By Stuart Grant with photography by Mike Schmucker
Giorgetto Giugiaro, the man behind Italdesign – one of the most successful automotive design firms of all time – can list the likes of the Alfa Romeo 105/115 Series Coupés, De Tomaso Mangusta, Iso Grifo, BMW M1, Lotus Esprit S1 and Maserati Bora on his CV. And let’s not forget the DMC DeLorean, Alfasud, Volkswagen Scirocco and Golf Mk1 for that matter. It’s no wonder he was named Car Designer of the Century in 1999. Choosing his greatest design achievement is no easy task, but the Maserati Ghibli built between 1967 and ’73 is a strong contender.
At launch, the Ghibli was the fastest and most expensive series-production sports car in the world, epitomising sophisticated late 1960s style. It was for the well-heeled, priced in the same league as the Lamborghini Miura and later the Ferrari 365 GTB/4 (Daytona), and offered everything a discerning driver could want from a GT with purposeful elegant lines, a luxurious cabin and plenty of grunt. A young Giugiaro, who only branched out on his own in 1968 when he set up Studi Italiani Realizzazione Prototipi (Italian studies in prototypes), was working for Carrozzeria Ghia in Turin when he penned the two-seater Ghibli coupé.
It took him just three months to complete and when it was first shown at the 1966 Turin Motor Show, the sleek, low, shark-liked steel-bodied prototype stole the show. Two rear seats – just a cushion with no backrest – were added to the production run, which allowed the Ghibli to be marketed as a 2+2 fastback coupé, and deliveries started in March 1967 – perfectly timed to celebrate 41 years of Maserati being an independent company. Ghibli grabbed the attention of Henry Ford II, who purchased the first production unit to reach America for $19 000 (a new Thunderbird was a quarter of the price) as well as Sammy Davis Junior, Peter Sellers, Jean-Paul Belmondo and Frank Sinatra.
As was Maserati’s way in period, the Ghibli was named after a wind. In this case a hot, dry, south to south-easterly dust-bearing desert wind which occurs in Libya. Coincidently, Ghibli is a local name for the Scirocco and, as mentioned, Giugiaro later designed a sporting Volkswagen hatch bearing this badge.
The Ghibli body was fitted to a tubular frame and front suspension came in the form of double wishbones and coil springs, while the rear was a live axle on semi-elliptic springs and single longitudinal torque arm. Where it differed greatly from its supercar countrymen was in the power-generation game, with Maserati opting for a V8 rather than a twelve. This, unlike the Miura, stayed with GT tradition in its placement, being slotted upfront underneath the expansive bonnet.
Initially, the four-Weber-carb-fed 4.7-litre dry-sumped lump produced 330bhp but to counter any competition from the front-engined Ferrari Daytona (launched in 1968), the capacity was enlarged to 4.9 litres for a special SS version in 1970. The extra capacity saw a slight increase in ponies but the real benefit, especially for the marketing guys, was that the Ghibli became a 170mph tar-guzzling machine. But the black stuff wasn’t the only thing the SS consumed… fuel consumption was heavy, even by the supercar class of the day, and to counter this Maserati fitted the car with a pair of 50-litre tanks.
Like the Daytona, the Ghibli was offered in drop-top (known as Spyder) format from 1969, further preventing the pair from being direct Miura competitors – Lamborghini never offered a production soft-top. So here comes the obligatory comparison. Remember, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Daytona is brutal, highlighted by dominant wheel arches and a muscular body, and although it features a massive bonnet and short rear, it still makes for a balanced visual. The Maserati, although still powerful, is fall-on-your-knees beautiful; the seamlessly flowing lines running front to rear only interrupted when you flip the switch on the pop-up headlights. Inside the cabin the Ghibli tends towards the more conventional feel, with practicality the focal point, while the Ferrari cockpit just makes you want to drive enthusiastically. Both, however, offer ample comfort on any journey.
In the performance race, where the numbers tell the truth, it’s a Ferrari victory with the V12 powering the imposing vehicle to a 1-second win in the zero-to-60mph sprint and on to a top speed of 174mph to steal the Ghibli’s title as fastest series production car – a title it held until the Porsche 911 Turbo arrived on the scene 10 or so years later.
It’s possibly the weight of this powerful engine that sees to the Daytona losing a little in the way of ride comfort. Despite its all-independent suspension system, the ride is firm and uneven surfaces cause the Daytona to meander nervously all over the road. The Ghibli, on the other hand, is super smooth and tracks straight, and feedback to the pilot is instantaneous. Sure, there is a lot more body roll than the Ferrari, but on a narrow mountain pass the Maser is the safest bet without being boring.
As it was in the period it’s a difficult decision, as a glance at the sales figures at the end of their lifespans in ’73 confirms: 1 320 Ghiblis to 1 391 Daytonas – of both coupé and cabriolet format. Maserati replaced the Ghibli with the Khasmin in ’74, continuing with the front-engined V8 theme alongside its mid-mounted Bora, but with Bertone’s designer Marcello Gandini adding a more contemporary feel to the aesthetic with hard folded paper-like edges.
The Ghibli name was shelved until 1992 when the Maserati Ghibli II, known as the Tipo 336, was launched. It was an evolution of the boxy, poor-quality Biturbo designed in collaboration by Marcello Gandini and Maserati’s in-house studio. Production lasted five years before the name was once again sidelined, only reappearing in 2014 when Maserati applied it to a four-door sedan aimed at the likes of BMW, Audi and Jaguar saloons.
Performance and luxury remain key aspects in the modern Ghibli, but neither this model nor version II come close to the astoundingly beautiful lines put down by Giugiaro in the 1960s. Seeing the master of wind’s creation in the flesh will have any fan of art blown off their feet.