16th March 2021

Like hot cross buns and bacon, or chips and curry sauce, there are certain things in life that you don’t expect to blend together successfully but do so to sublime effect. Maserati’s ‘Citroën years’, from 1968 to 75 provided the automotive industry with another such joyous juxtaposition.

Citroën had been working on what was fundamentally the company’s go-faster DS project for almost a decade before it bought a controlling share in the Italian purveyor of premium GTs. It saw Maserati as the ideal donor for a powerplant for what would ultimately become the SM. However, the existing V8s posed challenges too extreme for even Citroën to attempt to overcome and so a V6 was swiftly developed from the same basic design – although the 2.7-litre engine eventually ended up sharing very few similarities with the 4.7 V8 beyond the 90-degree vee-angle more commonly associated with the larger engine.

The lightweight, aluminium quad-cam V6 ended up producing 174bhp at launch in 1970, which on paper made it slower than the Jensen Interceptor and BMW 3.0CS, and left it a long way back from the E-Type. But that didn’t matter – it was exotic, technologically advanced and looked incredible.

Citroën, graciously, was astute enough to realise that it would need to give something back to Maserati. The SM famously used hydropneumatics to power its self-levelling suspension, swivelling lights, brakes and clutch systems, amongst others, and another result of the two companies’ partnership was to enhance the Maserati Khamsin. The Bertoni-designed flagship supercar may have packed a 4.7-litre V8, but one of the main talking points centred (literally) on the DIRAVI steering borrowed from Citroën. The variable assist power steering benefitted from hydropneumatic actuation and resulted in the rarest of things: a supercar that you could manoeuvre.

Thankfully, we have even more to thank Maserati’s Citroën years for. Launched in ’71, the Bora was Maserati’s new mid-engined, two-seater sportscar. It featured a high-revving 4.7-litre V8 (and later a torquier 4.9) and a hydraulic system inspired by Citroën that would not only provide assistance for its brakes, but power its pop-up headlights, too.

Just one year later, Maserati launched the Merak, which looked visually similar to the Bora, especially from the front. It featured a number of key differences, however, including the larger capacity 3.0 V6 that was then fitted in the SM.

Fitment of the V6 engine to the Merak opened up a whole new market for Maserati as it was able to increase interior space sufficiently to fit a token second row of seats. Genius? Or did the +2 layout now make the Maserati a direct rival to the SM, perfectly summing up the short-lived partnership between the two automotive trailblazers? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.