Wind It Up

For years unloved even by many Maserati fans, the Ghibli II is starting to appreciate. But is tracking
down one of the few remaining worth the effort?

Words Nathan Chadwick Photography Neil Fraser


 
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The very 1990s splash of lines and block capitals says ’Turbo’ on the boost gauge.  Which undersells the Maserati Ghibli II a bit, as it packs not one but two IHI turbos. It’s worth remembering that when you stab the throttle – volcanic boost defines the car.

But then you might be struggling to remember this car at all. Maserati is a proper prestige brand now, its image boosted by the 3200, GranTurismo and Quattroporte V. Last year Maserati launched its first SUV, the Levante, and with the Alfieri on the way, the future looks at least secure. But wind back 25 years to the Ghibli II’s launch and things were different – it was a brand in trouble.

The issue was the same one that’s probably flicking through your mind. Isn’t it just a reheated BiTurbo? Well, no it isn’t – but after that car’s reliability problems, Maserati was struggling.

In the UK it didn’t help that from 1991 to 1998 there was just one Maserati dealership – Meridien in Sussex. Just 150 Ghibli IIs found UK homes and fewer than half remain. 

So why should we care? The 3200 GT that replaced it is  more traditionally beautiful and the build quality is better. 

But as pretty as the 3200 GT is, there’s a brutish, menacing style to the Ghibli II that we can’t help but love – it’s up there with the Lancia Delta Integrale and Alfa Romeo SZ. And if you’ve been following our markets pages you’ll notice that both have rocketed upwards in price. Brutalist Italian styling is in right now.

The question is, does the Ghibli II have the bite to match its visual bark? Let’s wind it up and find out...

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There’s something about Italian fizz. Take San Pellegrino soft drinks – at their heart, they’re just like normal soda with a strange metal foil on the top for an extra bit of 'premium-ness’. But there’s something rather more exotic about San Pellegrino than the usual suspects. The flavours are a bit alternative, just that little bit more interesting. Challenging even – mint and lemon, or fig and orange, anyone? San Pellegrino is bit like fine wine for those on the wagon.

It’s a similar case with Maseratis of the 1980s and 1990s. You could easily go to Porsche, Mercedes-Benz and Aston Martin for your ultra-performance GT fix, but they’re a bit... common

No chance of that with the Ghibli II. When was the last time you saw one on the road? Indeed, have you ever seen one?

I’ll freely admit that it’s an acquired taste. Gandini may have massaged a few curves into the BiTurbo styling language for the 1990s, but the Ghibli II is still about as subtle as an angry pimp’s negotiation technique. From the massively inflated wheelarches to the profusion of vents and grilles, there’s a function to this form. It’s a shape that’s got better with age, but still one that’s reviled by traditionalists. That adds to the appeal, at least for us. 

But even the most negative of Noras will enjoy the rich baritone rumble that flows out of the dual-branch quad pipes on start up. This isn’t the high-pitched whine you might expect from a V6; this is a gruff, V8 throb. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

The interior is much more gentlemanly than the thuggish exterior. There’s lots of hand-stitched leather, exquisite wood panelling and lovely, squishy chairs, adorned in Connolly’s finest; it looks like you’re holding the Michelin Man hostage with the chipolata-on-a-stick gear selector. Much more special than a rival Aston Martin; much less Ford parts bin special.

But there is a lot parts sharing going on here. While this most definitely isn’t a rehashed BiTurbo, it does use the 2.8-litre V6 that had seen service in the 222 4V and 430 4V. The electronically-adjustable Koni dampers were all new – you can alter the settings on a keypad next to the gearlever. Series 2 cars, built after Fiat had bought out Alejandro De Tomaso, received a Ferrari 456 rear axle. On this Series 1 example, we’ve got a Quattroporte IV item. 

It works well, too – the BiTurbo era was defined by skittish handling and iffy steering, and ownership should have come with a free medallion. The Ghibli II banishes all that – it may run on 16in wheels and 235/50 rubber, but there’s so much dry weather grip you’ll be pulled through A-road apices as if you’re attached to a tractor beam. With a suitably sporty set-up, the Ghibli II corners flat, with plenty of data relayed through your palms. It’s so much more planted than a BiTurbo.

You’ll need a firm hand on the tiller, though – there’s significant weight to the steering, on par with the Porsche 928 GTS. But unlike that car the suspension is much more supple if you choose it to be. 

The most vibrant flavour of them all is the engine. Its horsepower figure may not astound, but it’s more about the way the torque is delivered – the two IHI turbos kick in with a mighty 305lb-ft of thrust. And that’s not an overstatement.

With so much dry weather grip it’s a bit like being chucked from a medieval trebuchet, hurling you forwards on a wave of torque from 3500rpm. The kickdown needs a hard shove – you’ll be glad of that safety feature when the roads get moist – but once deployed that torque lasts well into 5000rpm, with a big, bassy bartione roar all the way to the top.

You certainly don’t miss the extra 26 horses the Italian market cars got from the 2.0-litre version of the engine, mainly because of the extra 40lb-ft of torque in the 2.8-litre. In fact there’s so much torque I don’t feel too upset that this particular car has just the four forward ratios on its automatic gearbox. However, the prospect of a five-speed ZF manual is mouthwatering...

But that’s for another day. Today’s all about revelling in this car’s outright punch. Though a Porsche 928 and Aston Martin Virage would offer a similar level of performance and luxury, the mixture of headbutt-the-horizon thrust and teeth-dislodging grip puts me in mind of a much newer Porsche – the 996 Turbo. 

Of course, the 996 Turbo is much faster still, but there’s such a feeling of bullet train-like solidity about the Ghibli II’s in-gear acceleration that in the real world it feels almost as quick. Line up a straight, kick the throttle and feel your scalp hit the headrest like a dropped dumbell.

It’s a feeling you’ll come back to, though it’s fair to say that when the rain falls it doesn’t take much to overwhelm the relatively puny rear tyres. You have been warned...  but then again, doesn’t that danger add to the allure?

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Maserati Ghibli II 2.8 V6

Specifications -  

Engine: 2790cc/6-cyl/turbo/DOHC

Transmission: RWD, 4-speed automatic

Power: 280bhp@6000rpm

Torque: 305lb-ft@3500rpm

Weight: 1406kg

Performance -

0-60mph: 6sec

Top speed: 155mph

Economy: 25mpg

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Modern Classics view

We’re not going to lie to you and say that owning a Ghibli II will be easy or inexpensive. But then neither is owning an Aston Martin Virage, which is what this Maserati should be judged against.  

Sadly, it’s got a similar problem to Newport Pagnell’s largely unloved GT. The majority of people will always favour the curvier, more traditionally beautiful coupés; for Virage read DB7, for Ghibli II read 3200 GT. The latter is currently trading for around the same price as a Ghibli II. However, running a Ghibli II would probably be cheaper than a 3200 as long as you buy a good one. Despite what internet legend would have you believe, there are three or four sources for spares. 

Anyway, curves aren’t for everyone, as the Alfa SZ and Lancia Delta prove. For a fraction of the price of those, or an Aston Martin Virage, you can have a Ghibli II. After all, why have dandelion and burdock when you can have San Pellegrino?