Why you’d want a Maserati Merak
Maserati burst into the 1970s with a superb mid-engined V8 supercar, the Bora, backed by Citroën investment.
A clever plan had been hatched to spread costs: a smaller Bora would use the four-cam V6 engine that Maserati was building for Citroën’s SM, tuned to compete with the Lamborghini Urraco and Ferrari Dino. The SM’s transaxle could be used, and its powered hydraulics, which was also handy for raising the pop-up headlights without costly and weighty electric motors.
Economies of scale would give the Merak a competitive price and losing two cylinders made room for small rear seats, too. That was the theory. In practice, the Merak ended up substantially different from the Bora, with a completely revised rear structure, while the SM’s sales tailed off and Citroën’s finances plummeted, forcing it to abandon Maserati in 1975.
Fortunately, Alejandro de Tomaso came to the rescue, but the economies of scale had vanished and Merak production remained low.
Giorgetto Giugiaro had brilliantly adapted the Bora’s styling for the 2+2 Merak, with a flat rear deck and (removable) flying buttresses instead of the sloping screen. The Giulio Alfieri-designed quad-cam V6 was superb and, with great handling plus a nice five-speed ’box and a big front boot, the Merak was a practical supercar that was quiet and reasonably comfortable.
Competition from Ferrari’s much quicker Dino 308GT4 led Maserati to upgrade the Merak to SS form – with an extra 30bhp – and de Tomaso added a 2-litre tax-break model for Italy.
As a classic buy the Merak is hugely appealing, but requires great care because it rots severely from the inside out.
The two key areas are around the front suspension mountings welded into the boot floor (lift the stuck-on carpet and it’s not unknown for the remains of the inner wings to come too), and around the fuel tank ‘bins’ on either side of the engine. Both areas require serious expenditure to rectify and can be in tatters on cars that, from the outside, look perfect.
The next scarily expensive area is the engine. They can clock up 150,000-plus miles without major attention, but – particularly if unused for long periods – the sodium-filled exhaust valves can snap and wreck the V6, says Andy Heywood of Bill McGrath.
A full rebuild can top £20,000, so it’s worth finding out if the valves have been replaced – c£3500 if nothing else needs doing.
Images: Tony Baker
Maserati Merak: what to look for
See above for trouble spots
Access to the engine isn’t bad with the space-saver spare out, though removing the exhaust manifolds is a major challenge. Look for proof of regular maintenance and check for oil/water mixing or water blowing out, suggesting head-gasket failure (c£2400 to replace both). If exhaust valves haven’t been replaced, budget for it.
All bushes, dampers and springs are available so suspension rebuilds are not frightening, but rotten mounting area is; steering rack is NLA new.
This is the original paint finish for the wheels; many are brighter. The pattern changed slightly for SS and tyres went up one size, 185 to 195 f, 205 to 215 r.
Brakes/headlamp pods are worked by Citroën hydraulic system; it powers SS clutch, too. It’s reliable and not costly to fix; a recon main brake sphere is £100.
SM-derived gearbox was also used by the Lotus Esprit and there are some spares around. Test for worn synchros (notably second) and a slipping clutch.
External trim is unobtainable new and second-hand parts are extremely scarce, so ensure it is in good order or budget to make new from scratch.
Most Meraks had leather trim and it’s the simplest answer to worn velour: unobtainable, as are most interior items. Column stalks are expensive.
Maserati Merak: on the road
The engine should feel smooth and flexible right through the rev range, with serious performance above 3000rpm. Expect 1-2bar oil pressure at tickover when hot and 4-5bar at speed; gauges are unreliable, so use a remote one if unsure. Wear shows as excessive blue smoke on the overrun, usually from worn valve guides.
The SS had different heads with larger valves and ports, higher compression and slightly bigger carbs. SS cam covers have six bolts, while normal Meraks have five. It’s not unknown to find an SM V6: check the number with club or specialists.
In the UK, post-’75 Meraks have to pass the CO emissions test when MoT’d, which can take some fiddling because triple Webers are not efficient at low revs. Once passed, they will probably need to be readjusted to run smoothly – and don’t expect much fuel economy if you use the performance. As well as the valve issue, little-used engines are prone to blowing head gaskets.
On the road, the car should feel taut, lively and responsive. Tired Meraks give themselves away with soggy, unpredictable handling. If the rear end squeaks, budget for all-new bushes soon: it is seizing and could break a wishbone.
Not everyone likes the Citroën brakes, but they are less shocking compared to over-servoed modern brakes – just gentle low-speed braking takes some practice.
The SS’ powered clutch has a spool valve that wears: run the engine, turn off and pop the lights up and down until the pressure goes; they should lift at least six times. The spheres are a service item and should be replaced every two years, but some cars still have originals.
Maserati Merak price guide
- Show/rebuilt RHD: £45,000
- Show/rebuilt LHD: £40,000
- Average RHD: £35,000
- Average LHD: £30,000
- Restoration: £10,000+
Maserati Merak history
1971 Giugiaro-styled V8 Bora launched
1972 Oct: Merak introduced, using many Bora components with 3-litre V6 plus Citroën SM dash on left-hand-drive cars
1973 UK RHD imports begin
1974 USA cars fitted with huge rubber bumpers and full-sized spare with hump in engine lid
1975 Mar: SS takes over. Left-hookers are fitted with square-shaped dashboard
1976 Larger clutch fitted due to rapid wear. Citroën hydraulics dropped for US: conventional servo brakes, electric motor for headlights
1977 2000 GT added for Italy: 1999cc; 170bhp @ 7000rpm; 131lb ft @ 5700rpm, 135mph, c180 built. All LHD Meraks now have Bora dash
1982 Production ends: 231 total sold in the UK, including 140 SSs out of about 1000
The owner’s view
“I’ve owned Alfa Romeos since my late teens,” explains owner John Cochrane, “and wanted something more exotic, but not a Ferrari – too obvious.
“I’d actually just bought an SS when I saw this car in 2006. It had only done 4000 miles from new and I fell in love with it.
“It is so original and has never been welded anywhere. I did have to have the engine rebuilt after it dropped a valve, though, but Bill McGrath sorted it and now it’s a lovely, usable car with a decent amount of storage space.
“They also modified the pedals slightly to make it very comfortable because I’m tall and have big feet. It’s done 11,000 miles now – we’ve just been to Ireland for five days with the Maserati Club and it didn’t miss a beat.”
Ferrari won the compact Italian 2+2 mini-supercar war with keen pricing and class-leading performance from new 2926cc V8 (a further 840 were sold at home with 2-litres). Rot-prone, but well supported by specialists.
Sold 1973-’80 • No. built 2826 • Mpg 14-22 • 0-60mph 6.4 secs • Top speed 152mph • Price new £13,000 (’77) • Price now £20,000+
With a stunning Bertone body, the Urraco beat its rivals to the market but initially didn’t offer the pace to match its looks and was too expensive. Steel structure rusts badly and the V8 is costly to fix.
Sold 1970-’78 • No. built 776 • Mpg 13-20 • 0-60mph 8.5-7.6 secs • Top speed 143-158mph • Price new £14,560 (’77) • Price now £30,000+
Maserati Merak: the Classic & Sports Car verdict
A well-maintained Merak is civilised and practical, ideal for high days and holidays two-up.
Choose a good one and look after it, and it need not be expensive to run. Buy one with problems, however, and you can expect substantial bills before you can enjoy it.
There’s no strong reason to choose an SS over earlier cars: simply go for the best that you can afford.
- Remarkably practical supercar that should be reliable if it has been properly sorted
- Superb quad-cam V6
- Surprisingly civilised
- Rear seat for small children/emergency use
- Tricky to restore if rotten
- Complex engine is costly if neglected
- Sharp brakes take some acclimatisation
Maserati Merak specifications
Sold/number built 1972-’82/1830
Construction steel monocoque
Engine mid-mounted, all-alloy, dohc 2965cc V6, with triple Weber 42/44DCNF carburettors
Max power 190bhp @ 6000rpm-220bhp @ 6500rpm
Max torque 188lb ft @ 4000rpm-199lb ft @ 4400rpm
Transmission five-speed manual transaxle, driving rear wheels
Suspension independent, by double wishbones, coil springs, telescopic dampers, anti-roll bar
Steering rack and pinion, 31/2 turns lock-to-lock
Brakes powered, ventilated discs, 11in front, 113/4in rear (except USA from 1976, with conventional vacuum servo-assisted system)
Length 14ft 3in (4330mm)
Width 5ft 101/4in (1768mm)
Height 3ft 91/4in (1134mm)
Wheelbase 8ft 61/2in (2600mm)
Weight 3024-3058lb (1372-1390kg)
0-60mph 7.5 secs
Top speed 140-150mph
Price new £12,390 (SS, 1977)
BUY A CLASSIC MASERATI MERAK