Review and road test of the Maserati Ghibli (1993 - 1999)
HIP TO BE SQUARE
BY ANDY ENRIGHT
What sort of personal qualities are required to take the plunge on a used Maserati Ghibli? You'll need to be fairly well heeled, availed of a certain spirit of adventure, no little sense of humour and a passion for the marque. Thus armed, a used Ghibli needn't be the financial black hole many imagine and can certainly work out as a more cost effective and singular alternative to something like a Porsche 911. Many of the idiosyncrasies that stemmed from the Biturbo era were sorted in the Ghibli and later cars gained a respectable reputation for reliability.
(2 dr coupe 2.0, 2.8 petrol [Ghibli, Cup, Open Cup, Primatist, GT)
The 'Biturbo era' can probably best be described as the nadir of Maserati's history. During this period in the eighties, Maserati manufactured over 38,000 small, angular coupes. Whilst this was more than the rest of their production history added together, this sales success did nothing for the illustrious marque. The Biturbos were badly built, skittish to drive and depreciated terribly. Realising that something needed to be done, Maserati retained the Spyder version and ditched the Biturbo coupe in favour of a new model, the Ghibli.
This reprised a famous 1966 Maserati model name and while the underpinnings were derived from the Biturbo, the sheet metal was all new. After being sold for a year in Italy, the car was first imported to the UK in 1993. It was powered by a 2.8-litre 32-valve V6 previously seen in the 222 4v and the 430 4V versions of the Biturbo. 1995 saw the introduction of Bosch anti lock brakes and 17-inch wheels, this model occasionally being referred to by cognoscenti as the Ghibli ABS.
The axle from the Quattroporte saloon - in turn borrowed from Ferrari's 456 - was introduced in 1996 and a Getrag six-speed gearbox was also fitted, with the option of an automatic box. Mille Miglia wheels were standard. This version was dubbed the Ghibli GT and the easiest way to spot one is to inspect the headlamps. The backing for the 'ABS' cars is silver while the Ghibli GT sports black housings. This model was sold alongside the very rare 'Open Cup' race replica. The Open Cup was powered by a 2.0-litre engine developing some 306bhp and was homologated to race in a 1995 series that was replicated in 1996. For £48,000, you could buy the car and an additional £9,000 covered your entry into the races. Fiat pulled the plug on the 1996 series on financial grounds. A limited edition Ghibli Primatist special edition with the 306bhp 'four' was offered shortly afterwards.
The good news was that Maserati produced a 330bhp Ghibli Cup road car that has gone on to become very much the pick off the litter. With five spoke Speedline alloys, Brembo brakes and a more restrained interior treatment, the Cup was a moderate success with 26 being sold. Priced at £47,500, the Cup wasn't cheap but conditioned the market for the forthcoming 3200GT.
What You Get
The Ghibli scores insofar as it's a recognised Italian exotic on the one hand with a decently sized cabin and a useable boot on the other. The combination of a beautifully styled leather and wood interior with gut wrenching performance ensured the Ghibli found its way onto the shortlists of many who would never consider a Maserati. More importantly it helped to excise the demons of the Biturbo era when electrical fires were something the Maserati owner could set their watches by. The Ghibli was a far more assured proposition.
Equipment levels have always been high and even early Ghibli models were fitted with climate controlled air conditioning, electric windows and seats, Connolly leather, a veneered dashboard and, of course, that clock. The later Cup models are trimmed with drilled pedals, an aluminium gear knob and a Momo Corse steering wheel.
What to Look For
Let's not gild the lily too much here. The Ghibli does have a few quirks. Both the 2.0-litre and 2.8-litre powerplants have proven respectably reliable if well looked after. Neglect the maintenance and things can get ugly. Maserati came up with a rather odd servicing arrangement for the Ghibli where every service up to 96,000 miles addresses different aspects of the car. If the car has missed the 48,000 service, for example, you'll need the cam chains changed, an engine out job for which your Maserati dealer will book thirty hours labour.
The engine management unit and the alternator are both prone to corrosion but the body is a little more immune to rust than, say, a Biturbo which admittedly is not saying much. Ground clearance was an issue on early Ghibli models and lambda sensors on the exhausts are often torn off over sleeping policemen as a result. Look for scuffed front spoilers too. Original electronic shock absorbers are prone to seizing and the electrics can be rather idiosyncratic.
(approx prices based on 1998 Ghibli Cup) A new clutch assembly is around £420 with front brake pads weighing in at £175 per pair and rears only slightly less. Given the stranglehold that Meridien and latterly Maranello Concessionaires has had on the market, a thriving trade in used spares has sprung up on various Maserati web rings. This is your best opportunity to poach inexpensive parts.
On the Road
The Ghibli Cup's engine is quite an amazing thing. Consider a premier league supercar of the nineties like a Bugatti EB 110 or Jaguar XJ220 and their turbocharged powerplants will crank out specific outputs of 157/155bhp per litre respectively. The Ghibli's 2.0-litre unit puts them both in the shade with a figure of 165bhp per litre.
It's not an especially truculent unit either. Most highly boosted small capacity engines are horrible at low revs, sounding as if they're perpetually on the brink of a stall. The Ghibli Cup is a little rough below 2,500rpm but it still pulls cleanly with even less lag than the 2.8-litre engine.
While it can't match the low end torque of the 2.8-litre engine, the 2.0-litre unit sings all the way up to the 7,000 rpm rev limiter. Think of it as losing torque low down but gaining power up top. When 'on cam', this engine sounds absolutely exhilarating. Although it can be a handful to deploy 330bhp to the back wheels in the wet, given dry conditions, the Ghibli Cup will register a sprint to 60mph in just 5.6see. Considering the Brembo-developed brakes have 1424kg to stop, they are generally beyond reproach.
Drive a Ghibli for the first time and you may well wonder if, given the number of rattles and squeaks from the interior, the engineering is similarly slipshod. Ignore them and you'll be treated to a car that got progressively better as it evolved. If you can run to a Ghibli Cup, it's worth serious investigation. With an excellent chassis and brakes and searing performance, it's better than you think.
Maserati Ghibli (1993 - 1999) review by ANDY ENRIGHT