Fratelli di Sangue: Maserati Khamsin
This episode of Similar Magic features a Citroën Nephew: the Maserati Khamsin
by Robin Visser
This episode of Similar Magic focuses on the Maserati Khamsin which was introduced as a concept car on the Bertone stand at the Turin Motor Show in November 1972. Again showing up at the Geneva show in March 1973. Plus in Oktober 1973 as the production model was shown at the Paris Motor Show. And it was not until 1974 that the car went into production, which runs until 1982.
True to Maserati tradition, the car is named after a wind. Khamsin is a hot wind that blows about fifty days a year in the Egyptian desert.
The Khamsin was designed at Bertone. The company also produced the bodies. Construction of the car took place at the Modena factory. Marcello Gandini, then employed by Bertone, was the flesh-and-blood man behind the Bertone name. It was the first design of a Maserati to come from Bertone. A salient detail is that Nuccio Bertone had wanted to hire Gandini back in 1963. But at the time, one Giorgietto Giugiaro was still working there, and he didn't like it. This situation did not last long. In 1965 Giugiaro left Bertone and Gandini joined the company. So he became Giorgietto Giugiaro's successor instead of his colleague. Together with Leonardo Fioravanti, whom we remember from the Ferrari 400, they form the big three car designers from Italy. In terms of other designs, Gandini is known for such things as the Lamborghini Miura, the Lamborghini Countach, Lamborghini Espada, Alfa Romeo Montreal, Maserati Quattroporte II, Autobianchi A112, the Citroën BX and the first-generation BMW 5 Series. The list of designs is too long to mention here.
The body of the Khamsin is remarkably wedge-shaped, with a fastback roofline and a Kammback rear end. That's a car styling feature where the line slopes toward the rear and then breaks off to go vertically downward. The design master himself of our Diva once explained to me that this was the prevailing view at the time regarding optimal aerodynamics. The rear of the Khamsin features a full-width glass rear panel with floating taillights deployed on it. Combined with the wide, almost all-glass tailgate, this gives exceptional rear visibility. Especially compared to other sports cars with sloping rooflines. There is a grille in the C-pillar that serves cosmetic purposes only. No air passes through it. On the right side, the grille hides the fuel filler cap. Another distinctive feature is the hood with asymmetrical vents. The wedge shape, the glass rear panel, the C-pillar grilles with a fuel cap behind them; these are typical stylistic features of Gandini. They were also present on the Lamborghini Espada he drew.
In 1974, the Khamsin received a modest facelift. Three horizontal slats were added to the nose to aid cooling. Even though the Khamsin was marketed as a 2+2, the rear seats proved to give too little head and leg room to be usable for people past the toddler stage. A GT is built to cover long distances comfortably and at high speed. Impossible that this criterion applies to toddlers riding along. In fact, the seats in the rear have a dead straight back.
The Khamsin features an all-steel self-supporting body, with an insulated tubular subframe. At the rear, between the subframe and the rear suspension are Silentbloc-bushings that support the differential. The suspension is with double wishbones all around. This was a big improvement over the Ghibli's fixed axle leaf springs - with coaxial springs and shock absorbers (single at the front, double at the rear) and stabilizer bars. The Khamsin was the first Maserati with an independent rear suspension and a front engine, the mid-engined Bora had it already for 2 years. A special component at the rear wheels is the centrifugal controller for "SM" steering box. This is driven by Polyflex V-belt from the differential in the rear axle. Interesting photos of the entire rear train at leo-peschl.de.
The Khamsin's engine is Maserati's well-known 8-cylinder, but the machinery does not date back to the brand's racing past. It is the 4.9 version with 16 valves that was also in the Ghibli SS. The engine produces a maximum 320 horsepower at 5,500 rpm. The factory specification in terms of top speed was 270 km/h (170 mph) for the European model. Lubrication is by means of the dry-sump system. The engine rests almost against the bulkhead. The front of the engine extends some way in front of the front axles. The gearbox is placed behind the engine, necessarily even behind the bulkhead. The weight distribution became 50/50 on both axles with this set-up. Because of the location of the engine, the Khamsin has some advantages in the layout. The spare tire is in front of the engine, under the radiator. This eliminated the need for the spare tire in the trunk, as in the SM. Gasoline is administered by four double Weber carburetors. The car has two tanks. A small tank is located on the right side. On that side is also the filler neck. Under the cargo floor is the large main tank. Propulsion of the Khamsin is via a fully synchronized 5-speed ZF manual transmission. Optionally, a Borg Warner 3-speed automatic transmission was available. That is also the automatic gearbox found in an SM with automatic transmission and in the Fiat 130 coupe that was previously highlighted here. The Khamsin sits on 7.5 J wide and 15-inch high Campagnolo alloy wheels. Originally, those were fitted with 215/70/15 Michelin XWX or Pirelli Cinturato CN12 tires. What makes the Khamsin different from other Maseratis is that it was developed in the short time Citroën owned the company, together with the Bora, the Merak and the QuattroPorte II, all requested by Bercot and engineered by Alfieri. Like in the other designs from the French era, Citroën hydraulic technology was used, but NOT imposed. Citroen President Pierre Bercot was very respectful of Maserati and wanted absolutely to protect its integrity; for example he forbade Citroen directors, engineers etc. to interfere with the factory. Alfieri - not yet knowing he worked on his last production Maserati - saw the advantages of hydraulics, especially for braking, and so the Khamsin features both the braking system plus DIRAVI and in that the K is unique. The steering rack for example is straight from the SM. The centrifugal regulator is its own part but obviously with the same operating principle. Furthermore, the Khamsin has all-round ventilated disc brakes that are hydraulically controlled. What no Citroën has, is folding headlights. These, too, are hydraulically controlled. And unbelievable but true, the driver-seat is height-adjustable with hydraulic drive. Typical Citroën, just because it can be done. As comfort enhancers, the Khamsin has an adjustable steering column, which was innovative at the time, as well as air conditioning, electric windows and a radio. To support the feeling of luxury, the interior is completely covered in leather.
Production ended in 1982, deep in the De Tomaso-era. Only 430 cars were built, including 155 with USA specifications. That was only one-third of the Ghibli's production of 1,295. So despite the many improvements over this predecessor, the Khamsin fell far short of matching its success. The fuel crisis had greatly reduced the demand for gasoline-guzzling cars with large displacement.
Perhaps the most important point that Sonnery's research for his book elucidated, along with the fact that Citroen saved Maserati in 1968; its fate would otherwise have been a purchase by Ford...and a demise like Ghias under Ford...RIP. Citroen and Peugeot also facilitated the rescue of Maserati in 1975-76 by the Italian government and de Tomaso to make sure the company could have a future; most people don't know that.
Specially for anniversary edition No. 100 of SublieM, there is an extra. Editor-in-chief Henk Middelkoop suggested that Marc Sonnery would be an interesting person to do the double test with. Marc is the author of the book "Maserati the Citroën Years," as well as founder and administrator of the Maserati Khamsin registry. The Khamsin is fun for Citroën SM enthusiasts because of its hydraulic components. Right away, there would be a theme for issue No. 100, just as with No. 50: Maserati. No sooner said than done, you might say. Not so. After some emailing, we got a hold of Marc. He liked the idea. However, there were some barriers. Marc lives in Burgundy, I live in Den Bosch. Furthermore, he no longer had a Khamsin and was busy organizing the Khamsin Cinquanta event. I was allowed to contact him again in early July and we would see.
Coincidentally, our vacation turned out to be planned fairly close to Marc, just an hour and three-quarters drive away. Marc's SM experience would have been tackled with that. My experience with the Khamsin not yet. Recall that only 430 Khamsins were built. It became a true temptation. But it was worth it. Marc had great stories and was pleasant company. The following are his answers to my standard double-test questions. I thought it would be nice to reproduce the finer points in Marc's terms. Perhaps it was also too much work for me to translate everything accurately into Dutch. So the text is in English, both for the interview and for his driving experience with my SM. It says "interview" below, but Marc is an unparalleled causeur. It was actually more of a monologue. A very nice one in which I nod every now and then and sometimes ask a tiny question to hear numerous anecdotes again. The interview took place during our lunch across from one of Burgundy's many castles.
"In 2002 I decided that if I was going to be 40 in 2 years, I really wanted to adress my midlife crisis. I started working at Motor Car Gallery in Fort Lauderdale which was a classic car dealership. Edward Waterman, the owner, had owned 18 Khamsins. He was one of the most experienced classic car dealers in the USA and so I told myself if I worked there, it’s a good place to earn a Khamsin. After a couple of years I saw one in Wisconsin in an ad. Nobody wanted it since the photos were very dark. Instead of gold it looked like maroon. I went to Wisconsin to see and drive it. It was a decent car and a year and a half later I was able to put everything together to buy it. I had it 35 days before my 40th birthday and was very happy.
I did a lot of driving in South Florida.
There are only straight roads, none to experience the handling, no curves but there were some remote ones with no traffic, intersections or police so I did some top speed runs even though there would occasionally be an alligator by the side. Anyway, after 6 months I was able to do the bumper conversion. About this I was more emotional because it’s about my passion for the Khamsin. After converting the bumpers it looked correct. I did about 6000 km that year. I showed it at some major events in South Florida, the Cavallino Classic allowed Maserati’s just then, the Palm Beach Concours and the Hollywood Florida Concours. And people seeing European Khamsins in a nice color - you know, with the correct bumpers - they were really amazed. Americans are used to the ugly version basically. A friend of mine had a silver one with the big bumpers. So they could see the difference.
Then I had to move back to Europe so I had no choice but to sell it. I sold it to a couple in Laguna Beach in October 2007 for 51.000 dollar. It was chassis AM120-US-1242. I had bought it for 21.000 in 2004. In 2015 the owner said: "Moving to Massachusetts, we need to sell.” So I sold it as an intermediary to Gallery Aaldering for 126.000 dollars. The same day they sold it to a BMW Mini dealer from Noord-Holland. He was a speculator. So what he did: he repainted it, re-did the interior and put it up for sale again at Artcurial Rétromobile 2016. Artcurial, Nick Aaldering and I told him all three to take 180.000 and feel happy. The market was already going down after its peak. He said: "Oh, it’s a conspiracy. I don’t believe you, it’s a conspiracy against me.” He wanted 240. The bidding went to 210 real bidding. Wow! He was wrong not to take that, because I bought it for 21.000 in 2004 and in 2016, 12 years later, it had gone to 210.000. Then like everything else after 2016, the market went south for everything because the bubble was over. And then after COVID everybody wanted to buy cars again. Now Khamsins have stabilized at 120 for a decent one and 180 for an excellent one. You know, it’s really a matter of what is agreed between two people because they didn’t build a million Khamsins. So it’s 120 to 180. Some exceptional ones might be above that.”
Marc then told me the story of which Khamsin deals he was involved in. That most Khamsins are traded invisibly without being advertised. Buyers and sellers know where to find him. I felt somewhat connected to Marc. I have since had the opportunity to help both sellers and buyers sell and buy their SM. There is a little difference between Marc and me, though. It is his job and so he earns from transactions in which he mediates. For me, it's love work-old paper. What we do the same is look at what you can see as a connoisseur and inform both the buyer and the seller what you see. Marc devoted some words to that.
"So what I find, and this is very important to note is that it takes a lot of car education to know about Khamsins. If you ask 100 Ghibli owners what a Khamsin is, a big percentage won’t even know what it is. Especially in the USA, but also in Europe. For example, there’s a big collector in Canada who owns five Ghibli’s and has never heard of the Khamsin. When I was at Motor Car Gallery one day, I was very vexed, because a man was out front and came in to look at a Ghibli. All day he was looking at it, but he NEVER looked at my Khamsin which was right there. This is one of the things that pushed me to start the registry. It’s for the council because it’s so underappreciated.
Here’s another thing. Not only was its standard version presented to the Paris Motor Show just two days before the October 6 1973 energy crisis which ruined sales, I also think it’s because of the stealth nose. Most people need an impressive face to notice this is a car. Just like a radar, the eyes need to catch something. The general public and average boring people need to be guided you know. And the Khamsin says ‘don’t look at me’ with that nose like a stealth fighter jet.”
The interview took place on a terrace overlooking an immense castle of which there are so many in France. Glass of wine and a simple yet nutritious meal, nothing more to do. Marc can tell beautiful stories. He told me enough to fill a whole SublieM by the way. But he also had to get a driving impression from me in my SM and describe it. So after a pleasant 2 hours or so, we headed to my car to drive on deserted roads through the hills of Burgundy.
How do you like the SM?
"The SM had a very strong presence in my childhood as my father ran Citroën Portugal from 1968 to 1975. He brought the brochures home right after the 1970 Geneva show. I was 5 years old when he and Joao Romazinho, the rally driver for Citroën Portugal, brought the first two SM’s by road from the factory to Lisbon and he used one as a company car for a long time. I would be sat in the rear at center and admire the spaceship feeling while riding in it, which matched its space ship look. I was very impressed and fascinated by the turning headlights. From a historial point of view the SM was the very peak of the 30 glorious years of post war economic boom, a proud symbol of a successful France. Then of course the 1973 energy crisis was like a tsunami.”
What do you like most about driving the SM compared to the Khamsin? Or do you just think it’s a difficult car to drive and why?
"The SM is meant to be driven much gentler than a Khamsin as it has the hydraulic suspension and you can’t be too rough on the steering or it starts leaning a lot. It is a company director’s car for fast but poised, smooth travel. It is an incredibly comfortable ride. The Khamsin has traditional, quite stiff suspension, so when you think of turning the car has already turned! Only a Stratos with its tiny wheelbase is more reactive. I would say that it is easier to learn the DIRAVI steering in a Khamsin because in an SM the softer suspension compounds your initial clumsiness.”
What else strikes you when you compare the SM to the Khamsin?
"Well, the brakes are the hardest part to get used to and are identical in both cars of course. The most important thing is to always have the left foot braced against the foot rest, because firstly it helps you modulate the subtlety of your braking, and secondly if you suddenly brake harder, your body weight won’t move forward and cause you to stand the car on its nose. Your left foot braces you against such a body shift. This is very important in both cars. A Dutch friend had his wife drive his Khamsin and she panicked, stopped the car on the left lane of the motorway. Luckily it was a sunday morning with no traffic. Of course she refused to ever go near the car again. The SM as a final product ended up being very similar to an Indy with four real seats and a sizeable trunk which the Khamsin almost has. Its rear seats however are a joke. They are for legless dwarves being punished!”
What do you like about the SM?
"Its legacy as a very advanced symbol of pride for a bygone France. My father Jacques did Paris Macon in 2 hours 20 minutes back then in one. That was something. He and my sister also drove from Paris to Lisbon several times in one in absolute comfort at high speeds.”
Where did the love for the Khamsin come from?
"Well, I was fascinated by Maserati’s since my father brought brochures at our Lisbon home in 1968. He said they (Citroën) had just bought this company. They were not imported in Portugal, but when we moved to Germany in 1975 where he was President of Citroën Germany, he brought them home for the weekend and gave me rides. I was 11 and immediately stopped buying Mickey Mouse cartoons, choosing car magazines instead!
The focus on the Khamsin came later, though I had always felt it was special. My first drive in one in Colorado in 1997, having driven a Ghibli, Indy, Merak and Bora in the same weekend, convinced me. This was the ultimate Maserati Grand Tourer. Alas the standard model Khamsin was introduced at the Paris salon in October 1973, just two days before the energy crisis leading to quadrupling of fuel prices. With also the introduction of speed limits, social unrest was making these cars politically incorrect. Sales of sports cars collapsed. The Khamsin literally never had its chance. The car it had replaced, the Ghibli, had sold about 1200 units. The Khamsin barely exceeded a third of that at 430. Plus the Federalized US version was by far the most disfigured European car. All this motivated me to start the Maserati Khamsin Registry in 2004, just after buying mine.”
What was the most special thing about your Khamsin?
"I had it in South Florida from 2004 to 2007. I then had no choice to sell it. My return to Europe from the USA proved far more complicated than expected. My Monsterati as I called it was unrestored and very well preserved. The interior was a bit tired but not bad and the engine was particularly strong amongst Khamsins. I loved the color combination of Oro Kelso with Senape (mustard) interior. It was very beautifully striking. Once I did the bumper and sidelight conversion just before Christmas 2004, I was even more emotional than the day the car arrived earlier that year. It finally looked the way it was supposed to and people starting reacting much more positively. It was practically the only one in South Florida so it raised a lot of appreciative eyebrows and questions.”
Which technical aspect of the Khamsin needs to be highlighted?
"That engine has huge, incredible torque. More than a Ferrari Daytona for example. Its ability to overtake is unmatched for that era. Also the rate at which you gain speed from 100-130kmh to about 220kph is amazing, and then it continues to accelerate to about 260kph, remaining arrow straight.”
What was your nicest experience with your Khamsin?
"With my own one, 20 years ago, I used to do short top speed runs in the Everglades in South Florida on roads with no intersections for miles and no traffic. It was just stable as an arrow. More recently for my KHAMSIN CINQUANTA International event in June where we gathered 26 of them from 11 countries, your compatriot Henk de Vries very generously lent me his for two weeks. I did a total of about 900 kilometers with it and it ran perfectly, being easy to deal with. The Khamsin is as enjoyable on the autoroute as on gorgeous Swiss Jura mountain passes. It is incredibly comfortable with the DIRAVI and hydraulic, very light, clutch and brakes. Yet you always have that monster engine ready to wolf down the road. Add to that the fact that it has incredible charisma and you have one of the all time greats. A US journalist decades ago titled his Khamsin test drive article ‘When Bambi met Godzilla’. He was of course referring to the very soft hydraulic controls on the one hand and the engine on the other.”
As mentioned above, finding a rare Khamsin to do a double test with was a difficult task. Several tips came to nothing. Furthermore, I did not want to call on the two clubmates again with whom I have done a double test before. Not because I didn't fancy them. On the contrary, it is always great fun to hang out with Henk and Roger. Besides, I would like to keep them in reserve for the even bigger exotics I have in mind. Henk Middelkoop tipped me off that he had spoken to a Leo Mobach from the Netherlands at the KHAMSIN CINQUANTA event. Henk didn't have his phone number, because he had already arranged for someone else from Belgium. However, we could not come to a timely appointment with him. So we had to get hold of Leo Mobach.
Neat as Marc Sonnery is, I didn't get his address information. Not to worry, there is such a thing as Google and LinkedIn. In no time I had spotted Leo on the site of the consulting firm where he works. And there are always email addresses there. I sent him an e-mail and received a prompt reply. With phone number. I finally had a real bite. Unfortunately, due to vacations, Leo would not be available until September 22, a few days after the deadline. If I would deliver immediately after the driving date, the late delivery would be condoned. Because of the event in Drenthe, the deadline became Saturday, Sept. 23, at 3 p.m. Then I would just (not) make the 5 p.m. drinks. Fortunately, it was an excuse to give the SM another hard time to arrive a bit on time at hotel Rikus.
For Leo, the SM was a dream car. His father drove Citroën, first an AZAM with those chrome brackets on the bumpers and some more luxurious upholstery. It was maintained by Van Oosten in Delft. Father drove it a lot and often had to go to the garage for maintenance. Leo loved going along and seeing DSs there. He got the famous poster of Johan Cruijff which was hung above the bed in his room. Mother was a French teacher. They always went on vacation in France. Leo saw every corner of the country. So the love of French cars and Citroëns in particular was instilled in him from an early age. After the Duck, Leo's father drove Simcas, Peugeots and Volvos. Leo joined in the love for Volvo's. Like me, he has owned, among other things, a C70 classic convertible with one of those wonderfully roaring 5-cylinder engines.
At some point with the kids out the door, Leo was able to afford a serious hobby car. He started looking around and rented a rather flashy Ferrari for a day. That attracted some strange people, so it wasn't going to happen. He went to look at a modest light gray Ferrari 456. That was a Dutch car with Belgian engraved windows. That was too messy for Leo. Also in the corner was a Maserati Spyder Cambio Corsa, a car with Ferrari technology and an understated Maserati body. That seemed like something Leo would like. He went looking for a good one and found a demonstration car. With it, he went to an international Maserati meeting in 2016, where he saw the classic Maseratis. "Wow, that's different cake," Leo said of it. He met two Dutchmen there, one with a Mexico and one with a Ghibli. Leo started driving that Ghibli, but it was too spartan for him. His eye also fell on a Khamsin. In response, he spoke to a clubmate. The latter suggested he contact Marc Sonnery. Leo and Marc then went on a "Khamsin hunt," as Marc calls it. The second one they looked at and drove became it, a car that was sold in Karlsruhe and was in fine condition. Along the way, a few things were done to it. There were a few small bits and pieces on the car, such as the exhaust that turned out to be leaking so that exhaust fumes could be smelled inside.
Leo and I had agreed to meet in Zo'ndag, a somewhat alternative nice place and a former church just outside Werkendam. From there we went to take pictures in a few places. While driving we came across some speed bumps. I rode in the lead. Leo remarked about that afterwards when we were sitting together that he saw me flying over the speed bumps, but that he really needed to slow down. Getting into my SM yielded Leo's spontaneous response that it was nice and comfortable. We discussed the braking of the SM and that in my opinion it is pretty firm with an SM. Leo remarked that according to him the Khamsin does brake a bit more eagerly. I had to confirm that when I drove the Khamsin. Leo noted the SM's lean. I noted that you get that with it, charm I call it. Leo found the SM to lie well on the road, nice and stable straight ahead. A bit wind sensitive but otherwise good straight ahead. I remarked that this should be no different with the Khamsin. This turned out to be true later.
I discussed the comparisons with the other GTs with Nard van der Meer a while back, that they cannot match the SM in terms of handling. For the first time, I experienced a car that does match the SM in terms of handling. The steering wheel of the Khamsin wants to return to straight-ahead just like an SM. With all the beautiful cars I was allowed to test drive, I didn't find one that handles like the SM. I was able to experience the equivalent with the Khamsin. It also has something that the SM can't match, which is the torque of the engine. Marc Sonnery already mentioned that, such a great torque that you have to overtake if someone drives in front of you. But boss over boss, in terms of torque I do continue to have warm feelings for the Iso Rivolta. Leo found the comfort just like that of a DS. "But with a real engine," I remarked. And Leo kept coming back positively to the SM's wonderful engine and that with wonderful sound. Nice and raw. As far as I was concerned, the Khamsin far surpassed the SM in both aspects. The torque of a Khamsin is about twice as much. Not surprising of course with a 4.9 liter engine instead of the 2.7 of my SM.
Special thanks to:
Marc Sonnery for the interview
Leo Mobach for driving his Maserati Khamsin
Henk Middelkoop for improving the pictures
Chateau de Dree for the permission to take the photo's https://chateau-de-dree.com/