The List. Your dream drive made real. ‘A sweet symphony’ Mark is a Jaguar man – he’s owned 21 – but his dreams are of V-engined super-GTs. A Maserati Bora sounds just right, but will the drive live u to expectations? Words Russ Smith. Photography Jonathan Fleetwood.
The List Reader Mark Dollery has always wanted to try a Maserati Bora. How will he fare driving the sophisticated Seventies supercar for a day?
The mid-Nineties Jaguar Sovereign that pulls tentatively into the car park of our Bell Inn meeting place in the New Forest is a dead giveaway. He may be over half an hour early, but I know it’s going to contain our serial Jaguar-owning reader, Mark Dollery.
‘My God, even the colour’s right’ – a reader lives out his Maserati Bora dream
Intros done, we’re straight onto car-guy talk, which is easy conversation. Mark walks the walk too, having penned the book Jensen V8: The Complete Story of the American-Powered Cars in his spare time. But I’mkeenest to know about his attraction to the Maserati Bora we’re here to drive today – one of seven Italian cars on his dream drive list.
‘From when I first saw a picture of one as a teenager I’ve thought it was a nice bit of kit, and have been fascinated by them ever since. It was one of those cars you always wanted your dad to own, but of course he could never afford to. Anyway, imagine your dad bringing one home in 1971 – you’d have wet your trousers!’
Right on cue, there’s the burble of an exotic engine and the Bora pulls in to an enthusiastic, ‘Red! My God, even the colour’s right. Thanks.’ Right away Mark is like a kid with a new toy – one that he’s researched thoroughly in the run-up to Christmas. ‘It’s even an early car. In my opinion these were the prettiest. To meet US safety standards, from 1974 the Bora was fitted with a redesigned front end to accommodate impact bumpers, which lost that lovely chrome split air-intake and front spoiler. Another minus was a black air-extraction grille fitted halfway up the front bootlid, which broke those lovely sweeping lines.
‘I’ve always thought the Bora’s overall design was impressive; sleek yet muscular and most importantly well balanced – but then again we are talking about the genius of Giugiaro.’
To be fair, the fact that Tony Bernstein’s car is a 1971 4.7-litre model is a happy accident. We weren’t exactly spoilt for choice – there were only 42 Boras built with right-hand drive out of a total of 530-571 (depending on which source you believe), and currently only 11 are registered for use in the UK.
Tony has owned his Bora for more than 30 years and drives it as often as possible. Mark climbs in for a quick familiarisation run on the two miles up to our base for the day, the fairly empty B- and C-roads around the disused and largely disappeared RAF airbase at Stoney Cross. A place that’s used to Stirling bombers and Mustang fighter planes seems appropriate for exercising some more noisy horsepower – in the Bora’s case 310bhp of it. Instruction over, it’s time to strap Mark into the driver’s seat with a final warning, ‘You might find the gearbox takes some getting used to.’
Mark is instantly impressed. ‘Surprisingly there’s plenty of room for a two-seater supercar. From outside, the seats look very unusual and not very comfortable with their sloping, ribbed design that virtually extends to the floor. But once you position yourself they hug the contours of your body and legs like a pocket-sprung mattress. They’re so comfortable it’s amazing. The innovative way you adjust the driving position is really interesting too. The high-pressure hydraulic system that Citroën supplied [it owned Maserati at the time] is used to adjust the rear of the seat up and down with one switch, and there’s another for moving the pedal cluster in and out instead of moving the seat fore and aft.’ They are handily placed to the left of the steering column, just below the ignition switch. ‘It’s a practical idea and you can get a really good driving position. The steering wheel’s the right size for me and adjusts all ways too, which helps.
‘I like the dashboard layout too. I’m a fan of auxiliary dials and there are plenty of those mounted on a perfectly-angled panel, ensuring the driver is looking directly at them, with the oil pressure gauge dead-ahead of you between the impressive 200mph speedometer and 8000rpm rev counter. The radio’s tucked away to the right of the steering wheel. Lamborghini did that on the Espada too; I’ve always liked that as an idea.’
Time to twist that key, with the throttle pedal depressed, as instructed. The well warmed-up V8 bursts instantly to life. Says Mark, ‘You notice straight away that the engine is refined, even with Weber carburation there’s no lumpiness on tickover.’
Mark goes quiet for a while, getting used to how everything works and starting to open it up once we turn onto the more open B3078 towards Fordingbridge. Finally his thoughts come tumbling out. ‘This is from when cars became properly interesting. You really have to drive it; nothing’s done for you. The Bora is even better than I’d imagined it to be. You’d expect a one-and-a-half-ton supercar of this vintage to be at the very least slightly cumbersome, even crude and uncomfortable with a harsh ride – but nothing could be further from the truth. The Bora has a comfortable yet firm enough ride. It feels agile, smooth, holds the road well and corners with absolute confidence.
‘Tony was right, it does take a while to get used to the gearbox, but once you do it’s fine. It has a tight gate and you can’t rush it – it took me a couple of goes to hook it into first. But there’s so much torque that when pulling away from a standstill you could easily not bother with first gear at all. It’s the same at any revs – even from 30mph in third, fourth or fifth it pulls like mad. You expect supercars to be more peaky.
‘The clutch is quite heavy too, and has to go right down to change gear. I also found that because I had to have the adjustable pedal cluster fully extended towards me, both feet could often catch a bolt on the steering column and get wedged under the cluster itself. I’m getting used to it, but it does feel quite odd to have the pedals so far from the floor. On the other hand, the brakes are excellent and fill me with confidence. I’ve never known brakes like it on a Seventies car. I’ve had no trouble adapting to the Citroën-style short-travel pad – it’s easy to modulate the pedal pressure but it also stops on its nose if you hit the pedal hard.’ There are a few raised eyebrows at an odd whirr/clunk that occurs when the brake pedal was pressed. Any unfamiliar noise from a braking system is disconcerting, but it turns out to be coming from a valve in the high-pressure hydraulic system that’s mounted on the rear bulkhead, and is just a Bora thing.
‘This is very, very nice to drive, and so much quieter than I’d expected. Mostly there’s just a pleasant growl which turns into a lovely whine when you wind it up, but it’s never too intrusive, a sweet-sounding symphony rather than the bellowing roar that you hear from some of the Bora’s rivals.
A lot must be down to the dual-pane rear window that separates you from the engine compartment. When you think, double-glazing was not that common in houses back in 1971, so in a car… that’s stuff Ferrari could have learnt from. The engine is well insulated by that carpeted cover too.’
Which makes it as good a time as any to have a break and whip that well-padded aluminium cover off to take a look at the engine. The Bora’s large rear clamshell bonnet section hinges fully upright for easy access, then you lift out the cover. Mark grins at what is revealed. ‘OK, on the other hand, it is a shame to hide such an impressive-looking engine. It’s a pity that some sort of Perspex cover could not have been used instead – to hell with the noise! I’ve never really been given the chance to scrutinise a longitudinally mid-mounted engine and transaxle set-up before. It’s all very compact yet not cramped in any way and all so neatly laid out, with the engine itself much more accessible than I imagined it would be, and far better than on the transverse set-ups I’ve seen. At least you can get to both banks of spark plugs easily enough. You can see it’s been well thought out. There’s even plenty of room for the spare wheel too, mounted at the rear of the compartment. That’s another very Citroën thing, isn’t it.’
We back up a few paces and admire the Bora’s lines in the low but still strong autumn sunshine. Mark’s still producing research nuggets. ‘It is gorgeous; you could put that on a turntable in your garage and not see a bad angle. At the time it was launched some said the dished hubcaps were too “saloon car”, but with that brushed stainless steel roof section they’re just perfect, it all ties together. It’s this sort of detailing that gives the Bora an executive look, which is unusual for an Italian supercar of this era. I also like the way the four tailpipes exit through the rear panel – that’s a lovely touch.
‘Overall, it’s intelligently designed and well built, with the emphasis not just on styling and performance, but on practicalities too. It even has a full-size luggage compartment at the front – such a rarity for a supercar of this era. I believe it’s fair to say the Maserati Bora is the thinking man’s supercar.’
My thinking is that, now the car’s cooled a bit and legs have been stretched, it’s time for some more driving. No second bidding needed, Mark’s straight back into road-tester mode as we negotiate our way out of a too-small car park near an unexpectedly sharp curve at the end of Deadman Hill. ‘The steering’s fine on the move but heavy at low speed. You know all about it when you have to do a three-point turn. But it has a surprisingly good turning circle and feels really accurate through corners. It’s rack-and-pinion, so it should be good.
Popping a facia vent open he adds, ‘It has great ventilation for the era too. Big vents that direct cool air right on your face, particularly the one on the part of the console that’s angled towards the driver. The window switches are on there too, nice and clear where you can see them. It’s unusual to have the handbrake on the far side of the centre tunnel but I like it there, your hand falls onto it nicely.’
After a final blast through the high plains of the New Forest we head back to base at Stoney Cross. Driving done, Mark looks back at the Bora and answers the obvious question. ‘You don’t get many days better than this. In a nutshell the Bora’s fast, refined, comfortable, roomy, has excellent road manners and can be used even on a daily basis if required – basically it’s an everyday car if you want it to be. So would I own a Bora if I had the chance? At present, it would be out of the question anyway, because even if I sold both my Jensen Interceptor MkII and V12 Jaguar E-type, I still couldn’t afford one. And I absolutely love that Jaguar in every way – its styling, driveability... it’s literally the ultimate in Seventies refinement. So to add a Bora to my stable if funds were available, then the answer would be yes, but as a replacement for the ‘E’, the answer would have to be no!’
Thanks to Tony Bernstein, who is finally thinking of selling his Bora.