Launched in 1972 under Citroën’s supervision, the Merak was Maserati’s V-6 alternative to the V-8 Bora, a slow-selling two seater designed by Giorgetto Giugiaro. The Merak also came with an unmistakably Italdesign body, but thanks to having a shorter engine, it also offered 2+2 seating with enough luggage space for a luxurious long weekend.
From 1976, Maserati sold the upgraded Merak SS, a car made immortal by the red example Jeremy Clarkson drove on Top Gear. According to him on the show, the previous owner “spent £10,000 on rebuilding the engine, and sold the whole car for £7000.” What we can confirm is that his Merak SS ended up at a junkyard since, with “its engine bottom end destroyed.” Shame, since only a total of 1830 Meraks ever left Modena.
The 1976–83 Merak SS was 110 pounds lighter and boasted 30 extra horses for a peak output of 217 hp from its 3.0-liter, quad-cam V-6. More important was that, soon after the Merak entered production, Alejandro De Tomaso took over Maserati—only to phase out Citroën’s hydraulic parts and send this 10 mpg, $41,000 2+2 to North America.
Safety bumpers couldn’t be blamed for the Merak’s shameful performance figures, which included a zero-to-sixty time “just over 9 seconds” and a quarter mile run in 17. With a cabin wrapped in acres of (tan) leather, the Merak’s relative comfort was pretty much the only aspect De Tomaso would take over to Maserati’s next product, along with the twin-turbocharged variant of that quad-cam V-6. The 1981 appearance of the Biturbo sedan meant Maserati would soon leave the mid-engine business to fellow Italians Ferrari and Lamborghini; yet in 1982, the decade-old Merak was still exotic enough to charm MotorWeek: