BY ANDY ENRIGHT
Buying a used Maserati was traditionally viewed as an activity which, on a scale of financial risk, was about on par with ploughing all your cash into Millennium Dome tickets hoping to be the king of all touts. Lining themselves up for a merciless financial battering isn't what most used car buyers have in mind when trying to make an informed choice, and Maseratis have changed to reflect this. With the 3200GT, Maserati has at last built a car which stands objective comparison with the best cars in its class, new or used, and has a charisma that none can match.
Models Covered: (2 dr coupe 3.2 petrol)
Those acquainted with the history of the Modena marque will go dewy-eyed at memories of the Birdcage and the Bora, but will probably prefer to forget the Biturbo era. Maserati's reputation for building astonishingly beautiful, mid-engined supercars seemed to count for nothing as it developed successive generations of cars which resembled Hyundai Stellars with an interior that looked like a Land Of Leather clearance sale. Signs that Maserati was starting to regain the plot came with the launch of the Ghibli models, but it wasn't until late 1998 that a truly desirable Maserati reappeared, the 3200GT. The car was originally to have been named 'Mistral' but having discovered that the VW Group now owned this trademark, it was designated the 3200GT in homage to the 3500GT of 1957. It also broke with Marcello Gandini's styling work on the 'square' Maseratis, instead being styled by Giorgetto Giugiaro's Italdesign company. As the first Maserati to be built under the auspices of new owners Ferrari, the 3200GT had to have instant visual impact, and the fortunate few who witnessed its unveiling knew that it had unequivocally ticked that particular box. In June 1999 the standard six-speed manual version of the 3200GT was joined by a 4-speed automatic option, which helped see UK sales reach a record 352 during 2000, a 72% increase over 1999, itself a previous best-ever year for the marque from Via Ciro Menotti. One of the key complaints of Maserati owners was the length of warranty, and in September 2000 the warranty was extended from two to three years or 60,000 miles. The 2001 model year car saw a number of detailed changes aiming at making it easier to drive. This 3200GT boasted a massively improved steering system, with a re-geared rack to combat the nervousness of the earlier cars with just the right amount of heft and feel. The engine management system was also radically overhauled. Turbo lag, that pregnant pause when the turbochargers spool up to speed, was still present, but the throttle became something that could be modulated, making the 3200GT a far more fluid performer. In 2002 the 3200GT was replaced by the 4200 Coupe, a car that looked superficially similar but was almost entirely different.
What You Get
The Maserati's performance, like the price, is almost identical to that of the 3200GT's two natural rivals - Porsche's 911 Carrera and Jaguar's XKR. In character, the Maserati falls somewhere between the two, less of a Grand Tourer than the Jaguar but nothing like as raw as the Porsche. Certainly, it's more exclusive than either: Just nine cars leave the factory each day and little more than 350 examples will reach these shores every year. Visually, the car looks even better in the metal than it does in the pictures. It's a softer shape than anything Ferrari has ever produced - and intentionally so, but it gives the distinct impression that all the power is bulging from the rear, like a cartoon rocket about to explode. The owner of this car will want to make a less aggressive statement. And since he or she is likely to be spending a lot more time at the wheel, the cabin's a lot more practical too. For a start, you really can seat two full-sized adults comfortably in the back (try doing that in an XKR or a 911). You can carry most of their luggage too. At the front, the driving position is near perfect and the driving environment more desirable than anything Maserati has yet produced. Leather has been applied to almost every conceivable surface: the seats, the door pulls, the dashboard, the centre console - everything's covered in it. If news that a 3200GT can lap Ferrari's Fiorano test track quicker than a 550 Maranello is any guide, most owners should find this Maserati a devastating cross-country tool. Some owners may find the traction control system a little too eager to assist, even in the optional 'Sport' mode (selectable at a switch of a button). Just as well then, that you can turn it off completely and take for yourself the responsibility of controlling all that power. So, a Ferrari for less than half the price that you can use almost every day? Pretty much. Maserati reckon that 3200GT owners will do nearly three and a half times the mileage of their Ferrari counterparts - and they'll enjoy every moment. Even the Ferrari President likes to use one at weekends. Which, given that his company car is a 550 Maranello, probably tells you all you need to know. In 2002 the 3200GT was replaced by the normally aspirated 4.2-litre V8 and Spyder models.
What You Pay
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What to Look For
Few enter into Maserati ownership viewing it as a logical alternative to a Mercedes S class, and as such owners tend to be fans of the marque. This being the case, most 3200GTs are scrupulously well-maintained and are only ever traded through authorised Maserati dealers. Although no significant mechanical issues surround the 3200GT, build quality has been an ongoing concern, and those who expect their cars to function with the metronomic efficiency of a Toyota should probably look elsewhere. Nevertheless, Ferrari instigated a rolling programme of improved quality control, and later cars are noticeably 'tighter' in terms of fit and finish than early cars. If you are giving a 3200GT the once over, make sure that all the electrics are operating, that the wheels, tyres and bodywork are in perfect condition and the interior isn't looking too careworn. The leather trim is hardy, but try to avoid the paler colours which get dirty extremely quickly. The 3200GT is mechanically quite robust, with no known faults, although many owners report a prodigious thirst for oil. Check for a full service history, and if buying privately pay for an HPI check - it's a wise investment.
(approx prices based on 2000 3200GT) A reassuringly expensive raft of parts prices. Compared to many exotics, a new clutch assembly is fairly reasonable, retailing at around £450, although if you enjoy utilising the punchy braking capabilities of your 3200GT, you'll have to pay for the privilege. With front brake pads costing £255 a pair and rears £280, the sound of grinding brakes is often accompanied by the sound of a heavy credit card bill landing on the doormat. A new exhaust system is around £3200 excluding catalysts and an alternator costs approximately £450. A starter motor is a disappointingly normal £265, whilst a colour-matched headlamp unit is £365.
On the Road
The difference between the early cars and 2001 model year edition is most marked in terms of driveability. The first cars to hit these shores were all manual models and frustrated keen drivers not because of their outright performance, but in the manner in which it was accessed. The throttle and brake pedal were like a hair trigger, unleashing great gales of turbocharged power after a slight pregnant pause while the turbos spooled up. To compound matters, this 370bhp tsunami would often take a moment to subside after the throttle had been closed, making town driving a nervy process. This throttle action was softened in the slightly more urbane automatic version, but it too shared the odd brakes. For the first part of the pedal travel not a great deal happened and then suddenly you'd be hanging off your seatbelts, eyeballs out on stalks. Smooth driving took a very delicate touch in the pedal box. Likewise the handling took some getting used to. The ride was firm, but not out of keeping with the car's sporty character. It was only when you switched the traction control button off that you realised quite how much work the system was putting in. Lighting up the rear tyres in lurid oversteer was never easier, and the wet handling required a deft hand at the tiller. If you possessed such skills, the Maserati rewarded like no other competitor. Balancing the car on the edge of traction as you exited a corner, the turbos detonating an explosion of power as the 3200GT squatted on its haunches and catapulted itself crazily up the road was a motoring experience that would live long in anybody's memory. The raw figures of 174mph and a rest to sixty time of 5.1 seconds understate the Maserati's sporting intent. Drive a 3200GT after stepping out of a Jaguar XKR and it will feel rawer and tauter - a true sports car rather than a hotted up GT cruiser. 2001 model year cars are a revelation. The steering is less neurotic and the throttle response is far more linear, making the 3200GT a less frustrating companion for those of us without Schumacher's reactions.
On any but the 2001 model year Maserati 3200GTs it is difficult to objectively recommend one over a Jaguar XKR or Porsche 911. Wonderful in some areas and frustratingly flawed in others, the Maserati is exasperatingly close to touching brilliance. What is without question is that the 3200GT is a more charismatic ownership proposition, desirability oozing from every pore. Early automatic cars are a good compromise if you can't stretch to a late car. Pick a good one, learn to accommodate its characteristics and you'll never castigate yourself for choosing the Modena marque. Every time your garage door opens and you're greeted with that trident emblem, anything else seems just that tiny bit mass-market.