Maserati Shamal: More Than Just A Warm Southerly Wind

Images: Artcurial

Taking over the running of Maserati from Citroën and with ambitions to offer the brand to a significantly wider audience, Alejandro de Tomaso decided to develop a family of cars that would rival and hopefully emulate the runaway success of the BMW 3 Series.

Short, stubby, but aggressively muscular, the Shamal was a striking makeover for a design that was plain Jane to start with

Unveiled in December 1981, the Maserati Biturbo went on to spawn a range of two-door coupes with a variety of engine sizes from an 180bhp twin-turbo 2.0-litre V6 to a 285bhp 2.8-litre version of the same unit.

Designing a clamshell boot lid to sit on the existing boot profile was a very smart touch that increased the height of the rear

In time they were followed by a four-door sedan, and a shorter-wheelbase spider version, from which, a two-seater fixed head coupe, the Karif, was developed. But the bewilderingly wide range, the (initial) reliability issues, along with the underwhelming styling of the cars put off most Maserati fans and kept away newer buyers.

Of course the trademark asymmetric rear wheel arch confirmed that the Shamal's makeover was done by none else than Marcello Gandini

With sales far short of expectations, Maserati was deep in the red by 1988, when Alejandro de Tomaso had no choice but to agree to a deal with Fiat, who took a 49 percent stake in the carmaker.

At the same time, the decision was taken to take Maserati back to the prestige end of the market. As an all-new car would take time to develop, the first step planned was to rework one of the existing models in the range to something special.

With a pair of very fat 245/45 rubbers at the rear, the stance of the Shamal was wide and purposeful

The Karif, being the lightest, but with the most powerful engine, had the potential to be developed into a very exclusive halo machine.

The first important move was to prepare a new engine, a 3.2-litre (195 cu in) V8 with four valves per cylinder, plus twin turbocharging, for a maximum power of 326bhp at 6,000rpm, mate it to a six-speed gearbox and shoehorn all that into the Karif’s tight body.

Under that redesigned low bonnet was a brand new engine: a 326bhp, 3.2-litre V8 aspirated via twin turbochargers

Then re-skin the Karif at minimum investment, to give the ‘new’ car a new look.

So, de Tomaso turned to Marcello Gandini. If the all-square and rather predictable Karif had to look like the supercar that its new powerpack promised, then it needed considerable jazzing up, but Gandini had to work with one hand literally tied behind his back.

The interior of the Shamal was lavish; with acres of leather and wood, the oval Lassalle clock looking like the Maserati logo

The door and all the inner skins, the roof and all structural parts had to be retained, and only the outer skin panels of the fenders, the bonnet, the boot, and front and rear end could be changed. And he had very little time: commissioned in spring 1989, the car had to be ready for launch later that year.

The rear leather seats were no less lavish but good enough for teenagers and those short of leg

To channel the huge increase in power to the road, the new car needed chunkier 16-inch tyres: 225/45 at the front and even fatter 245/45 at the rear. That gave Gandini the opportunity to flare the fenders out, reshape the wheel arches to be slightly square at the front and his trademark asymmetric curves at the rear.

Fuel filler cap at the base of the C-pillar decorated with Maserati's Neptune trident logo

A clamshell boot lid not only improved luggage space but gave the profile a more wedge-shaped look. As well as side skirts and bumper spoilers front and rear, the car received new smoked tail lamps and small ellipsoidal headlamps.

...which also show up on the wheels

To counter high-speed lift of the wipers, Gandini devised an aerodynamic appendage at the base of the windscreen that managed to ‘mask’ the wipers too and provided an interesting design touch as a counterpoint to the thick black central pillar that contrasted with the rest of the body.

The Shamal: a warm, southerly wind blowing over Mesopotamia

Called the Shamal after a warm southerly wind blowing over Mesopotamia, in the classic Maserati tradition of naming its cars after a wind, the 270km/h supercar was unveiled on 14th December 1989. With sales commencing the following year, just 369 Shamals were made until production ended in 1996. Now they are highly prized historic vehicles.

Gautam Sen

Serial concours judge, author, founder-editor of several Indian auto mags, as well as co-conspirator with design greats Marcello Gandini, Tom Tjaarda, and Gérard Godfroy on a few vehicle projects


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