Journal: Maserati’s Mid-Engined Twins Shed a Bright Light During Dark Days

Maserati’s Mid-Engined Twins Shed a Bright Light During Dark Days

Avatar By Alan Franklin
June 14, 2013
5 comments

“The horses pull the cart, not push it.” -Enzo Ferrari c. 1959

Old man Enzo was speaking about the emerging dominance of rear mid-engined cars in Formula 1 at the time; a trend started a year earlier with Cooper’s groundbreaking design which placed its Coventry Climax motor amidships between its driver and rear wheels. He would, of course, soon capitulate to the times—from 1961 on, every new F1 Ferrari would be rear mid-engined.

Soon, high-performance road machines with this exotic new layout emerged, among them such icons as Lamborghini’s Miura and De Tomaso’s Mangusta (1966 and ’67, respectively). Maserati, acutely aware of their reputation for building somewhat old-fashioned cars, and newly flush with cash from their 1968 takeover by Citroen, set about introducing a rear-mid design of their own—the Tipo 117.

Design got underway in October of 1968, with road-going prototypes testing roughly six months later. In March of 1971, the Bora, as it was now known, was unveiled in Geneva to rave reviews. Built with much more comfort and refinement than its existing competitors, the Bora was more of a super-fast Gran Turismo than a road-borne racer, with double-paned glass between the passenger compartment and motor, a thick, carpeted panel further deadening engine compartment noise, and somewhat comfort-biased suspension tuning. Citroën-sourced oleopneumatics provided power assistance to the steering and brakes, allowing it to be driven with relatively minimal effort—the same system even powered pedal box, seat height, and steering reach/rake adjustment. Further luxuries included plenty of room for luggage and a very refined and quiet driving experience.

Powered by Maserati’s already-legendary quad cam V8, it was initially available in both 4.7- and 4.9-liter forms, though would eventually be limited to a higher-power version of the latter only. Built as an all-steel monocoque, the Bora was Maserati’s first-ever all independently suspended car. Power was huge for the day, with most cars making roughly 310 HP—though quite heavy at 1,500 kg, the Bora was still easily capable of 165 flat out and 0-60 in a shade over six seconds.

Styled by Giugiaro under the banner of his nascent Italdesign, the Bora was both beautiful and unique, highlighted by a raw stainless steel roof panel that gave a stark visual contrast with the lower, painted panels, particularly in darker-colored examples. Only 524 were built in a production run lasting from 1971-1978, and they remain, in my opinion, the most unusual and fascinating mid-engined supercar of the period.

Introduced in 1972 and distinguished from its more powerful brother with a body-colored roof and flying buttress “C” pillars, the Merak was a sort of baby Bora, utilizing the V6 Maserati initially designed for use in the Citroën SM. Cheaper, lighter, and better-handling, the Merak was more of a true sports car than an out-and-out GT, even taking into account an additional pair of seats allowed by its smaller engine. Built until 1982, early cars featured an SM dashboard, replaced by the Bora’s more traditional slab-shaped unit in 1976.

Today, both cars remain unusual high points of the malaise era, particularly in the context of Maserati’s post-Citroën financial health, which can only accurately be described as abysmal. Additionally, each represents a less obvious choice to cars with more established followings, and here’s where I end on a controversial note—I’d have a Bora over a Miura and a Merak over a 911. (Please address your hate mail to alan.franklin@petrolicious.com.)

Image Sources: influx.co.uk, speedkar.com, kahzu.tumblr.com, autowp.ru, autoevolution.com, oldcarmanualproject.com, photobucket.com

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dsa dsaAndre PaixaoEddie RelvasJosh Clasonjecollins Recent comment authors
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Andre Paixao
Andre Paixao

Totally agree… Maserati over porsche or lambo eday of the week!!!

Eddie Relvas
Eddie Relvas

When you consider the real world, the Bora is much more interesting than the Miura. Money no object, I’d probably pick that one too, I always loved the line (somewhat restrained, as a good Mazzer should be, but with neat touches as the stainless roof), and the performance is plenty usable enough. Oh, and let’s not forget the soundtrack… A Maserati used to be the discreet connoisseur’s choice, one not willing to advertise anything to the world, unlike most others which are all about pantomine. I quite like that. A bit like the Ferrari road cars of old. If you… Read more »

jecollins
jecollins

While I agree that the Merak is the interesting choice over a 911, claiming that one would rather have a Bora over a Miura seems a little flamboyant. Given the opportunity and discounting money, I doubt that there is a man alive that would be able to resist the temptations of the Lambo’s sleek lines and V12 in favor of a V8 Maserati that hides its engine in the name of comfort and a little storage space. Regardless, both the Bora and the Merak are cars that I would be proud to call my own.

Josh Clason
Josh Clason

I think you just found a man alive that would take a Bora over a Miura.