Giorgetto Giugiaro declared it one of his greatest creations; Henry Ford II was the first man in America to own one; and just 125 examples were built. The Maserati Ghibli Spyder was a trendsetting masterpiece that ushered in a new era of waist-high supercars.
Henry was famous for using his Ghibli for commuting to Detroit and would brazenly park it outside in the staff car park. When confronted by a Ford designer about his Maserati ownership, Henry’s response was simple "That Ghibli will only disappear from my parking space when you’ve designed me a Ford that looks just as good."
Now, 44 years on from its launch, the Spyder has matured into a demigod of classic car design, with good examples changing hands in excess of £200,000. The Ghibli’s low slung body, chiselled good looks, free flowing lines and long, long, sloping bonnet offer an idealist vision of a classic grand tourer.
It’s almost impossible to think that it took a young Giorgetto Giugiaro – then working for Ghia coachworks – just three months to design it. The coupé was an instant hit when it was unveiled to the world at the 1966 Turin Motor Show; it was a bold step and provided proof that Maserati was no longer in the business of playing down the looks of its cars.
The Spyder appeared two years later, in 1968. The bodies were manufactured at Ghia and then assembled at the Maserati factory in the same assembly lines as the coupés. Rumours that the Spyders were originally built as coupés, and then modified at Carrozzeria Campana, where quickly rejected by Maserati.
The Ghibli’s five-year production run saw Maserati build 1149 coupés, but just 125 Spyders were built. However, despite the limited number, the Spider represented a massive step forward for Maserati; it had produced an enigmatic classic that would go on to be voted as one of the best looking cars of the century; evidence that Giorgetto had little trouble matching Leonardo Fioravanti when it came to designing beautiful GT cars.
Our Ghibli Spyder was built in 1970, and first sold in the USA before it was shipped to the UK in 1980. It has covered just 35,000 miles in the past 44 years, which makes it a rare and desirable example of GT nostalgia. Swing open its sleek driver’s door and you’re confronted with an interior that’s meticulously well presented. The cabin is decorated in swathes of red leather and as you climb inside, the deep, luscious seats embrace you like a long lost friend. They provide perfect balance between comfort and posture, making them ideal for long distance cruising.
Like its outer skin, the cabin is well sculptured, with symmetrical dials that peer out of the leather like blackened portholes. Being a 1970 example, this car features rocker switches in place of the toggles that featured on the early Spyders, which gives the interior a smarter, more uniformed appearance. The glovebox reveals a comprehensive history file containing information and invoices from renowned marque specialists.
Maserati. A replacement wiper motor here, a reconditioned gearbox there – we even found evidence of work involving recondition ing of the gearbox. This Ghibli has been well looked after, but all the work is testament to general wear and tear. Our investigations into the car’s history show, for the most part, this car is largely original and unrestored.
Turn the key and the V8 engine comes to life with a low, bassy rumble that’s almost lost in the early summer morning air; however, a quick dab of the deep-rooted throttle pedal is all that’s needed to provide a reminder of the 310bhp lurking beneath the bonnet. The 4.7-litre engine is the same version of the four camshaft V8 found in the Quattroporte, but with dry sump lubrication to achieve the bonnet line and improve the centre of gravity. Maserati claimed 310bhp, but never disclosed where the extra 20bhp came from that distinguished this engine from the one used in the Quattroporte.
Featuring a three-speed Borg Warner automatic transmission, the Ghibli requires a gentle but purposeful hand action to activate ‘drive’ and venture out onto the roads of Gloucestershire. The Ghibli utilises a tubular steel chassis featuring independent front suspension and a leaf-sprung live rear axle with single locating arm, which results in a lot of movement at low speeds. In fact, it bounces and hops along the uneven country lanes that surround Cheltenham, but things tend to even out when you find more agreeable asphalt.
Stretching out to more than 15 feet long, and six feet wide, this is a large car, but it doesn’t intimidate. Ironically, the interior is relatively cramped and being a six-footer I find that my head practically rises above the windscreen, which forces me to slouch my body unnaturally back into the seat, poke an elbow on the window frame and embrace the fully laid-back driving style that the Spyder demands.
Thump the throttle, and the V8 responds quickly as the Borg Warner ‘box drops a cog to facilitate the Maserati’s sudden injection of pace. The 4.7-litre V8 provides a wonderful bellowing soundtrack that booms out like an Italian opera star refining his vocal range. The engine reaches its peak at around 5500rpm, while maximum torque is delivered at a relatively lowly 4000rpm, ensuring plenty of mid-range pull.
At speed, the Ghibli is predictable and neutral in its handling, albeit with a hint of understeer. The biggest criticism lies with the power-assisted steering that lacks feel and, at times, leaves the wood-trimmed steering wheel feeling vague in the corners. It isn’t enough to spoil the driving experience, but its ambiguity takes some time to become accustomed to. Thankfully, the same cannot be said for the brakes, which are excellent thanks to twin-servo assisted ventilated discs with three pistons per caliper.
Hit the brakes and the Ghibli lurches to a sudden halt, as the soft springs play catch-up to the sudden lack of movement.
Unlike other cars of its era, however, the Maserati is also surprisingly easy to drive. You can just imagine powering it along a long sweeping coastal road on a glorious summer’s day, with period Van Morrison playing in the background.
Torque 341lb ft@4000rpm
Top Speed 168mph
Gearbox 3-speed automatic