Maserati’s Bora is one of the great, undiscovered treasures in today’s collector car market. Drive a properly sorted example, and you will be astounded and wonder why it’s been so overlooked.
With Monterey and all its auctions just weeks away, enthusiasts and collectors everywhere are dreaming of discovering the next “It” car. All too often such machines are simply the “flavor du jour,” something people buy because it’s the thing you are supposed to own. There’s no examining the underlying attributes of the car; rather, everyone seems to be getting one so you should too.
Several years ago Mercedes’ 190SL was a great example of this. Hagerty.com’s charts and data show that from September 2006 to May 2015, the average value of a 190SL in #2 (excellent) condition saw around a 500% increase to peak at nearly $220,000, with most of that move happening in less than three years.
Sure, a 190SL is attractive to look at, and relatively comfortable but then the inherent goodness gets pretty thin. It was in production for eight years (1955-1963), and with almost 26,000 made, it certainly isn’t rare. More importantly (and often overlooked by flavor du jour purchasers), on the road the car is slow, with nothing exhilarating or particularly memorable to hold your attention.
A True Undiscovered Gem
Prior to the Bora, Maserati’s flagship was the Ghibli. It looked stunning and was reasonably fast, but the underpinnings were falling behind those of its Ferrari, Lamborghini and Iso competitors.
Which brings us to one of the great, undiscovered gems of the collector car market. It was Benjamin Graham, the father of Value Investing who stated “Price is what you pay, value you is what get,” and for not much more than the price of that Mercedes, an A-list supercar from the 1970s can be yours—one with refinement and usability that’s guaranteed to astound you.
The car is Maserati’s Bora, and its big league credentials start with its creator, Giulio Alfieri. The ultra-talented engineer was held in very high regard, recognized as one of Italy’s finest—especially by his peers. Former Lamborghini (and multiple Indy 500 winner) Gianpaolo Dallara told me he always marveled at what Alfieri could create, sometimes seemingly out of nothing.
As the 1960s came to a close, chief engineer Giulio Alfieri and Maserati’s management knew to remain relevant they needed to go mid-engine. The Bora was the result.
Something Out of the Ordinary
The Bora was a radical departure for Maserati. The company’s first mid-engine road car, Alfieri placed its 300+ horsepower 4.7-(and later 4.9) liter V8 longitudinally in the chassis, the engine residing completely ahead of the rear axle. Its steel monocoque construction had an ingenious tubular rear subframe that held the engine, ZF transaxle and rear suspension, and it could be completely removed from the car for easier mechanical access.
In sum, gone were such “antiquities” as the live axle found on Maser’s previous GTs. The Bora’s front and rear suspension was fully independent with A-arms, coil springs, tube shocks, and anti-roll bars, and the vented discs were vacuum-assisted by Citroen’s avant-garde hydraulic system.
Alfieri wasn’t the only superstar involved in the Bora, for Giorgetto Giugiaro styled its lovely shape. An independent panel of top journalists voted him “Designer of the Century” at the end of the last millennium, and Maserati’s striking mid-engine GT came when he was nearing or at the zenith of his formidable creativity. By then his resume already boasted masterpieces such as Maserati’s Ghibli Coupe & Spyder, De Tomaso’s Mangusta, and Iso’s Grifo, and he was still bubbling with fresh ideas.
Pen to Road
The Bora has an incredibly comfortable cockpit, so much so you’ll want to remain in it for hours—something you can’t say about its Miura, Countach and Boxer competition.
Regarding the Bora, “Alfieri gave me a blank sheet of paper,” Giugiaro told me. “I was completely free to do what I wanted,” meaning this Maserati is very pure, pretty much straight from the maestro’s pen to the road.
The Bora broke cover at 1971’s Geneva Auto Show, and went into production the following year. It wasn’t nearly as high strung as its competition, which was by design. “The man is the guest of the car,” Alfieri told me of his concept of what a Maserati should be, “and I liked the car to be a good host.”
That “good host” was very well received, Road & Track’s 1973 review concluding, “The Bora is the best mid-engine car we’ve tried to date.” Their 4.7-liter car saw 163 mph, while Autosport’s John Bolster saw 168—a big number in 1974 that made it one of the world’s fastest cars. And in a nod to the Bora’s refined nature, Bolster noted “it shows us the mid-engine sports car could become the ideal businessman’s express, instead of the playboy’s tart-trap.”
The 4.9-liter Bora I sampled had less than 100 miles on the clock, so I knew how it felt when new. The car is owned by gonzo enthusiast Matteo Panini, and was built in 1991 when Maserati owner Alejandro De Tomaso discovered a chassis and parts were available, and had his craftsmen make him one.
In many ways the Bora’s lovely shape and silhouette went straight from the Maestro’s drawing board to the road. “I was completely free to do what I wanted,” Giorgetto Giugiaro told me. “I presented (Maserati) with four or five drawings, and they chose.”
A True Revelation
On the road it blew me away, a true revelation I wasn’t expecting. Once you slide under that stainless steel roof you’ll find a cozy, intimate and inviting cockpit. The seats are brilliant, providing outstanding comfort and leg, butt and back support. Headroom is exemplary, even for my 6’3” frame, and the instrument panel wraps around in front of you like an airplane cockpit. No other mid-engine car of the day touched its all-around visibility, which made it easier to drive in confined spaces than its predecessor, the front-engine Ghibli.
The chassis is astounding. Having no squeaks, rattles or shake, its robustness makes Lamborghini’s Miura feel utterly fragile in comparison. Just as surprising is the underpinnings. At low speeds the ride feels taut but modern, the suspension and chassis all but eliminating pothole crashes and thumps.
A Beautiful Symphony
Even more pedigree: That 4.9-liter V8 traces its roots back to Maserati’s endurance racers of the late 1950s and early 1960s.
It’s more sublime at speed. The compliant suspension, suppleness of the steering and comfortable interior give it a modern, sophisticated feel; if you were blindfolded while in the passenger seat, you would have no clue this car conceived and built nearly five decades ago. The quad-carb, DOHC V8 hums behind you and there is no wind noise at all, even at triple digits. You thus hear every note of the engine’s intricate symphony, the subdued clatter of chains and valves soothing and involving, and ever more complex and multi-layered as the revs rise.
And rise they will for the Bora pulls with real vigor when you stick your foot in it, the needle ripping around the tach and the charismatic V8 begging you to keep the pedal on the metal as it touches its 5500 rpm redline. The slick gearshift is positioned slightly closer than you like but the throws are sweet and precise with ideal weighting, its spring loading making the dogleg 1st-2nd a simple flick of the wrist.
The brakes require some acclimation. Citroen bought Maserati in 1968, and their trick system means there is no pedal, just a mushroom on the firewall. Not much happens with a light dab and more pressure causes them to grab harder than anticipated but once you get the hang of it, they are easy to use and haul the Bora down with alacrity.
Where the rubber meets the road, literally! A Bora makes its Ferrari Boxer and Lamborghini Miura and Countach competition feel absolutely antiquated in comparison.
To Sum It Up
At the end of the day, I couldn’t help but marvel at what Maserati, Alfieri and Giugiaro created. The ride, seats, steering, engine and more, indeed the sophistication of the whole package makes its Boxer, Countach, Pantera and Monteverdi Hai competition feel quite antiquated. It thrills you when you are hard on it, regales you with its composure and magic carpet ride at 100+ mph, and is comfortable, composed, and easy to drive at any speed.
In this day and age where collectors are seeking all-around usability for events such as the Copperstate 1000, a tight, well-sorted Bora may be one of the best bargains for those occasions. And with around 500 built, you will likely have the only one at the event.
The choice is yours—a 190SL, or something with real value like Maserati’s memorable (and rare) Bora.