The Maserati Boomerang was ’70s haute couture
Concept cars in the 1970s were all about wedge-like forms, and the alluring promise of MORE! More speed, more aerodynamics, more technology, more optimism, more, uh, extreme. Not to mention less reliance tradition and lower coefficient of drag. What few concept cars made their way into production were all the more dramatic for their origins: the Fiat X-1/9, the Lamborghini Countach, and the Lancia Stratos all evolved from some of the most jaw-dropping concepts of any era. Toned down for production, sure, but the final cars still resemble the spaceships that never were.
One you don’t often hear about: the Maserati Boomerang, introduced in 1971 at the Turin Auto Show. Legendary superstar designer Giorgetto Giugiaro created the Boomerang, just five years after he broke away from Ghia and founded Italdesign.
The firm had penned seven previous wedges: the Bizzarrini Manta, Abarth 1600 GT, Alfa Romeo Iguana, BMW M1, Porsche Tapiro, Alfa Romeo Caimano, and Karmann Cheetah. Each concept deserves a thousand words. If you have the time, you ought to look them all up—particularly the Beetle-based Cheetah, a roadster for the masses; the Tapiro, which was possibly blown up by activists protesting their boss’s labor tactics; and the Caimano, which resembles the unholy union between a running shoe and a Star Wars snowspeeder.
Variations on a theme? Sure, but Giugiaro was damn good at it. The Boomerang is just 42 inches tall, perched on 12.5-inch wheels. Its windshield is angled at a mere 13 degrees. The chevron shape of its namesake is everywhere: in the impossibly angular nose, in the door frames, in the dual vents ahead of the rear wheel. Its concave wheels are so rectilinear in aesthetic that they might as well actually be square. On the wheel arches, a little kink is added to the back of each one, almost a nod to rival Gandini, whose Alfa Romeo Carabo and Lancia Stratos Zero are contenders in the Wedgiest Seventies Concept superlatives.
Brave new world
By the end of the ’60s, the wedges were emerging, and Maserati was just starting to ease into this brave new future. The Ghibli was the first entry into this style, less drawn to late-’50s vestiges as the Sebring and frumpy Mexico, even the Frua-designed Mistral. Instead, the Ghibli was pushed out to the extreme. Its low tapering nose hid its headlights, its surfaces featured angles around the rear three-quarters, and it was longer and lower than any previous Maserati. Its styling would define a generation of Maseratis.
The Boomerang debuted the same year as the Bora, Maserati’s great production supercar. By 1968, Maserati was under Citroen’s control; no doubt that the French brought some much-needed forward thinking to the stodgy brand. A mid-engined supercar was within the limits of possibility. Italdesign was called in to develop Tipo 117, and the sleek, glass-lined, 300-horsepower-plus Bora debuted in Geneva—just seven months before the Boomerang.
Arguably the Boomerang’s parting piece is its jaw-dropping interior. A tunnel protrudes from the organic dash. The gauges are clustered in a single round console. Even the stalks and switches stick out from this manhole cover of instrumentation. The steering wheel is reduced to a leather-lined ring, rotating around on four beefy spokes.
It is truly bizarre. And yet, it makes sense: everything is right there, visible, without any fussy cluster blocking the road. The wipers and lights are within fingertip reach. And 1971 may have been the future, but it was a future before airbags.
The Boomerang debuted in Turin as a static model. But in 1972, engineers rebuilt it with the Bora’s mid-mounted, 4.7-liter V-8 and five-speed ZF transaxle. Now, the Boomerang could conceivably hit 171 miles per hour. At that speed, it might achieve takeoff.
In 1972, Giugiaro took everything he had learned the year before and embarked on another project. This was simply known as the “Silver Car.” It too was mid-engined, and it had a windshield rake of 18 degrees, which was somewhat more practical. Its interior was less extreme but just as minimal, embracing a Scottish tartan pattern across the seats. When the production car debuted in 1976, after three prototypes, Giugiaro could prove that such extreme a windshield could provide perfectly fine visibility, and damn the haters. The realization of the Lotus Esprit proved all of Giugiaro’s “folded paper” theories, successfully translated to production, and it became an icon in the process.
The Boomerang concept played the international auto show circuit until 1974, when it was sold to a nightclub owner in Benidorm, on the east coast of Spain. In 1980, a German bought it while on vacation. It now made the concours tour; in 1990, Giugiaro himself was reunited with his creation, and signed the back panel. It underwent restoration in 2002, with an emphasis on being road-drivable.
Louis Vuitton featured the Boomerang in its fall 2014 campaign. Photographers Annie Leibovitz, Juergen Teller, and Bruce Weber gave the Boomerang equal billing with the model, and indeed the minimalist angle pays off, the Boomerang’s ribbed leather seats patterning off criss-crossed handbags.
On September 5, 2015, the Boomerang went up for auction at Bonhams’ Chantilly event, where it sold for $3.7 million.
It’s all about the lines. Giugiaro knew that. Louis Vuitton knew that. And the conclusion with any wedge car, most of which are approaching the age of 50, is: this was the future we could have had, the roadgoing spaceships that exuded so much more. Here’s the difference: the Boomerang drives. Maybe you’ll see it someday, motoring along in its parallel universe.