to single figures in England.

  8. Kevin Harper

    I have owned the Alfa 164 version of this car and even though we did a little over 400k miles on the car it was far from my favorite Alfa or italian car. It was very competent and over the 400k it was very reliable as it was mostly my wife’s car. I would expect the Lancia to be similar in both driving dynamics and reliability.
    The engine in this one is the familiar Lampredi I4. It is a great engine but this is a lot of car to haul around and I fear it would be overtaxed, better to go with either the Saab or the Alfa, and really the Alfa puts the power down best.
    I don’t know who actually provides the parts but my guess is that AFRA as they are the Italian clearing house for parts it seems.
    Also a lot of parts interchange between the vehicles the heater fan motor for the 164 is the same as the SAAB 9000. The one for the alfa cost 220 and the one for the SAAB us about 110, so it is good to research items like this.
    Oh the engine in my old 164 still lives in a GTV6. It has had a valve job but the bottom end is still original. Nothing special has ever been done to it other than routine oil changes with nothing special traditional oil.

    • SubGothius

      Note these Lampredi twincams are more potent than any we got in the US — both 16-valve and Euro-spec, and one’s also turbo’d (so basically the same engine as in the mighty Delta Integrale), pushing about 150 and 200 HP respectively for the ’93 model year, vs. the US-market Fiat engines we got with HP ranging from about 80 (late carb’d) to 100 (with FI).

  9. schooner

    Hmmm… Would the 2.0L 16V work in the Scorpion featured a few days ago?

    • Kevin Harper

      Yes, but the intake and exhaust switched sides on these later lampredi twin cams. So it is not a simple switch, but it has been done.

  10. t-bone Bob

    don’t think I would use either one as a commuter

  11. Mark

    Looks like a Volvo 850

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