Not their finest hour: 2012 Lancia Thema

Celebrating the greatest cock-ups in automotive history. Today we look at 2012 Lancia Thema
By Sony Thomas, Deputy Editor
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April 12, 2017
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The Lancia Thema, which was sold for a decade from 1984, is an Italian saloon that evokes warm recollections for a good number of classic car aficionados. Powered by Aurelio Lampredi-designed Fiat engines, and even a Ferrari V8 (1986 Thema 8.32), it was a great four-door car, which still has a special place in the hearts of Lancistas.

However, when Fiat decided to relaunch the nameplate in 2011, it seems no one but the bean counters were calling the shots. Totally disregarding the badge's heritage, Lancia's parent group decided to rebadge the Chrysler 300 as a Thema and sell it in Europe.

While it would still have been OK if it had been a case of shared platform and technology, what was shocking was Fiat's decision to do nothing but swap nameplates. It was marketed in Europe as "the first global flagship that combines the best of two worlds". Well, it was clear for all to see that there was only one world involved in the actual car, and the only second-world input was the nameplate.

While the original Thema was a front-wheel drive car, the Chrysler-based model was rear-drive, powered by either a 3.6-litre Pentastar V6 petrol mated to an eight-speed automatic gearbox, or two versions of a 3.0-litre V6 turbodiesel, coupled with a five-speed automatic. Set a seemingly modest target of 10,000 cars a year for entire Europe, the Thema could only achieve 20 per cent of that mark when the full year results were out.

Performance in Lancia's home market was also disappointing, as many Italians saw the Thema as an all-American car, and rightly so. Adding to the car's sales woes was the fact that customers were charged a 10 per cent import tariff as it was built in Canada, and an annual luxury tax.

One of the worst examples of badge engineering, the Thema crushed the dreams of Lancia fans who were hopeful of a day this storied brand would trudge back to at least a semblance of its old self.