There you are, you’ve won the Lottery, you’ve got a cheque for £10 million sitting in your hand, you’ve always been into cars and now you’re just about to sign up for your new Ferrari. Well, it’s the name everyone knows isn’t it but by supercar standards Ferrari is an upstart, arriviste, for Maserati has been around far longer, making racing and sporting cars since before the first world war and in this car, the Ghibli, you can feel all of that history for it’s something rather special.
The Maserati Ghibli is easily one of the most communicative and responsive cars I have ever experienced and I was fortunate to have that experience at the historic Goodwood Motor racing circuit, a fitting location to try out such rare Italian exotica as the alternately growling and wailing twin turboed engine proved an absolute joy with a gearshift that slices cleanly into place, taut suspension and steering that speaks in tongues, constant driver/machine communication that is like driving a mechanical Tower of Babel but which adds up to one of the most rewarding and soul stirring road cars I have ever driven.
Maserati is a name deserving of reverence, one of the most famous Italian sports car marques, alongside Ferrari and Alfa Romeo, recently acquired by the giant Fiat conglomerate, joining with the other 2 and Lancia under the protection of Fiat which, oddly, was both road car rival and racing competitor up to the 1920’s.
As with the other specialist makes in it's stable, Fiat are firmly pledged to develop Maserati in it's own niche, sharing engineering and development skills but retaining it's all important individuality, for this is a car designed and crafted in small numbers to appeal to individualists while not attracting quite the funny money cost of the Prancing Horse Corsa - Ferrari.
Founded by the five Maserati brothers in 1926, the Maserati Trident had an illustrious racing career for the middle 5 decades of this century, not actually building a road car until 1950 since when it has built many, many classics. Even then the road cars only served to finance the racing team, a half century which saw Maserati win multiple world championship races in sports and racing cars with some of the best drivers of the day.
The Ghibli is steeped in that history, a highly strung 2 door coupe perhaps not as curvaceous as some Maseratis of the past but rather more practical, a genuine 2 plus 2 with very real rear seats, reasonable legroom and a sizeable boot all in a body which makes no concessions to automotive fashion, a wedge shaped gathering of menacing, brooding, metal ready to hurtle into orbit at the slightest provocation.
The sumptous cockpit is a wonderful mix of the modern and the classic, from the discreetly, LED lit, 4 position active ride suspension controls - similar to that of the F1 Williams - to the classically oval Maserati clock - unchanged since the early 30's - angled toward the driver, to the clear 200 mph calibrated speedometer, all set in a dashboardwhich is a gem, everything where it should be, easily seen and reached and surmounted by a suede non-reflecting top for easier night driving.
This wonderful cabin is laid out with figure hugging leather seats - the fronts gripping like an over-friendly grizzly bear - with electric powered backrests easing the selection of a perfect driving position as does the multi-adjustable - for height and reach - polished wood rim steering wheel - my only slight grouse is it was a bit too slippery.There are acres of leather, real wood and best quality carpetting everywhere and everything is powered, windows, mirrors, air -conditioning, but no stereo, this is left to choice as an option although six speakers are ready wired in but the mechanical noises make a stereo superfluous for a real petrol head.
With the active ride set near it's stiffest - adjustable from race car hard to cruising soft - was able to delight in the sheer mechanical urgency of the 280 bhp engine, the twin turbos giving a huge shove in the back accompanied by the demonic chirruping of the turbo wastegates on every up change as the car settled into each bend, the perfectly weighted power steering voluble in it's description of the road surface as it perfectly tracked every bend. Like the Army's use of this area, the Ghibli became a projectile, a guided missile, with enormous power from the twin turboed, 4 cam, 2.8 litre, 32 valve, V6 engine under perfect control, direction control as achievable on the throttle as by steering inputs, the car squatting into each bend, a perfection of grip from the massive tyres - 205/45fronts and 225x45 rears - and absolute composure from the active, all independent, suspension that pulls the car down to hug the tarmac.
Even at just three quarters of it's massive 160 mph top speed, the drive around the tortuous Goodwood circuit was pure delight, it gripped, it turned in on command, it made the senses reel and the heart race as it went through it's paces faultlessly, raring to go at the slightest urging of the right foot and much use of the slick, 5 speed, gearbox as it squatted in to each bend and threw itself forward to meet the horizon. The Maserati Ghibli is a truly remarkable car, a practical 2+2 of real character at a rather less than supercar price, a car that I would be awfully tempted to enter that legendary pact with the Devil to own.
First Published 1997 - Article © Graham Benge 2007