Behold the Anti-Miura.
On November 3 1971, the 53rd Salone del l’Automobile di Torino opened its doors. With exhibitors from 11 countries, including 64 carmakers and 15 coachbuilding firms, there was no shortage of interest, intrigue, new models or arresting concepts for the home contingent to whet their collective appetites over. Yet it was upon the premier trio of Modenese exotic car builders that most eyes were fixated, each showing dramatic mid-engined supercars on home soil for the very first time.
Ferrari’s prototype 365 GT4 BB made its public debut on the Pininfarina stand, whereas Bertone’s Countach prototype had already poleaxed all comers at Geneva that Spring. Meanwhile Maserati was showing the production-ready Bora, fresh too from its Palexpo premiere, but in case anyone felt inclined to a pang of déjà-vu about this state of affairs, Giugiaro’s Maserati-based Boomerang concept could be gasped over on Ital Design’s stand.
Never before had these three rival exotic ateliers offered such conceptually similar, yet in executional terms, wholly different offerings almost simultaneously. Each would personify its host marque: Maserati, the consummate gentleman awash with provenance and heritage; Ferrari, the brash, if finely tailored, race -proven arriviste and Lamborghini, the newly fashioned and fashionable disruptor.
While St. Agata Bolognese’s Miura had lent the rival ateliers of Piedmont a sharp intake of breath in 1966, time had marched on and the aesthetic had shifted. Furthermore, the fact that initially at least, the underdeveloped Bertone-designed beauty would prove a rather unsavoury and evil handling device on the field of play meant that the goal remained open for something at least as arresting but considerably more resolved and user-orientated.
Maserati had long been in the business of producing alluring, tastefully appointed and suave grand turismos for a wealthy European elite, mostly clothed in discretely restrained tailoring by the likes of Vignale, Frua or Ghia. It was the latter who was responsible for the beautifully realised and classically proportioned Ghibli of 1966, courtesy of Giorgetto Giugiaro.
However, under its ravishing skin, the Ghibli was anything but state of the art, maintaining a rigid leaf sprung rear axle and traditional tubular chassis; by then, even Ferrari’s rival 275 GT offered more sophisticated underpinnings, so while it was as quick as it was beautiful to behold, the Ghibli was, in dynamic terms, something of a vintage experience by the late 1960s.
The Tipo 117 Bora came about therefore, not simply as a statement, but a means of moving il Tridente into the modern era. The brainchild of Giulio Alfieri, Maserati’s difficult if gifted technical director, who had been considering a mid-engined GT for some time. Such matters were always at the mercy of resources, but following Maserati’s acquisition by Citroën in 1968, much-needed investment in plant, facilities and product brought official sanction and backing from Citroën’s simpatico President, Pierre Bercot.
An additional factor which stood in favour of the Bora’s development was the desire of Monsieur le Président for Maserati not simply to regain its pre-eminence as un grande maison, but also to return to motorsport – in this case to the mythic asphalt of le Sarthe and the 24 Heures du Mans. The development of a high performance mid-engined model was therefore perceived as a crucial stepping stone towards this ambition.
A key component in understanding Maserati’s business at the time lay in the carmaker’s relationship with its customers. At Viale Ciro Minotti, they knew their customers personally and ingenere Alfieri took care to ensure his designs were tailored specifically to their requirements. By consequence, Maseratis were (by Modenese standards at least), tractable, reliable and largely untemperamental to own and operate.
By contrast at Maranello, the customer seemed barely a consideration, and as for Mr. Ferrari himself, it seems he really couldn’t have cared less. This lofty attitude helped lay the foundations for the Ferrari legend, especially amidst the swelling numbers of well-heeled customers arriving to pay homage, then forced to humiliatingly cool their heels at the gatehouse until the Commendatore deigned to receive them.
Ingegnere Alfieri conceived the Bora as a docile, comfortable high-speed continent-crosser, its mid-engined layout being largely incidental – albeit for marketing purposes, a necessary gambit to illustrate Maserati’s technical prowess. One consequence of this rationale was Alfieri’s insistence on practicality, emphasised by a long wheelbase (for stability and passenger accommodation), and the provision of a large, well-shaped luggage compartment, located in the nose. This requirement entailed a new design of front suspension – one Alfieri was required to redesign rather hastily when it proved woefully inadequate in practice.
Technically, the Bora was a combination of the tried and true, and the radical, the latter by dint of a little creative borrowing from Maserati’s newfound Parisian benefactors. This latter point raises a frequently cited shibboleth amid some Maserati aficionados – that Citroën imposed the use of their oleopneumatic systems upon Viale Ciro Minotti. According to testimony from those involved in the car’s development, author and historian, Marc Sonnery was able to definitively refute this assertion; the truth being that Alfieri was in fact an enthusiastic proponent of their use.
The Bora would employ powered hydraulics for its braking system – a perennial Maserati bugbear – employing ventilated discs all round with high-pressure assistance à la Citroën, and also for the adjustment of seats and pedals. The rack and pinion steering however remained unassisted.
The Bora’s body employed a central monocoque with tubular elements, while the entire engine/ gearbox/ final drive and rear suspension (fully independent for the first time on a Maserati) was mounted on a carefully mounted detachable subframe, to the benefit of NVH, also quickly removed to allow easy servicing and repair. In addition, both a carpeted aluminium internal engine cover and a double-glazed rear window separating the cabin from the engine bay further impeded the transmission of unwanted noise to the occupants.
An initial flight of Alfieri fancy was the provision of fuel tanks within the chassis tubes, borrowed from racing practice. This he reasoned would lower the centre of gravity, liberate internal space and improve weight distribution – the latter an important consideration on a heavily rear-biased design. However, it was never really a viable proposition and wisely, he allowed himself to be talked out of it.
The Bora was set up to be a safe, predictable handler, with a neutral bias to its road behaviour, tending towards initial understeer. However, more advanced drivers found when pushed harder, the tail could be brought into play, lending the car a somewhat double-sided character. Lacking a sympathetic proving engineer – Maserati’s own (Guerrino Bertocchi) being vehemently opposed to mid-engined designs on principle – Alfieri called upon noted motor journalist and racing driver, Paul Frère, who carried out a good deal of the pre-production dynamic proving.
The first truly modern Maserati of the era, the Bora would mark a radically new, more forward-looking face to the fabled Tridente di Bologna. And it is to this aspect that we turn next.
 The Ferrari BB would not enter production until 1973. Lamborghini took until 1974 to productionise the Countach.
 Giugiaro was lead designer at carrozzeria Ghia at the time of the Ghibli’s conception. We will consider his work on the Bora in a forthcoming piece.
 Despite its on-paper antiquity, Alfieri ensured the Ghibli had a well-sorted chassis (in the GT idiom).
 Maserati general manager, Guy Malleret was at pains to emphasise to his Paris-based master that racing success could not be achieved overnight. As it happened, Maserati’s Le Mans return would not occur.
 The Bora’s front suspension underwent several iterations before a definitive layout was reached. Initially tried with longitudinal torsion bars, these were subsequently abandoned. Alfieri then investigated the use of very short wishbones (to allow for a more commodious luggage area). When shown the drawings, a highly sceptical Malleret surreptitiously (so as not to antagonise ingegnere Alfieri) obtained copies and sent them to the Bureau d’Études in Paris for their opinion. However, matters took their own turn – Alfieri scaring himself silly on a test drive of a prototype, thus equipped. Cue a more conservative design, a (slightly) smaller boot and problem solved.
 The longitudinally mounted four overhead camshaft V8 of 4719 cc, fed by four twin-choke downdraught Weber 42DCNF carburettors, producing 310 bhp and 325 lb ft of torque and mated to a ZF five-speed manual transmission was largely carried over from the Ghibli.
 Citroën’s policy was one of non-interference. As long as Maserati was profitable, Bercot (and his successors) were content to leave designate, Guy Malleret and Alfieri to get on with matters as they saw fit.
 One unfortunate consequence of this was the fact that hydraulic fluid leaks from the pedal box ruined the fine Italian leather of several owners’ shoes; one US Maserati dealer saying he spent a great deal of money purchasing replacement footwear for his customers.
 Frère rated the Bora highly, describing it as “a very well balanced car”. He also backed Alfieri’s use of Citroën’s high pressure hydraulics.”
Source: Maserati // The Citroen Years 1968-1975: Marc Sonnery. Eau Rouge Publishing ISBN 978-0-9573978-0-4