CC Capsule: 1997 Maserati Ghibli GT – The Last Vulgarati

I really don’t know why the universe wanted me to encounter one of these bastardized Biturbos again. I thought I had made myself clear the last year: I really can’t abide these machines. They’re ugly on the outside, beyond kitsch inside, their reliability is famously dreadful and they represent a very troubled era for the company that made them.

But, try as I might, I was not able to avoid this squinty-eyed and fat-arsed Ghibli GT sitting on a Tokyo curb. I had already caught it in motion, fleetingly, but now it was there, immobile and alone. The only way to break the curse was to give into it, I thought.

It’s the later model, the one that you might prefer, as they must have ironed out a few of the kinks left in the earlier ones. On the other hand, they may have also added some new ones – it is a De Tomaso-era Maserati, after all. Well, except it isn’t. By the mid-‘90s, nuestro Alejandro’s once-mighty empire was but a modest redoubt. Fiat were taking over Maserati progressively, with Ferrari’s help – by the time this model came out, the boys from Turin and Modena had added the trident to their arsenal. The Ghibli GT was a transitional car, using some Ferrari bits (notably the rear axle, which came from the 456) and more serious attempts at quality control.

The Ghibli GT appeared in 1995, taking over from the original Ghibli II (launched in late 1991) that was but a mild evolution of the infamous Biturbo, dating all the way back to 1980. You can build the same exotic car for over a decade and get away with it. Plenty of carmakers have done so, from Aston Martin to Lamborghini. But they were stretching the shelf life of legendary models, whereas Maserati just kept making the same dreadful leather-lined shoebox year after year.

It got a bit better in some sense – the 2.8 litre V6 ended up being a capable engine, for instance. But looks-wise, business-wise and reputation-wise, Maserati’s one-horse stable left the marque quite a bit worse for wear. Even the Quattroporte ended up becoming a stretched Biturbo, complete with gimmicky Gandini styling. Those were dark days indeed.

The Ghibli GT died, not a moment too soon, in 1998 and the 3200GT replaced it. I believed at the time (and still do now) that this was the start of Maserati’s re-birth. Which makes this car either something placental, or the final stumble from a long line of faux-pas, missteps and pratfalls, starting with the ill-advised (for both parties) Citroën buy-out of the late ‘60s. Either way, I genuinely hope I never see another ‘90s Ghibli again.


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