The Maserati Bora turns 50. It was 'the thinking man's exotic'

Ben Hsu
·3-min read

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The Maserati Bora made its debut at the Geneva Motor Show in March 1971, meaning the V8-powered supercar from Modena has just turned 50 years old. It arrived at a time when the Italian sports car manufacturers were undergoing a paradigm shift to the mid-engined layout that defines the modern supercar.

The Bora (not to be confused with the VW sedan we knew as the fourth-generation Jetta) was named after a winter wind that blows from the Alps to the Adriatic Sea. Though it holds the distinction of being the first Maserati to employ the mid-engine configuration, it was a bit of a latecomer, following on the heels of Lamborghini's 1966 Miura, De Tomaso's 1964 Vallelunga and Ferrari's 1967 Dino 206 GT.

However, it was a dramatic departure from the curvaceous designs of the 1960s. Skinned in an avant-garde wedge penned by legendary designer Giorgetto Giugiaro of Italdesign, the Bora was like a concept car come to life. Its most distinguishing characteristic, the unpainted A-pillars and roof, were polished stainless steel, a preview of Giugiaro's DeLorean that would not arrive for another decade. Any resemblance to De Tomaso's Mangusta was probably a coincidence (or the fact that it too was a Giugiaro design).

The Bora's massive rear glass area showed off its aluminum twin-cam V8, nestled in a racecar-like steel-tube subframe. Motors came as either a high-revving 4.7-liter unit good for 310 horsepower and 325 pound-feet, or a torquier 4.9-liter producing 320 hp and 355 lb-ft. Delivered through a smooth-shifting ZF five-speed, it carried the car from 0-60 in a reported 6.6 seconds, and onward to a top speed of 174 mph.

The Bora modernized Maserati, offering a four-wheel independent suspension for the first time behind the Trident badge. The Bora was considered more liveable than a Countach, thanks to features like double-paned glass between the cabin and engine compartment, a carpeted engine cover, and adjustable pedal box.

Though overshadowed by its contemporaries from Maranello and Sant'Agata Bolognese, the Bora was considered the thinking man's exotic. As evidence of its decidedly un-basic following it was even cited in 1984's The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension, describing the evil Dr. Emilio Lizardo's escape from imprisonment: "Last night he kills a guard, breaks out of Trenton Home for the Criminally Insane. Ten minutes later, he cops a Maserati Bora. Totaled it a block away."

It may not have the instant recognizability as some of the other mid-engine Italians, but it's more affordable (under $150,000) and slightly easier to cope with on a daily basis. It's still a head turner today, and with only 564 built — 289 with the 4.7 and 275 with the 4.9 — it's a virtual certainty that it'll be the only one at any given exotic car meet. Happy birthday, Bora.

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