Maserati Ghibli GT (AM336) | The Brave Pill

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Order the world’s carmakers by perceived risk and Maserati normally features towards the top of the list. The Italian brand boasts a history longer and more distinguished than that of almost any other sports car maker, but also stands as living proof of the old adage about reputations being easily lost and hard to regain. The period when Maserati was under the control of Citroen and then De Tomaso – late sixties to early nineties – became synonymous with shonky build and expensive mechanical issues. Something that has dogged the company’s image ever since.

This week’s Brave Pill is offered as a stylish refutation to such generalized prejudices. Being a Ghibli means it was indeed developed during Maserati’s long era of cioccolato quality, but being a late GT means this one was constructed after Ferrari had taken control and started to dramatically improve standards. More importantly, our Pill also seems to have been treated like a beloved heirloom, with a service history more likely to be measured in feet than inches and with evidence of copious spend. The selling dealer has even included a picture of an immaculate rear subframe which, but for the difficulty in actually balancing food on it, really does seem clean enough to eat your dinner off.

Maserati’s long period of corporate poverty made it accomplished at making a little go a long way, and this generation of Ghibli stands as one of the best examples of this skill. The company had started to make a punchy twin-turbocharged V6 engine in the early ‘eighties, but sales of the eponymous Biturbo this powered had slackened as the car aged. So Maserati decided to create a new model around what was basically the same mechanical package, the Gandini-designed Ghibli combining styling cues from the Biturbo and bigger, V8-engined Shamal into a handsome two-door coupe-saloon. Under the surface a fair amount had been carried over from the Biturbo, but the Ghibli wore its new metalwork like fine tailoring and looked impressively sleek and modern as launched in 1992.

Italian market versions of the Ghibli used a 2.0-litre V6 that had been carefully designed to slip under the country’s capacity-based taxation regime, this delivering up to 325hp, a road car per-litre record at the time. Other parts of the world got a bigger 2.8-litre version of the V6, still featuring two turbochargers but making less power (280hp) but more torque. But even with this engine the Ghibli was still capable of both a 155mph top speed and a 6.0-second 0-62mph time; respectably brisk for the period, and it was one of very few cars that could combine such potent performance with the extra practicality of usable rear seats.

Not that early critical praise was particularly fulsome. Road testers were suitably impressed by the Ghibli’s pace, less so by sometimes wayward handling. It also didn’t take long for early buyers to discover the continued presence of some egregious quality issues. But Maserati worked hard on improving the car, giving it two facelifts, with the second of these coinciding with the arrival of GT spec. This brought revised suspension, an improved interior and what were then arch-filling 17-inch alloys.

Maserati didn’t run much of a press fleet in the UK back then, which led to the Ghibli playing a small but significant role in the evolution of automotive journalism. Quite literally, in this case. Unable to borrow Masers through official channels, hacks soon learned to call up an enthusiastic owner who was happy to allow his Ghibli cup to be used in comparison tests: a nice chap called Harry Metcalfe. This leading to several of the relationships that ultimately led to Metcalfe’s creation of evo magazine.

I never got the chance to whale on Harry’s car, but I did get to experience an Italian-spec Ghibli of similar vintage to our Pill a few years ago. The driving position still followed the age-old Italian tradition of being designed for those long of arm and short of leg; some Ghibli owners have even taken the drastic step of extending their cars’ steering columns. But the Ghibli’s turbocharged engine felt impressively brawny despite its diminutive capacity, and its chassis combined strong grip with respectable agility, and seemed to enjoy being pushed hard.

Our Pill is a very late car, the seller says it is the penultimate of just 236 right-hand drive Ghiblis, and was originally ordered with both the optional four-speed automatic gearbox and the eye-catching combination of an oxblood leather and walnut interior that only the Italians could hope to pull off. Having been registered on the last day of 1999 it has covered just 84,000 miles since, with one of its owners loving it enough to pay for £12,500 of engine work when it was just six years old. Two of the subsequent keepers were apparently enthusiastic members of the Maserati owner’s club.

The list of recent work includes refurbished subframes front and rear, a full suspension rebuild and four-wheel alignment, repainted wheels, fresh Michelin Pilot Sport 4 tyres and fresh rust protection to keep the underbody structure in what the vendor says is completely corrosion-free condition. A glimpse at the MOT history behind the obscured plates supports the mileage and throws up nothing of recent concern; a crop of advisories for deteriorated bushings and worn tyres in 2015 had all disappeared by the following year.

The £24,950 price certainly isn’t lacking in seriousness, and represents a sizeable supplement over earlier and leggier examples of the ‘M157’ Ghibli four-door that is still on sale. But while it isn’t long since shabbier nineties Ghiblis were in the bargain bin, the sheer rarity of the survivors – and fact most seem to now be in the long-term custodianship of enthusiasts – means our Pill isn’t outrageously priced given its condition. When it comes to rattier Masers, the purchase price is just going to be where the spending begins. Here’s one that makes the case for buy once, buy well.

Learn how to bring any battery back to life again

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