Maserati Bora Merak

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Maserati Bora - Merak

1971 - 1980
4719/4943 cc
310-320 bhp
5 spd. man
Top Speed:
257 km/h
Number Built:
3 star
Maserati Bora Merak
Maserati Bora - Merak
Reviewed by Unique Cars and Parts
Our Rating: 3

The Maserati Bora

When Lamborghini started producing the Miura, it was only a matter of time manufacturers like Maserati followed suit. The result was the 1971 Bora. Styled by Italdesign it was elegant but perhaps lacking a little animal beauty possessed by the Ghibli and Miura.

It was incredibly fast, with its 4.7-litre V8 engine it could top 281 km/h. Its ride was quiet and it also offered some of Citroen's complex hydraulics, like sharp brakes, power-adjustable pedals, seats and steering column. In 1972 Maserati produced the Merak and from the front it was almost impossible to detect any difference between it and the Bora.

Its engine was one difference, however, as the Merak used a 3-litre V6, a much shorter engine allowing two rear seats to be used. It handled well but apparently lacked a little bit of guts. Maserati answered this issue with the 1975 SS model in which power increased for 190 bhp to 220 bhp. Bora production ended in 1980 with the Merak following one year later.

A Beautiful Body by ItalDesign

"BORA" IS A WIND that blows near Trieste, and in naming the Bora, Maserati were adhering to a tradition of naming cars after winds - like the Ghibli and Mistral. The prototype for the Bora was first sighted on test near Modena in 1970, so it was evident to Maserati aficionados that the final design was the result of extensive testing and trial for appraisal.

The Bora was penned by ItalDesign's Giorgio Guigiaro, who created a dramatic body shape, within the limitations of aerodynamics, aesthetics and mechanical specifications. The result was magnificent, and we can say that with some certainty because we think it still looks great today.

As a package it was hard to beat - it had good road-holding and manoeuvrability, ample (for a super-car) luggage space, styling for aerodynamics and aesthetics, speed, noise levels in the cabin, hydraulic pump servo-assisted braking, improved driver comfort and conformity to safety standards. Delving first into the area of road-holding and manoeuvrability, all work resolved around the positioning of the engine, the consequent weight distribution, and the reduction to a minimum of the moment of polar inertia with regard to the vertical axis, the aim being to create a manoeuvrable vehicle with good directional stability.

Constructional problems were evaluated, and the choice of engine location resulted. These were the reasons that a central engine was adopted and the wheelbase was fixed at 102.5 in. with weight distribution of 58 percent load on the back axle and 42 percent on the front. Front and back suspension geometry and the positioning of the steering column made a decisive contribution to the achievement of cornering and straight driving dynamic features.

Attention to Detail

During preliminary studies, special attention was paid to stress factors and the elastic features of the parts involved. For example, the strip down the side was actually a groove, housing a rubber strip in the interests of surviving parking-lot assaults. One look at the shape and you do not need us to tell you it was very slippery. All this explained the design of the front suspension; although it was traditional overall, some specific features were brought in to create a harmony between loads and handling on the one hand and minimum roll on the other.

The problem of obtaining a sufficiently roomy boot in a rear-central-engined car was solved by placing the radiator and the hot air outlet circuit in the chassis, and by housing the conditioner unit and battery in a special recess in the boot, so as not to reduce its capacity. The design of the general structure and, particularly, the front part complied with the canons of rigidity and energy absorption to permit maximum safety conditions. The body was designed by stylist Giugiaro and given the features indispensable for attaining a penetration coefficient to permitted speeds of more than 175 mph. In spite of this, the driving compartment was comfortable enough for tall people.

Comfort and Safety

The engine was an improved version of the 4700cc eight-cylinder unit that was being used in other Maserati creations. Maximum power was increased by about 15 hp, while the torque had a maximum value of 310.2 ft/lb. There was been no reduction in acceleration or progression to low rates. The problem of the internal noise (which commonly afflicted super-cars with central engines from this era) was given maximum attention, and the level of sound being contained to particularly low levels. The hydraulic circuit consisted of a high-pressure pump and two hydraulic accumulators (one per axle) as a safety reserve. As this system did not rely on volume but pressure regulation, it was possible to abolish the phenomenon of the lengthening of the brake pedal stroke which normally occured every time the vehicle was subjected to great centrifugal acceleration of variable direction.

It was considered extremely important to give the driver a comfortable driving position in a climate controlled environment. This led to the adoption, as original equipment for the vehicle, of the constant-humidity conditioning plant and variable cabin geometry. Thus the steering unit could be adjusted upwards and sideways, the seat could be inclined with a rigid movement about a very advanced point to give forward and elevation adjustment at the same time, and the pedal unit was fitted with a safety block in any chosen position. Headlights were also hydraulically operated. Standard kit these days, but amazingly advanced for 1971. The vehicle architecture was designed to give maximum safety. The then most recent safety standards were also observed in the cabin, controls and accessories.

The Maserati Merak

The Citroen SM was the first 4-wheel product of the Citroen marriage with Maserati. Then came the Maserati Bora, mostly Maserati but using some of the Citroen wizardry in hydraulics. The Maserati Merak was another offspring of this union, rightly to be considered a little brother of the Bora but also closely related to the SM. A first meeting with the Merak was bound to leave a strong impression. It's fair to say that this car was one of the most beautiful Gran Turismo cars ever made. As mid-engine exotica go, sharing of bodies between models was rare, but Bora and Merak did just that. To good effect, too: the V-8 Bora was a smooth, successful design, and the Merak looked virtually the same from its nose back to the rear window.

From there rearward, though the basic shape remained similar, the Merak had entirely different sheet metal. The smaller engine (a V-6, remember) allowed more freedom with lines; the Merak had a lighter feel through the center of the car and surface interest the Bora lacked in this area. Whereas the Bora was all of a piece from cab on back, things were opened up on the Merak, leaving only flying buttresses to carry the roofline to the rear and avoid a chopped-roof Porsche 914 look. The buttresses were a masterpiece of execution, though of course they were purely decorative.

There was also more Citroen in the Merak than there was in the Bora, in fact the whole SM cockpit front - instruments, dash cantilevered-rim steering wheel and all - was fitted neatly into this seemingly unrelated body. No coincidence! But the seats were an all-new and completely Maserati, , arguably the best seats in any mid-engine coupe from the era - excluding the Bora itself. You didn't get the Bora's hydraulically adjustable pedals in the Merak, so the seats themselves had to be more conventional. Another departure from the Bora was that the Merak was, by some remote stretch of the imagination, a 2 + 2. The shorter engine allowed something resembling two occasional seats behind the main ones, and it was conceivable that two small children or adult cats could sit there. If nothing else these did provide a little extra storage space, though, and for anyone given to claustrophobia they could be valuable as mere space.

The Merak's engine was the then latest 2965-cc version of the 90c V-6 that started at 2670-cc, in carbureted form with three Webers capable of 190 bhp @ 6000 rpm. The SM had essentially the same unit, although in detoxed form the Citroen version did not develop that same 190 bhp. The 5-speed gearbox through which it drove was Citroen, not ZF as was used in the Bora. Chassis layout was like the Bora's and the Merak's brakes were also fully powered by the Citroen high-pressure hydraulic pump. The Merak's steering was conventional rack-and-pinion despite the implications of the SM steering wheel.

Entry and egress was easy for a car of this type because of extremely wide doors. Once inside and behind the wheel there was the feeling that there was lots of space: adequate room for 6-footers, unusual in a mid-engine car. The pleated leather door panels featured perfectly placed leather armrests that would remind you that the Merak's designer, Giugiaro, earned his reputation of master interior designer. Going up through the gears 6000 rpm would come up quickly, and the gearbox was such a beauty that getting from one gear to the next was sheer pleasure.

Acceleration was impressive but not brutal, accompanied by the V-6's deep throb. There was a lot of this wonderful noise going toward the redline in the lower gears - but slip that lever into 5th and everything quietens down beautifully for an untiring long trip. One of the great advantages of mid-engine cars, particularly from this era, was the ease of steering most of them enjoyed without any power assist. The Merak was no exception. Steering required little effort; yet there was a heavy - perhaps a better word is secure - feeling to the car. At low speeds it seemed absolutely glued to the road and soaked up all kinds of road surfaces in its stride. As you increased speed the feeling lightened, but not too much, and on high-speed curves it tracked as if on banking.

The brakes felt like Citroen brakes and required a special touch. Pedal travel was virtually nil: apply pressure and you got a kind of remote-control feel of braking power as if you were actuating some giant disc brake as big as the engine. Everything stopped, and the car maintained its great tracking stability under heavy braking. Only 200 lb lighter than the Citroen SM or 500 less than the husky Bora, the Merak was no lightweight but a luxury sports car built to last. It wasn't all that cheap either. It was produced in smaller numbers to its nearest competitor, the Ferrari Dino, and Meraks came off the same assembly line as Boras, put together by the same people.b As mentioned at the start of this article, the body styling was by Giorgio Giugiaro of ItalDesign, who had this to say of it:

Giorgio Giugiaro's Own Words On The Merak

"There is always something satisfying in being asked to design a new car, and the satisfaction is all the greater when the chassis to be covered carries the prestigious name of Maserati. Where the chassis has been specially designed for a new model, the task becomes both exciting and compelling. The constraints remain prevalently technical and the broader financial limits permit greater freedom of expression. Factors such as speed in formulating the basic proposals and their development, plus the need to translate into styling a genuine feeling for what the Maserati was intended and required to be, namely an advanced GT model, all played their part in the design of the body.

"The wheelbase, the position of the engine, and weight and volume distribution might have been an excuse to design an excessively eye-catching new style. But the people in charge of the project in Modena knew what they were about from the first, and their ideas were based on the most rational of concepts. Maserati's clientele are notorious for demanding competence. They must be presented with a technically-sound sports car of modern styling, rather than a car whose functionally purposeless stylistic ornamentation makes it exotic and little else. Agreement between ItalDesign and Maserati was quickly achieved on these bases early in 1969.

"The new two-seater coupe was to be compact, functional, simple, with features which were innovations without being revolutionary, complying fully with the laws of aerodynamics and reliability. The Bora frontal shape was thus born, a shape of skimming brevity which makes the appearance uniquely aggressive; opposed to this, the taut, almost horizontal windscreen-cabin-tail profile contains the essence of the car's energy and power. The link between these sections is represented by the ridge line which rises towards the roof to surround the driver and terminates in the angle formed by the roof and the roll-bar structure.

"The cabin, endowed with servo-controls to enable any size of person to find an optimum position by adjusting the steering wheeL the seat and the pedal unit, is exceptionally roomy and bright. The large windscreen gives perfect visibility and its angle of inclination not only offers minimum wind resistance but also prevents the passenger's face bumping it after a violent stop. To the eye, the roof is separated from the body by the contrast between the glazed steel and bright colors. Another graphic feature is the grooving along the flank where a strip of protective rubber is inserted. The boot is in the front and it is much bigger than those usually found in GT cars. Behind the driving position inside the cabin, between the wheel housing and the partition isolating the engine unit, there is enough room to take an overnight bag and other articles.

"The engine hood is all one with the tail panel and opens outwards to permit most efficient access to the engine. It is mostly made of crystal, since the use of steel is limited to body structures and tail panel, and this gives good back and side visibility. The overall rear architecture also gains from this - it is deliberately imposing so that the presence of a powerful engine is placed in due relief but it is in harmony with the rest of the body. While including ideas recently developed by us, such as the depression in the centre of the front hood, the shape of the waist line, the shape and distribution of volumes among the areas which theoretically make up the vehicle, the vehicle's styling fully reflects the Maserati personality.

"Given the particular technical requirements, the stylistic features adopted confer harmonious balance on the relationships between straight and curved surfaces, and between lights and shades. A simple, geometric design was used for the retractable lights as it was for other parts. Less evident but equally important is the overall vehicle structure, which had a significant influence on design as a whole, because of its industrialisation and the use of pressed parts, a guarantee of greater perfection of finish. The need to use already-homologated lights was a constriction on tail design.

"Maserati engineers followed design development closely both on the model and on the prototype. The Maserati is therefore the outcome of a profitable piece of teamwork between a company of great prestige and tradition and a group of very young, forward-looking designers. The engineer and designer in charge had already created a successful sports car in the past. It was thus possible to pass from the basic idea to public presentation of the first vehicle in a particularly short time."
Maserati Bora
Maserati Bora
Maserati Bora
Maserati Bora
Maserati Bora
Maserati Bora Interior

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Also see:

Maserati Bora Merak Road Test
Maserati Merak Advertisement
Maserati Heritage
Maserati's Racing Pedigree
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