Maserati’s natural history came to an abrupt halt in 1975. Survival meant change – not just a new model, but an entirely fresh approach.
It’s tempting to view evolution as a continuous series of gradual mutations, but events throughout history have illustrated it only takes a single catastrophic event to propel it in an entirely different direction – or stop it entirely. The 1973 oil embargo for instance was the motor industry’s very own fiery catastrophe and 1975 the year when the conflagration really took hold, consuming a swathe of specialist carmakers.
Maserati too was in serious trouble. Hammered by the financial collapse of its French parent and ensuing post-oil crash economics, the Modena atelier closed its doors. The outlook was equally frigid throughout the Italian specialist car business. Lamborghini was insolvent and despite being nestled within the protective Fiat Auto umbrella, not even Maranello was immune, with stockpiles of unsold Ferraris building up as customer confidence evaporated.
Enter notorious fixer and wheeler-dealer, Alejandro de Tomaso, under whom Maserati would steer a course away from outright exotica into somewhat more pragmatic realms. Having wrested control of the Casa del Tridente under highly beneficial terms, De Tomaso appointed Aurelio Bertocchi to run the business, prompting incumbent engineering chief, Giulio Alfieri to depart in the ensuing schisms.
Alfieri had been responsible for generations of superbly engineered Maserati road and race cars, and prior to De Tomaso’s arrival had spearheaded Tipo 124 – a forward-looking 2+2 coupé intended to replace the long-lived Indy model.
Tipo 124 was based on the mechanical layout of the existing Khamsin model, but with a new sheet steel unitary body, unlike the latter’s tubular affair. Body styling was by Ital Design, showing palpable influence from Giugiaro’s earlier Boomerang and Medici concepts.
In truth, the resulting shape was not one of Giorgetto’s finest, appearing slightly incomplete and oddly proportioned. This new model line required investment however, and this factor, coupled with Alfieri’s departure saw Tipo 124 axed in favour of a more pragmatic (and cheaper) solution.
De Tomaso already had an eminently suitable gran turismo in the Tom Tjaarda-penned Longchamp, a sober looking 2+2 coupé in the Mercedes SLC idiom. This would form the basis for il Tridente’s new GT. Long time Maserati tailor, Carrozzeria Frua was retained to oversee its transformation. The resultant design was christened Kyalami and launched in 1976 with Maserati’s fine 4.2 litre V8 under it’s restyled bonnet.
Despite its obvious physical resemblance to the Longchamp, there were in fact few external panels shared between them. The Kyalami was longer, lower and wider and while the resultant design was undoubtedly not what Maserati aficionados had been anticipating, it remains one which has aged with considerable dignity.
Maserati’s divergence from exotic styling to a more tailored, sober line would be underlined by the Giugiaro styled Quattroporte III which followed in 1979 and even more so two years later with the in-house Biturbo design. It was an aesthetic that suited the times – it being an era of recession, conservatism and politically motivated kidnappings. Whatever one’s view of its merits, it was a styling trope that kept Maserati in business, one they broadly maintained since.
Now, some forty years on, Maserati appears set to return to its pre-crisis path with the 2018 Alfieri GT. Is the species about to mutate once more?