Maserati Khamsin

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Maserati Khamsin

1974 - 1976
4930 cc
320 bhp
5 spd. man 3 spd. auto
Top Speed:
246 km/h
Number Built:
4 star
Maserati Khamsin
Reviewed by Unique Cars and Parts
Our Rating: 4


Production of the fabulous front-engined Khamsin started in 1974 (as a successor to the Ghibli and Indy) although it was first seen in Paris some two years earlier. It was named after an Egyptian wind, crafted in steel with its glazed rear panel being a standout. The conventional front-engine layout made for practical interior and luggage space, and the handling remained excellent thanks to its inherent good balance. Better still, the Citroen SM-type steering was very well suited to the car (although the brakes were over-sensitive).

Of course the Khamsin was in the elite ranks of the "Supercar". While we don't believe there is any official definition of the beast; it seems to depend as much on what it cost and how it looked, as what was under the bonnet and how it behaved on the road. And by that defenition, the Maserati Khamsin was every bit a Supercar.

Unlike its Ferrari and Lamborghini equivalents, it had only eight cylinders, not 12; but it did have the obligatory twin overhead camshafts per bank of cylinders and both its capacity and output were very impressive. The engine was quite "soft" with a compression ratio of only 8·5 to one, and at 320 bhp (DIN), peak power was a good deal less than was offered in the Countach or the Ferrari Boxer.

On the other hand the Maserati's capacity of all but five litres enabled it to produce a good deal more torque, especially when compared with the Lamborghini, and this provided good mid-range punch and easier driving. To most Maserati aficionados, the mid-engined Bora had the wood on the Khamsin, but the Khamsin had the bigger engine, and (arguably more importantly) a higher price at introduction.

While the standard Khamsin transmission used a close-ratio five-speed gearbox, most were fitted with a three-speed Borg-Warner automatic. The final drive remained the same but the overall gearing was effectively reduced since the fifth gear of the manual gearbox was an over-drive ratio. It was sensible of Maserati to offer an automatic option on a car of this type - following Lamborghini's lead in recognising that not all their buyers would want to wrestle a manual box around the Riviera. And Maserati's big V8 was probably better suited to an automatic than its 12-cylinder rivals.

Apart from its very attractive hatchback Bertone styling, the Khamsin had other points of technical interest. As mentioned earlier in the article, it benefited from Citroen's control of Maserati to the extent of having SM-type power steering with speed-variable effort and only two turns of the wheel from lock to lock; the brakes were also of Citroen design, the, effort exerted on the pedal releasing pressure from a high-pressure hydraulic system. Citroen's influence did not, however, extend to the suspension design which used conventional double wishbones front and rear.

Performance and Economy

The 4·9-litre Maserati engine was derived from earlier, smaller units by lengthening the stroke, with the result that its dimensions were nearly "square". Perhaps in consequence, the rev limit imposed by the red line on the tachometer was as low as 5,500 rpm and this in turn meant that if the red line was observed, maximum speed was severely rev-limited. In most day-to-day driving, we doubt few owners really ever felt inhibited by a redline which held them to 130 mph exactly. However the Khamsin would reach 130mph from a standing start in a mean 38·9sec and something under a mile. Guestimating by the shape of the acceleration curve, we figure the Khamsin would have been good for at least 150 mph provided any owner was prepared to take the engine to 6,350 rpm, and a long way past peak power.

Even the manual-transmission with its overdrive top was limited to 144 mph at 5,500 rpm; the factory-claimed maximum of 170 mph for the manual car was equivalent to 6,450 rpm with the standard 3·31 final drive. The standard Borg-Warner internal gear ratios suited the Khamsin very well, allowing maximums of 54 and 88 mph in low and intermediate ratios. The transmission had been set up very nicely to take advantage of the power and torque available, with the full-throttle upshift points came so close to the red line that you would rarely need to use the manual hold. By the same token the kickdown could be invoked almost at the upshift points, which of course prevented road testers of the auto tramsmission cars from taking top-gear acceleration times from below 90 mph. The manual-hold pattern used the old-fashioned D1-D2 arrangement, with D2 locking out low ratio while permitting normal automatic changes between high and intermediate.

Most cars of the era that were fitted with an automatic transmission showed quite clearly in their acceleration figures in each gear where the engine/torque converter combination was operating most efficiently. But the Khamsin would produce similar figures for each 20 mph increment, which demonstrated that the engine possessed a good, flat torque curve. The Khamsin, however, showed two quite remarkable sets of figures in low and intermediate ratios. At very low speed when the torque converter was giving maximum multiplication there was a "dip" in the times, but once the car was under way the rate of acceleration was quite astonishingly uniform. Where standing-start figures were concerned, the Khamsin was naturally slightly hindered by its automatic. It could never regain that crucial fraction of a second lost in the getaway in time to make any difference to the all-important time to 60 mph. We would compare it to other automatic cars of the era, but these are few and far between. The Aston Martin V8 outran the Khamsin with something approaching ease, but the Jensen Interceptor matched It closely.

In absolute terms a time of 7·5sec to 60 mph was damn quick; so was 17·6sec to 100 mph, and 15·8 sec for the standing quarter-mile. But when it came to driving in normal conditions, the figures to look at were the 4·Osec from 40 to 60 mph in second. It was in quick, safe over-taking that the Khamsin exceled, aided by the good response of its transmission. Like many very powerful cars blessed with a large carburettor choke area, the Khamsin was not at its most economical at town speeds. The engines sweet spot, at least economy wise, was at a speed of around 45 mph; but against that the curve was unusually flat and even at 100 mph when the Khamsin would be doing 15·2 mpg compared with its 19·5 mpg at 50 mph. The law aside, therefore, there was relatively little to deter the driver from picking their own cruising speed.

Apart from the vast reserves of power, it was out on the road that the very high-geared Citroen steering would both surprise and impress. Many road testers of the time suggested it was the most successful application of a Citroen system by a long way, and that includes all the Citroens for which it was designed. In principle, it worked exactly as in the Citroen SM, and on first acquaintance there was the same tendency to steer a weaving course while getting used to the abrupt gearing. But in the Khamsin the effect was not compounded, as it was on the SM, by noticeable roll and dip of the nose. Instead the Khamsin driver would quickly become accustomed to the car going where it was meant to. Before long both the gearing and the effort would feel exactly right and there was enormous pleasure to be gained from treating the Khamsin like a big Lotus Elan - a comparison that demonstrates what many loved about the car - its ability to switch lanes in answer to a quick twitch of the steering wheel.

In absolute terms, the Khamsin's handling was probably subject to lower limits than an equivalent mid-engined car like the Bora. These limits however were unlikely to be explored by any mere-mortal on a public road. To put it another way, the Khamsin could safely be cornered very fast indeed, and the only way to quantify the Bora's superiority, if any, would be take rap times on a closed circuit. The Khamsin was helped by its tyres, which were wide (but not too wide) low-profile Michelin XWXs, and by its near-perfect balance: at the kerb, it supported almost exactly half its prodigious 32·3cwt on each pair of wheels and the occupants sat almost exactly mid-way along the wheelbase. Where the Khamsin differed from the Bora was not so much in balance as in its higher polar moment of inertia, which means that if the limit was transgressed, everything happened more slowly and the driver did not need to be blessed with superhuman reflexes to sort it out.

The Michelins (same size front and rear - another blessing of the conventional layout) gave excellent roadholding on wet or dry surfaces, though the wet limit was naturally lower and it was easy enough to provoke misbehaviour by unwise exercise of the right foot. To an extent the handling characteristics were masked by the power steering, but the Khamsin behaves neutrally in nearly all the road tests we have reviewed, although some noted a slight tendency to oversteer when pushed quickly into a corner and powered round. There was none of the rather dis-concerting understeer sometimes encountered in very powerful mid-engined cars when entering a fast bend and the Khamsin's behaviour was sufficiently predictable to allow the driver to relax even when travelling quickly.

In the limit, especially in the wet, it was the tail that would break away but as already mentioned, the resulting slide was slow and easily "fielded" with a modest application of opposite. lock. While nearly all commentators were delighted with the Citroen-inspired steering, the brakes met with near universal condemnation on one point at least. Most found it difficult to become accustomed to a braking system which needed only 30lb pressure on the pedal for an ultimate crash stop, and even those who drove the car long enough to become familiar with it still frequently found themselves stopping more abruptly than intended. Given a long period driving the Khamsin alone, we would assume the driver would become used to it, but the transition between the Khamsin and any other car seemed to present a problem for nearly all road testers.

In other respects the brakes gave little cause for complaint. Discs were used all round, of generous size and ventilated at'the front; there was practically no nosedive under heavy braking, so there was no flattery in the ultimate stop of 0·95g achieved with all four wheels on the point of locking, in contrast with the figures given by some cars which would come to rest with the front end well down. Beyond this point, reached with the aid of almost negligible pedal effort, all four wheels would lock and the Khamsin would slide straight ahead while still recording a deceleration of O: 8g. The results fade tests were impressive, the initial speed-sensitivity of the brakes disappearing towards the sixth stop and the effort needed for a O·5g stop thereafter being completely stable.

Maserati Khamsin
Brilliant and front engined...

Comfort and Convenience

One considerable, and immediately noticeable, advantage of the Khamsin's front-engined layout was that it provided more - and better-shaped - interior space. An obvious comparison is with the Merak/Bora and other similar cars in which the driver and passenger were constrained to sit in a semi-reclining position, unable to pull themselves upright for the sake of a better view or to ease the pressure on some part of their anatomy.

In the Khamsin it was possible to sit upright or semi-reclined and to move without encountering obstructions in the shape of a close and steeply-raked screen or other obstruction. Add to this virtue t comfortable, well-shaped seats and a steering wheel adjustable for rake and reach, and you can understand why many today still argue the Khamsin was the best Maserati of the era - leastwise one that you could actually live with day-to-day.

To further enhance the cars day-to-day credentials, the ride was firmly damped, able to absorb mediocre road surfaces without complaint. On billiard-table main roads the Khamsin felt smooth and stable and was very much at its best: but on undulating minor roads with irregular camber it was not so good. But the stability was always good and the handling little affected even when the suspension was working hard. Considering how little the car rolled and how firm it felt, the Khamsin's ride was commendable on almost any surface. Just as it scored in terms of accommodation compared with a mid-engined car, so the Khamsin was generally quieter. There was an exciting noise of cams in motion when the car was accelerating hard, but very little of that tiring noise that nags away at the occupants when cruising at a high steady speed. In these circumstances the engine noise died away to a whisper, and many road testers commented that the wind noise never became obtrusive.

At certain well-defined speeds the old automatic transmission bogey of a hetero-dyning hum was apparent, but these speeds were mostly low and were in any case easily avoided. Road noise was surprisingly low considering the area of tyre in contact with the surface. In common with most cars in its class, the Khamsin had good instruments but a poor minor control layout, the latter becoming poorer according to how far the control was divorced from the primary task of driving. Air-conditioning was standard, but the controls were overly complex and hard to get right. The system produced hot or cold air in copious quantity. The operation of the lights - inevitably complicated by the use of retractable twin-headlamp units - was also far from clear until you studied the handbook closely. Having said that, the minor systems worked well. The lights, for example, produced a beam with good reach and spread, though nothing like enough to enable the Khamsin to be driven to its limit at night - and by todays standards would appear more like candle power.

The wipers, two-speed, covered a large screen area and did not lift-off at high speed. Driver visibility was good by any standard and certainly better than in any comparable "supercar" of the era; only a short length of the nose was invisible from the driving seat and the deep rear window, extending virtually to the tail, made reversing easy. Slim rear quarter pillars reduced to a minimum the blind spot.

Living with the Maserati Khamsin

We are not sure if anyone actually used the Khamsin as a daily driver - but if they did they would soon discover a few minor annoyances - but given the type of car the Khamsin was, that they were so few can be commended. To some extent, the conventional front-engined layout of the car was responsible for this. It permitted the design of the cabin to provide uncramped - even generous - space for two, uncompromised in this case by any attempt to squeeze in token back seats. By the same token it made possible a large luggage platform (with spare wheel and fuel tank beneath) covered by a fair-sized hatch. It also meant that the engine was easier to work on, under its front-hinged bonnet. The rear hatch was released by a handle set in the pillar of the driver's door, in a manner familiar to any owner of an Alfa 2000GTV. The fuel filler cap was released by a second handle alongside the first: the trick was to remember which was which.

The fuel filler was hidden beneath the false louvre behind the rear side window on the right of the car: the opposite louvre functioned as a genuine ventilation extractor. With its 20-gal capacity the fuel tank weighed well over 1cwt when full and keen drivers would needed to remember that this weight fell well aft of the overall centre of gravity. The rear hatch was supported by two gas-filled struts and was easily operated, but the Khamsin suffered from the usual hatch-back complaint that the contents of its luggage space were easily seen from out- side the car. Any luggage had to be lifted clear of the rear panel. Stowage for odds and ends was limited to a glovebox on the passenger side, plus what could be tucked behind the seats. There was a shallow tray on top of the centre console, around the transmission selector and the ashtray (which was combined with a cigar lighter under a single concealing flap).

Considering its power output, and the provision of power steering and brakes as well as air-conditioning, access to the basic engine was quite good and if you see a Khamsin at a car show, we recommend you ask to take a look under the hood. If you do, you will soon realise that minor adjustments could be made without difficulty. For the most part, we would assume the original owners would have left their four twin-choke carburettors and their transistorized ignition in skilled hands. The standard service interval was 3,000 miles and there were four grease points which called for attention at this mileage.

We can understand why, when released, the Khamsin lacked the glamour of the "supercar elite" with their 12-cylinder engine set immediately behind the occupants. Yet it sacrificed little on this account and gained a good deal. Taller drivers would be happier behind the wheel, able to appreciate the extra space gained from the front engine placement. It had near perfect steering, a degree of Citroen quality control, reassuring handling and was reasonable at the bowser. All this, and with brilliant performance. During the production run there were 4.2 and 4.7 litre versions, and most were blown away by the torque - an amazing 481.4Nm at 4,000 revs. Today, it remains a favourite with collectors, and with good reason.
Maserati Khamsin

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Also see:

Maserati Heritage
Maserati's Racing Pedigree
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