The List




Future Classics 

Maserati 3200GT

Back in the 1980s it was hard to believe that Maserati was the same company that had once produced supercars like the Bora. The Italian marque's machines from the era of shoulder pads and neon were boxy designs that appeared to have been styled by a designer with a particular fetish for right angles. They were also poorly built, and had little of the handling finesse of their predecessors.

Fortunately for Maserati fans, after the purchase of the company by Fiat in 1993 things began to change. Initially the Cubist styling lived on in the Biturbo-based Ghibli, but it disguised a far more thoroughly developed chassis - here was a car that although no great beauty, was certainly capable of taking the fight to M series BMWs and AMG Mercedes.

Then, in 1998, Maserati returned to its roots with the 3200GT - a car that finally provided the visual impact of predecessors such as the Khamsin or Merak, together with a level of performance that would enable it to compete with rivals from Jaguar and Porsche.

From a purely aesthetic point of view, it had the XK8 and 911 beaten before the start: lines that were both classic and modern were complemented by distinctive LED rear lights and an upmarket interior. But looks were not its only forte; under the bonnet was a twin turbo V8, which produced 370 bhp - enough to propel the 3200 to 100 mph in under 13 seconds.

Driving one today, it is clear that the 3200, despite appearances, is not a GT car in the same mould as an XK8 or even an Aston Martin DB7. The ride is hard and the steering response is startlingly sharp - not qualities that would make for a relaxing companion for, say, a high speed journey to the South of France.

It is much more a sports car wrapped in a GT body, and, with this in mind, things start to make more sense. Throw the 3200 into a corner and you find that the front end holds on tenaciously, with little of the corner entry understeer that blights some large coupes.

There is noticeable turbo lag, followed by a great burst of power, which means that you need to be precise with the throttle, particularly in the wet, but this all somehow adds to the spirit of the car. Spool up the turbos mid corner, and the torquey engine easily overcomes the rear tyres' grip. With a judicious twist of opposite lock it is possible to hold the Maserati in a graceful power slide, although this is something best confined to the track or very wide empty roads, given the car's size and weight.

The six speed manual gearbox requires a fair shove to flick between ratios, but once warmed up it becomes less recalcitrant. An automatic gearbox was an option, but we would recommend steering clear of cars fitted with these as they do not mesh well with the character of the 3200; those who require an auto for city driving should head towards the Mercedes or Jaguar camps.

In 2002, the 3200 was replaced with the 4200, which featured a larger, naturally aspirated engine, improved build quality (partly due to Ferrari's influence) and minor revisions to the styling. Although these changes helped to make the Maserati a more complete car, some of the soul of the original was lost, together with its boomerang lights, which were a casualty of silly US regulations. The earlier car may have flaws that its replacement vanquished, but for its character, elegance, and for returning Maserati to its rightful place in the motoring world, we award it Bonne Gauche Future Classic status.