A Maserati Merak SS gave Jules Christian plenty to smile about
One Saturday afternoon in the very early 1980s, while looking after the car showroom I worked at in North London, I was presented with a guy who wanted to sell his car, a model I knew very little about at the time – a Maserati Merak SS.
Usually, if the company was interested, one of the two buyers would step in and decide if it was worthwhile, but both were away and, pre-universal mobile phone days, were not easy to get hold of.
Although seemingly regarded as unimportant in Malta, a service history of a car was regarded by the company as essential. The mileage was really too low for the year and all that the guy had was a private purchase invoice from six months previously, the log book and current MOT (VRT), and that was it. So not one for the company – and it was down to me if I wanted it.
When I say I knew nothing about a Merak, I knew the specs; a 2+2, two-door coupe in the lower supercar league, on a par with a Ferrari 308GT4 or Lamborghini Urraco. It had a 220bhp, Webber carburetted, mid-engined three-litre V6 that was longitudinally mounted (unusual), driving the rear wheels, giving it a healthy 0 to 100km/h time of around six seconds and a top speed of just under 240km/h. The SS version was a considerable improvement on the original underpowered Merak.
At the time Maserati had been bought by Citroen, who had tried hard to improve on the Italian company’s notorious previous track record of unreliability. They did this by introducing into the model many of their established features, such as their hydropneumatic brake and clutch systems, five-speed gearbox and some of their interior trim features.
In terms of looks, the design by Giorgetto Giugiaro was a kind of scaled-down version of the fabulous left-hand drive Maserati Bora. With its flying buttresses from roof to rear and light alloy Campagnolo wheels, it was easily comparable with the exotic lines of any of the competition.
Concerning the car in question, I established the owner was leaving the UK the following day and had to sell it quickly. Also, the engine was smoking a bit… more alarm bells. And yet it was cheap – very cheap. Apart from the smoke, it drove well enough – a bit sloppy at the back end, but otherwise good. But a smoking Maserati engine – that could be outrageously expensive to fix.
Then I remembered a couple of brothers in South London known as the Mazzer Boys, and even on a Saturday afternoon found them on the phone. I gave them a full description, and they said they 75 per cent certain the smoking was because it needed a proper tune and service, but could give me no guarantees. Still, I bought it and spent the weekend convinced I’d made a bad mistake. I dropped off the Merak to the mechanics on Monday and spent another three fretful days awaiting the findings.
On Wednesday afternoon the phone rang. “Come and collect your new car!” It was unbelievable – the car had been completely transformed. Shock absorbers and brakes adjusted, full tune and service, no smoke – it just wasn’t the same car. After a full valet, one of the company buyers even said “That’s come together well” and added “Why not contact the London Maserati dealers and see if you can get any history on her”. Taking the advice, I duly enquired and was told that any paperwork they found, I would have to pay for. Fair enough… in for a penny.
Christmas arrived early in August that year. Not only did they know the car, but it was their demonstrator model and had a full service history up until eight months previously and the low mileage was correct. For a very modest fee, not only did I get copies of all the bills but a fully stamped up service book and owner’s manual in a genuine Gucci leather folder.
However, now that the Merak had a full service history, I felt obliged to offer it to the company I worked for, but they were fair very about it and said to carry on.
I had eight months of pure enjoyment in the Merak SS and then sold it, with enough profit to enjoy a three-week holiday in the US for my troubles. It’s nice when you get it right, for a change.