Despite the title of this feature, the Maserati Khamsin hails from an era when such cars were more normally titled as ‘exotic’ cars – a term rarely used these days, having been supplanted by the more common supercar appellation. As for myself, well I can still recall seeing a Khamsin for the very first time in the mid-1970s and, compared to the dreary saloons parked along the same inner London street, the Maserati’s appearance was undoubtedly exotic.
As with many Maseratis of the same period, the Khamsin’s name was derived from a wind – in this case a hot strong wind that blows through the desert region of Egypt. A good choice – regionally speaking – as the Ghibli (the car replaced by the Khamsin) was named after a wind that blows through Libya. Sirocco, a hot desert wind that sweeps through the Sahara, might have been a better name but that could have caused confusion with the Volkswagen Scirroco.
However, African winds aside the origins of the Khamsin were more directly influenced by Citroën.
From the various post-war Traction Avant models to the back-to-basics 2CV and the advanced DS/ID series cars, Citroën have long been known for their innovative approach to automobile design. As their nickname indicates, the 11CV and 15CV ‘Traction Avant’ cars championed front-wheel drive while the DS/ID, with their startling aerodynamic looks utilised hydro-pneumatic technology to provide self-levelling suspension as well as power assisted brakes and steering.
Building upon the continued success of the DS/ID series, during the mid-1960s, Citroën decided to further up their game by developing a fast and well-equipped two-door GT – the ultimate expression of the techniques developed with the DS/ID. Initial prototypes for what would eventually become the SM were powered by two Citroën-built engines; a twin-cam four and a V6. However, while the French company was renowned for its many advanced systems, performance engines were never their forté and they began looking around for a more suitable powerplant for the new car.
This search would eventually lead them to Maserati’s doorstep.
In 1968 the Bologna-based automaker was in financial trouble and talks between the two automakers culminated in Citroën taking a controlling interest in Maserati the following year. For Citroën this move led to the SM being fitted with a 2.6-litre V6 engine directly derived from Maserati’s V8 engine.
For Maserati, Citroën’s involvement allowed the company to modernize their facilities and begin work on new models while also giving them the opportunity to avail themselves of Citroën’s knowledge of hydraulics.
At the time of the take-over, Maserati were already well advanced with their development of the Indy so the mid-engined Bora (1971- 1978) would be the first car to truly benefit from the company’s association with Citroën. The V8-powered Bora would also gain a little brother, the V6-powered Merak – both of these cars pandering to the latest trend for mid-engine exotics, a trend kicked into life by Lamborghini’s amazing Miura.
However, while mid-engined supercars appealed to ten-tenths drivers, some customers still hankered for a powerful, luxurious front-engined GT car – and Maserati had nothing to offer to these customers. With that in mind they turned to Bertone, handing them the brief to design a brand-new grand touring coupé – the Khamsin.
For Maserati enthusiasts, very significantly the Khamsin would be the last car whose development would be overseen by the firm’s legendary head of engineering, Giulio Alfieri.
As well, the Khamsin would be the first series production Maserati designed by Bertone, with the design brief being taken up by Marcello Gandini – and he had a hard act to follow; the Ghia-penned Maserati Ghibli is still widely regarded as being one of bestlooking GTs of the classic era.
Gandini’s final design was a stylish wedge-shaped coupé built atop a chassis with the same wheelbase as the Ghibli but, unlike the older car’s leaf-sprung solid axle, the Khamsin’s suspension was independent all round via wishbones and coil springs – Maserati sticking with a traditional set-up rather than adopting Citroën’s self-levelling system.
One of the car’s many styling highlights was a full width, transparent tail panel into which were mounted ‘floating’ tail-lights – looking rather like a variation on the similar styling flourish Gandini applied to another car he’d previously designed – the Lamborghini Espada.
The first production Khamsin was displayed at the 1973 Paris Motor Show, with full-scale production commencing the following year.
Interestingly, it’s quite possible that the rear glass section was one of the reasons that the Khamsin never really took off in the USA. Typically, the National Highway.
Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) disapproved of the car’s tail-light location and forced Maserati to refit them under the glass panel. With ungainly US-spec bumpers mounted directly below the light clusters, the exhaust tips fouled the underside of the bumper –a situation resolved by turning the exhaust resonators upside down! Mercifully, the Maserati Khamsin Registry reports that around 80 of the 155 US-spec cars have since been converted back to Gandini’s original concept, while many of those originally exported to the USA have been returned to Europe.
As an aside, a privately owned 1975 US-spec Khamsin was converted into a oneoff Khamsin Spyder, while another car was modified and fitted with a T-top...
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