Award-winning author Meg Rosoff once said, “Ask any comedian, tennis player, chef. Timing is everything.” To her list you can add automobile manufacturers. A good case in point is the Maserati Khamsin. Despite having a sweet-running, 4.9 liter, double overhead cam V8 engine, dramatic styling from one of the ‘70s premier designers, a luxurious interior, and superb handling, only 435 Khamsins were sold between 1974 and 1982 – thanks to bad timing. The energy crisis that began in 1973, shortly before the Khamsin went on sale, virtually vaporized the demand for high performance grand touring cars like the Khamsin.
Khamsin carries on Maserati GT traditions
Design work on the Khamsin began in the early 1970s as Maserati felt the need to have an updated replacement for their aging Ghibli, a front-engined Grand Touring car introduced in 1966. Following Maserati tradition, the new GT would have a front-mounted V8 engine and luxury accommodations with 2+2 seating. For the first time, Maserati selected Gruppo Bertone for the Khamsin design.
Bertone was led by famous designer Marcello Gandini, one of the most prolific and influential designers of the sixties and seventies, who was responsible for the Lamborghini Miura, Fiat X1/9 and the Alfa Romeo Montreal. The Khamsin’s low overall height of 46 inches required the fastback roofline to have a shallow angle, usually resulting in poor rearward vision for the driver. Gandini used one of his design trademarks, a transparent rear fascia panel, to give the driver a panoramic view to the rear. Another Gandini-inspired styling cue, unique to the Khamsin, were engine compartment vents that were asymmetrically arranged across the hood.
Maserati Khamsin specifications
While the Khamsin carried on their GT heritage, Maserati did not hesitate to make a few advancements in the body construction. The Khamsin was the first Maserati front-engined GT to utilize all-steel monocoque construction and an independent rear suspension that was attached to a tubular rear subframe.
Powered by a 4.9 liter Maserati engine producing 320 horsepower at 5,500 rpm driving the rear wheels through a five-speed manual transmission, the Khamsin weighed in at about 3,375 pounds and could cover the quarter mile in 16.2 seconds at a speed of 90 mph. With a 0 to 60 mph time of about 8 seconds and a top speed of over 170 mph, the Khamsin could get you where you wanted to go in a big hurry. The engine was mounted well back in the chassis to accommodate the low hood line, giving the Khamsin a front mid-engine configuration and a 50/50 front/rear weight balance for improved handling.
Last Maserati developed with Citroen
As a result of Maserati’s precarious financial situation in the late 1960s, Citroen took over ownership of the company between 1968 and 1975. The Khamsin was the last Maserati to be jointly developed by the Citroen-Maserati alliance. As such, the Khamsin had Citroen’s hydraulically actuated suspension and control system, in which fluid pressurized by an engine-driven pump activates the brakes, clutch, power steering, and the retractable headlights. Citroen’s system gives the controls a very light touch that takes some getting used to for unfamiliar drivers. Another drawback is starting the car when cold. According to Classic Driver, “While the controls are eerily light once everything has warmed up, from a cold start nothing works at all. Not the brakes, not the steering, nothing.”
The Khamsin featured a luxurious interior, so at least the driver could be comfortable waiting for operating temperatures to normalize. Standard features included air conditioning, full leather seating, tinted power windows (also hydraulically operated), a heated rear window, and hydraulically adjustable reclining front seats with head rests. A three-speed Borg Warner automatic transmission was optional.
Maserati Khamsin in the United States
The production Khamsin went on sale in Europe as a 1974 model, but was not sold in the U.S. until 1975, thanks to a lengthy battle between Maserati and the NHTSA over the Khamsin certification. In non-U.S. cars, the taillights were mounted on the transparent panel that ran across the rear of the Khamsin, which was not acceptable to the NHTSA. After exhausting their appeal processes, Maserati finally gave in and lowered the taillights to a metal panel just above a new larger rear bumper. They also had to add a larger front bumper, side marker lights, and certify the smog emissions of the engine, which reduced the output by five horsepower.
Most American car publications thought the taillight arrangement was an unattractive and awkward compromise, but that did not prevent from Road & Track praising the car in a December 1975 road test, saying, “…the strikingly handsome Khamsin is an artistic tour de force.” They particularly liked the asymmetrical air vents in the hood, the glassed-in rear end and the upswept tail design. While they noted the hydraulic control system gave the brake pedal minimum travel, making brake modulation difficult, their conclusion was high marks for the Khamsin. Said R & T, “And all things considered, it’s probably the best front-engined luxury GT we’ve tested.”
Hagerty estimates the average value of a 1975 Maserati Khamsin to be $128,000, ranging from $219,000 for one in #1 concours condition to $96,000 for a Khamsin in #4 fair condition. The values of all conditions of the Khamsin have increased beginning in January of 2014.
Should you be looking for an Italian luxury GT, a Khamsin in good condition might be hard to beat. Only 155 were imported into the U.S. between 1975 and 1977, which bodes well for their continued value, and all were well-equipped with luxury features. The Citroen-designed hydraulic system could be problematic if it has not been properly maintained, and finding someone in the U.S. who can repair/service this complicated system may take some searching. Since Khamsins are very rare, finding one might be difficult. With a little luck and perseverance, you just may be in the right place at the right time – and, as we know, timing is everything.
The Car Nut – http://www.thecarnut.com/Khamsindesc.html
Wikipedia – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maserati_Khamsin
Maserati-Alfieri – http://www.maserati-alfieri.co.uk/alfieri51x.htm