It is one of the lesser-known Maseratis, so we were never going to decline an invitation for a short drive in the elusive Merak, and in this case, the sought-after SS model!
Words and pictures: Wilhelm Lutjeharms
Imagine for a moment that those flying buttresses (the support beams running from the roof towards the rear quarters) are taken away. What you have now is a car that shares design similarities with the Lotus Europa. It just goes to show how important these seemingly small design elements can be on a car.
It is gorgeous shape, especially if you are a mid-engined sports car enthusiast. It was designed by none other than Giorgetto Giugiaro. He was given the tough task of taking the Maserati Bora, and elegantly transform it into the Merak which would be fitted with a smaller engine.
Being bright yellow, this Merak SS really stands out and cannot be mistaken for anything other than a thoroughbred Italian sports car.
This specific car is for sale at Creative Rides in Muizenberg Cape. It is a 1982 model, which means it was manufactured in the final two years of production. Being an SS, it is also more collectable and sought after than a standard Merak. The SS was unveiled at the Geneva Motor Show in 1975, entering production the following year, while the standard car was shown to the public in 1972 at the Paris Motor Show. More importantly, the SS featured a claimed 50 kg reduction in weight and also offered a 22 kW power increase. The latter was achieved using different carburettors and a higher compression ratio for the engine.
This specific car has received some serious love and care in the recent past in the shape of a restoration, and although there are still some minor elements that can be improved or fixed in the cabin, overall the car presents itself very well.
Behind the wheel
When you slide inside, you are, as is to be expected, close to the ground but thankfully at the same time you have a good view out over the bonnet, also helped by the fact that you know the nose is very short. There is no hiding the car’s age, especially when you start to poke around in the cabin. The seating position is good though while your legs needs to be tilted slightly left towards the pedals.
I turn the key and the engines catches instantly. There is a lovely, throaty note from the 3.0-litre V6 engine under the louvered hood, developing a claimed 162 kW and 270 N.m of torque. Keep in mind, the quoted weight of the Merak SS is only 1 350 kg.
The gearbox is easy to navigate although it is not as direct as some of its competitors. I drive a few kilometres to allow the fluids to warm up, but even in the mid-range of the engine speed, with some healthy throttle inputs, I sense there is a decent amount of acceleration on offer. I’m also enjoying the heavy steering feel. It definitely takes more effort compared to a modern car, but you also have good feedback and you can sense what is being communicated through the front wheels.
The ride quality is good, as these pretty 15-inch Campagnolo wheels are wrapped in rather plumb 225/60 tyres at the rear. So, an uncomfortable sports car it is not.
I start to push harder and as the rev counter is currently not working, I play it safe in my approach to the upper parts of the rev range. Even so, the engine pulls with some vigour and I start to experience the true sports car side of the Merak. Don’t rush the gearbox though... execute every change carefully, and then enjoy the engine as it pushes the car out of the corner. The compact nature of the Merak also starts to play a roll, which is quite fun, and you start to appreciate the fact that the car’s claimed weight is only 1 350 kg.
The seats are aimed more at comfort than lateral support though. With all the controls tilted towards you, it really does feel like the cabin is built around the driver.
The Merak SS is a more enjoyable drive than I had anticipated. It is a proper sports car that gives a true mid-engined experience, wrapped in classic Seventies Italian design. The engine pulls slightly better than I expected while the pop-up headlights is a treat to use and remains a novelty even in 2023.
Overall, the Merak SS feels more like a sports car than a GT. That said, the rear area – you can’t call them seats, really – is perfect for some soft luggage, making it practical in terms of longer drives, should you wish.
Needless to say it is also a rather rare car, with 1 800 Meraks produced, around 1 000 are said to be the SS model. Finding them in right-hand drive must also be rather tricky and this is possibly one of only a handful in South Africa.
1982 Maserati Merak SS
Weight: 1 350 kg
Engine: 3.0-litre, V6, petrol
Power: 162 kW at 6 500 rpm
Torque: 270 Nm at 4 500 rpm
Top speed: 250 kph
0-100 km/h: 7.5 seconds
Gearbox: five-speed, manual, RWD
Price: R1 149 000