It’s difficult to find a car that seems to have only bad points. I mean, can you imagine a vehicle where the styling wasn’t right, the engine had a bad rep, the build quality was awful, repairs were frequent and expensive, the company was on the verge of bankruptcy, the interior was cramped and chintzy, and the resale value was abysmal? I’m sure you have your own candidates in mind, but today, I’d like to illustrate this “100% lemon” concept with the profoundly mediocre second generation Maserati Ghibli.
No, this is not the current Ghibli M157 saloon. And most unfortunately, it’s not the gorgeous Giugiaro-designed Ghibli AM115 coupé (1967-73) either. This is the 1992-98 Ghibli AM336, the ultimate avatar of the Biturbo that had plagued Maserati’s existence since 1981. Other superb CC posts have told the full story of the Maserati Biturbo, so I won’t go into it much. In short, it was a misguided and rushed attempt from the Italian carmaker to take on BMW in the sporty 6-cyl. RWD coupé/saloon category, right down to the semi-trailing arm IRS. This was masterminded by the infamous Alejandro de Tomaso, who owned Maserati from 1975 to 1993.
The Biturbo proliferated – it was cheaper and made in much larger quantities compared to previous Maseratis – but this came at the expense of quality and reliability, especially compared to its German rivals. It soon became poison for Maserati’s image. After the briefest of booms, sales tanked despite this taking place during the height of the cocaine-fuelled sports-car-mad spend-fest that was yuppie era.
But since that was all there was in the shop, Maserati were obliged to continue employing the questionable Biturbo’s underpinnings when time came to come up with a “new” model. This is how the Ghibli AM336, sometimes referred to as the Ghibli II, happened in 1992. This mild re-style of the original Biturbo managed to delete most of the original’s better features (such as quad lamps and grille, the well-proportioned rear and nearly all of the brightwork) and give it bulging fenders and a peculiar windshield spoiler to completely finish ruining the look.
This was all Marcello Gandini’s handiwork – he had penned all Maseratis since the Quattroporte III, and while that one was rather well born, the rest of his tenure was not his finest hour, consisting mostly in creating and then progressively uglifying the Biturbo. By the time the last Maserati to officially bear that name appeared as the 1990-92 Biturbo Racing, and already things were looking pretty bad. But then the V8-powered Shamal had also arrived in 1990, providing an occasion for Gandini to make a cocktail of the two for the Ghibli. And indeed, the resulting “Biturbo with fat hips” is enough to drive a man to drink.
Under the hood lived either a 2.0 or a 2.8 litre DOHC fuel-injected V6 with 24 valves (and two turbos), mated to a 6-speed Getrag manual or a 4-speed ZF automatic. Interestingly, the smaller engine was the most powerful: 306 hp versus the 2.8’s 284 hp. Later in the model’s life, the special “Cup” version had a 2.0 boosted to 330 hp, boasting the highest hp-per-cc ratio in the world at the time (1995-98). The 2-litre cars were particularly aimed at the domestic market and a few European countries – overseas Ghiblis such as the feature car were only sold with the bigger V6, which allowed it to reach about 245 kph (150 mph). Not exactly stellar for the ‘90s, but also slower than the V8-powered first generation.
I couldn’t manage a good shot of the rear seats, but you definitely don’t want to have to go there if you happen to have legs. Up front, there’s wood all over, which kind of looks out of place in a mid-‘90s Italian sports coupé. The Nardi-style wheel looks the part, but also seems like it came from the first Ghibli circa 1968. The fact that this particular example has the automatic box just adds insult to injury and makes this more of a wannabe Jaguar XJS (or rather half an XJS, apart from the price) than the originally-intended BMW fighter. In ten years, the aim had changed somewhat, but the misfire was just as catastrophic.
The second generation Ghibli was made until 1998. In the interim, De Tomaso had sold Maserati to Fiat, who successfully nursed it back to health by devising the all-new 3200 GT. If the darkest hour is just before dawn, then this Ghibli, along with the 1994-2000 Quattroporte IV that derived from it, definitely puts mid-’90s Masers in the early AM. Some of the Biturbo’s worst kinks were worked out during the ‘80s, but the basic design was never hailed as an automotive gem, and many quality issues remained that Fiat could not solve in the ’90s. So when the Ghibli II is presented by some as “the best Biturbo ever,” it’s really like being called the tallest dwarf.
Taking on BMW or Jaguar was an interesting idea, but it was far too ambitious given the De Tomaso Group’s size and methods. When the Biturbo was launched initially, De Tomaso thought he could make 7000-8000 per year. Another a wild over-estimate from Alejandro – there simply was no market for that many Maseratis. Not when they were this dreadful, anyway.
They sold a little over 2300 Ghiblis in six years, including about 1000 were 2.8s like this one, which is about 400 a year. That was about as much as the world could take. And 1000 words on the subject is also pretty much my limit, so I’ll end it here. Gotta save some bile for other posts…
CC Capsule: 1984 Maserati Biturbo Si – Sexy, Immobile, by Jeff Nelson
Car Show Classic: 1990-96 Maserati Shamal – The Wildest Biturbo, by William Stopford