Ghibli Genius Maserati’s first supercar. Full collectors’ guide of Maserati’s 1960s classic.
During a design decade rife with revolution, the arrival of the Maserati Ghibli in 1966 barely raised an eyebrow. Ferruccio Lamborghini had stolen a march on both Maserati and Ferrari earlier in the year by unveiling the first Miura at the Geneva Show and then nonchalantly, but not entirely spontaneously, parking the car outside the Monaco casino during Grand Prix weekend.
Traditional to the core, the Orsi management at Maserati would no doubt have found that behaviour a little ostentatious. It preferred to launch the new Ghibli at Italy’s national motor show in Turin – and even then, not on Maserati’s own stand but on that of its chosen coachbuilder, Ghia.
Not only was the Ghibli Maserati’s answer to the Miura, it was also its first entry into the nascent genre of the supercar. Within the walls of a Modenese factory used to purveying GT cars to gentlemen, this was a revolution of sorts.
The choice of Ghia as coachbuilder was made because of its hotshot new designer, Giorgetto Giugiaro. Fresh from Bertone, Giugiaro arrived at Ghia at the height of his creativity and bursting with ideas. By the advent of that 1966 Turin Show, he had designed not only the Ghibli but three other cars to debut on Ghia’s stand, and the impact was enormous. Giugiaro’s ‘four torpedoes’, as they became known later, provocatively demonstrated the move from curves to straight lines in car design that would fully come to fruition a decade later.
With the benefit of hindsight, the Ghibli shape does not seem at all torpedo-like, though it is undoubtedly an intricate mixture of straight lines and curves. For instance, the tops of the front wings appear flat but have a subtle reverse curve shape that not only accentuates the height of the wheels, but also the plunging bonnet line. There is a similar trick at work on the sides of the roof and on the lip of the bootlid but fighting the curves all the time is a strong bodyline down the sides of the car, piercing into the wheelarches. The complexities of this shape make it, to my mind, a masterpiece, but also make it a challenge to restore, as we will find out later.
The chassis of the Ghibli was traditional Maserati, with an oval tube structure, box section sills and a fabricated front cross-member on which the front suspension was mounted (double-wishbones of British origin), while at the rear was a Salisbury live axle. Even the engine was the four-cam all-aluminium V8 already in service in the Quattroporte. However, for the new ‘supercar’, it was enlarged to 4.7 litres and dry-sumped, reducing its height in order to fit under Giugiaro’s bonnet.
When production started in 1967, there was very little confidence at Maserati that this new-fangled supercar would be a success. Initially it talked in terms of making 100 cars. Early examples had some features that were quickly modified or simplified as Maserati developed the car. The boot lid on early cars was a different shape, being longer and covering the centre section of the rear panel, rather than just a panel split above the number plate as on later versions. The headlamp pods had square corners instead of being rounded on later cars. The front brake discs with two callipers per side were solid on early cars, then vented later on. The clutch was a twin-plate racing type. The wheels were usually a magnesium alloy ‘starburst’ design but with splined hubs and spinners (wire wheels were an option as well), whereas later they changed to more conventional studs and a ‘dummy’ spinner. And the engine on early examples still had a blanked-off second spark plug hole, an acknowledgement that Maserati made to its twin-plug racing engine heritage. Carburettors on early cars were a bank of four twin-choke Weber DCNLs, changing later to the more sophisticated DCNF variety.
It is one of the advantages of a small company that changes and developments can be made quickly and easily as cars progress down the production line. It is also an historian’s nightmare, establishing at which point specification changed. As I usually say, Maserati was a company where there was always an exception to prove the rule. As production of the Ghibli progressed, the specification changed constantly, so being definitive is difficult. However, by the time the first 150-odd cars had been made, only the engine and the square headlamp pods remained of that early specification.
Some parts of the car did not change much, though, such as the ZF five-speed gearbox that Maserati had first used in the 5000GT (joined in 1968 by an optional Borg Warner three-speed auto). Manual steering was by Burman recirculating ball with the option of hydraulic power steering, again by ZF.
During 1968 Maserati had enjoyed some early success with the car, encouraging it to continue with production. The chassis were made in Turin and then bodied at Ghia (all-steel apart from an aluminium boot lid skin) and finally assembled at Maserati. It upped production and offered a right-hand drive version, as well as setting its sights on the US market.
The first proper test of a Ghibli by a British journal was Autocar’s in 1968. Written by ex-racer Innes Ireland, it recounted a trip to Italy to collect a right-hand drive example and pilot it back to the UK. At that time, there were no demonstrators or press fleets. However, the extended test provided great insight into the car and Innes really liked it. Cleaned up and put on the market afterwards, it set its first owner back £9500.
The Americans also really liked the Ghibli and Maserati found itself with a sales success on its hands. Riding the crest of the wave, it commissioned Ghia and Giugiaro to design a convertible version and even a hardtop. The Ghibli Spyder went on sale in 1969 and looked every inch a supercar for movie stars.
However, just as the Spyder was launched, the US emission regulatory board started to flex its muscles and Maserati realised that it would have no time to rest on their laurels if it were to keep the Ghibli on the market. The early engine was going to struggle to keep up with new emissions regulations. New slipper cylinder heads were developed, finally deleting the dummy plug hole, together with fitting hardened valve seats to cope with unleaded fuel, and new camshafts. Ignition timing was retarded to help emissions as well, impacting power, while the threat of auxiliary air pumps would further sap power. Maserati’s solution was to increase the stroke of the engine to give a new, larger capacity of 4.9 litres. The change to DCNF carburettors at the same time also helped with fuel efficiency. 4.9-litre versions of the Ghibli and Spyder were called SS (for Super Sport). The quoted power output did not change much; 330hp had been quoted for the early 4.7 and now 335hp was quoted for the SS. The truth is probably that the difference was greater than it appeared but increased regulation meant that the latter was a more honest figure. The 4.7-litre engine continued to be made and was offered alongside the SS but was never quoted at more than 310hp.
The interiors were always trimmed in Connolly leather with a distinctive grain. However, they changed considerably during the lifespan of the Ghibli, with three different dashboard layouts (as a rule, early ones used toggle switches and later ones rockers) and the front seats were updated to include head rests in around 1969. Curious vestigial rear seats with loose cushions and a carpet covering were peculiar to all cars. The last version of the dashboard was much more symmetrical than early efforts and a great improvement. Certainly cigarette company Rothmans thought so, as it used a Ghibli interior in magazine adverts for some years.
Inevitably, supercars by their very nature have a short shelf life and by 1971 the world had moved on. So had Maserati to be fair, about to join the mid-engined fray with the new Bora. The last Ghiblis were completed in 1972 and in all, 1280 examples had been built, including 125 Spyders. This was, at the time, the second most successful Maserati model ever (after the 3500GT).
Dynamically, the later the car, the better Ghiblis tend to feel. Early cars with the thigh-wobbling twin-plate clutch and manual steering can seem impossibly heavy at parking speeds (but have a mechanical rawness that is very appealing). Late cars, with power steering and a combined servo/master cylinder for the brakes are far more sophisticated to drive but perhaps not quite so direct.
The 4.9-litre engine is certainly smoother than the earlier 4.7, if not ultimately much more powerful. The later braking system and especially the power steering benefit the car greatly and allay critics of the early version who labelled it ‘truck-like’ to drive. Nothing could be further from the truth, and with the tightness of a car that has had every single bush and ball joint and spring and damper renewed, the Ghibli drives superbly.
There were, however, some dynamic areas that Maserati conceded were lacking. The Burman recirculating ball manual steering box was light and communicative on a 3500GT fitted with 185-section tyres and an enormous steering wheel, but on 205- section sticky Michelin XWX tyres in the Ghibli, it was really too heavy. The uncompromising position of the fixed steering wheel did not help and, although eminently powerful, the dry sump V8 engine was no match for the smooth-running V12s of the opposition.
To address these issues, by 1970 Maserati offered the Ghibli SS in parallel to the original coupe and Spyder. The final incarnation of the V8, now with an enlarged stroke to give a 4.9-litre capacity, offered a small increase in horsepower (from 330 to 335hp), but it is noticeably smoother. In addition, power steering by ZF was a welcome option and the more modern dashboard design and adjustable steering column adds greatly to the comfort of the interior.
COST & VALUE ANALYSIS
For a while, the Ghibli was the coolest car around – as one American magazine described it in 1969, it was the ‘it’ car of the year. But by the late 1970s, Ghiblis were merely old cars, and ones that were expensive to repair and to run in post-fuel crisis times. Even in the late 1980s, the best coupe in the world would have struggled to make £25,000 and cars were regularly being broken for spares.
For those who attempted it, the complex shapes proved very difficult to restore accurately. The Ghia bodywork suffered from rust as much as any 1960s car, although the chassis itself was rarely a problem. Much of the sharpness of line which is essential to bring out the shape was originally conceived in lead and filler, and with few bodyshops really understanding how it should look or being given the budget to get it right, many cars were restored as poor-quality facsimiles of their former selves.
Mechanically, it was a similar story. The cost of an engine rebuild was comparable to the full value of the car, so many owners played automotive pass the parcel to avoid being caught with the big bill.
Like all classic cars, however, the Ghibli’s light has grown brighter since the new millennium. Many cars have now been correctly restored, some to a very extensive and professional level. The value of Ghiblis is higher than most other classic Maserati road cars: excellent Coupes now change hands for £300,000 plus and the much rarer Spyders are nearer a million, especially for the acknowledged top spec of right-hand-drive, manual transmission, power steering and a 4.9-litre SS engine.
Such values have inspired confidence in owners to continue to restore these cars, which in turn makes them more desirable and usable. Which version you prefer boils down to personal choice but all have the performance, presence, and sense of occasion that any supercar should offer. And while maintenance costs and the dreaded fuel consumption are always going to make the eyes water at times, the parts situation for these cars is better now than at any point during the last 30 years.
SAMPLE AUCTION PRICES
1967 4.7 Coupe (restoration project), grey, £110,000
1972 4.9 SS Coupe, red, £309,000
1969 4.9 SS Spyder, yellow, £700,000
The 4.9-litre V8 fitted to SS models like this offers better overall drivability than the 4.7-litre unit. Giugiaro’s clean shape may not have the impact of a Lamborghini Miura but it represents the very essence of 1960s elegance.
|MASERATI GHIBLI 4.7
|GHIBLI 4.9 SS
|4719cc V8 DOHC
|4930cc V8 DOHC
|BORE & STROKE:
|93.9mm x 85mm
|93.9 x 89mm
|Four Weber 42DCNL
|Four Weber 42DCNF
|330hp @ 5500rpm
|335hp @ 5500rpm
|326lb ft @ 4000rpm
|341lb ft @ 4000rpm
|Five-speed manual (three-speed auto option)
|Discs all round
|Discs all round
|4590mm (L), 1800mm (W), 1160mm (H)
|4590mm (L), 1800mm (W), 1160mm (H)