The following is my understanding of Meraks and their differences, based on my observations, things people have told me, things I have read, and cars I have seen. I'm probably wrong about a few things, but overall I would describe Merak production as follows:
1973 - All European models (IIRC), but some were imported to the States and are pretty much identical to the Euro cars. All have slender chrome bumpers. Around 190hp (going from memory, again). All cars Citroen hydraulics and dashboard.
1974 - U.S. cars have full width chrome bumpers, slender and similar to Euro, but bumpers have two big rubber guards, like many 1974 cars in USA. Still all Citroen hydraulics, dashboard, and 190-ish hp.
1975 -- U.S. cars grow big bumpers as seen in red example above, catalysts, and rear valance panel to conceal exhaust/catalyst setup. Euro cars slim bumpers. All cars have Citroen hydraulics. Although I never read any official numbers, I would expect the U.S. model cars to be down on h.p. a little over Euro cars.
LATE 1975 -- A few (a little over 50, I think) Meraks squeak out with the 220-hp SS engine. I think this was the point when DeTomaso took over from Citroen. My understanding is that he said, "We gotta give these cars more power," and immediately the first thing he did was engines. I may have my facts wrong, but I am as certain as a few experts have told me about the last 1975s having the SS engine. The red car above is a late 1975 car with the SS engine, per Citroen/Maserati specialist David Hume in Kentucky. I don't know the effect of emissions controls on the U.S. engines vs. European. The U.S. model non-SS cars (i.e. 74-75, maybe some 73s) are criticized by some for the hump on the rear decklid for the full-sized spare. I think it looks fine, and the flat decklids are actually a bit plain, IMHO.
1976 -- Very few Meraks made -- somewhere in the 20s, I think. This was the point when they were ditching the Citroen stuff and beginning the production of the SS. I believe there is a "transition" dashboard that a few cars got, which is very blocky and rectangular, and takes the place of the Citroen dashboard, but utilizes the center console and AC vents of the previous Citroen-era cars. I'm not sure whether these cars are labeled Merak or Merak SS, and I don't know to what extent they do or do not have the Citroen equipment.
1977 -- Full swing into Merak SS production, although I don't think there are a whole lot of them. Bora dashboard, and U.S. cars pretty much all look like the red one above; possibly some detail changes like turn signals or such. SS seats are a little different from earlier seats; people tend to only notice the dashboard. SS is supposed to be 220 hp; I don't know if that is the U.S. model or Euro; either way, it's more powerful than the older version.
1978-1980 -- there appear to be more of each of these years than '77s. They're all SS models as far as I know -- at least in the States. SS models do away with the Citroen hydraulics, notably the power-assisted brakes and headlamp raising.
1981--83? -- U.S. models stop at 1980, but European models continue a bit longer -- I'm not sure how long exactly.
A few thoughts, observations, opinions:
- For years, magazines and buyers guides said to stay away from the Citroen-era cars and only go for an SS. They cited more horsepower, no "troublesome" hydraulics, and "better looking dash". Here's my take on those things:
First, among U.S. model cars, what happened to the rule of "slim pre-bumper law beats thick post-bumper law bumpers"? As far as the States goes, nobody ever bothers to notice that the 1973-74 cars a) have slender chrome bumpers and no rear valances, which people say look prettier on the European models . . .and b) do not have catalysts. With any other 1970s-era car, people praise the pre-catalyst and slim-bumper versions -- why is there no love for the 73-74 Meraks? Personally, I like them all -- I like all of the bumpers on all of the meraks -- they are all well done, and none really detract from the car's appeal. Some people make too big of a deal about that.
Interior -- is the Bora dashboard really better looking? I think it's ugly. It looks like a beginner in wood shop class built it from plywood, and then someone upholstered it in black vynil. It is my belief that the bias favoring that dashboard is because it is taken from the more expensive Bora (and therefore must be better), and because the Citroen dashboard is taken from the Citroen SM, and we must turn our noses up at parts-bin sharing. But in reality, which is the better dash? I think they are both very different . . . and neither is that good. Neither can hold a candle to an Esprit or 308 when it comes to dash boards and instrument clusters.
And the steering wheels . . . do you want the futuristic Citroen 1-spoke wheel . . . or the goofy "bumper car horn pad" Maserati wheel? I'm not a fan of either, but to be hones, I think the Citroen dash and steering wheel aesthetically fit the car slightly better.
Hydraulics -- in the 1970s, the high-pressure Citroen hydraulic system was somewhere between "avant-garde" and "complicated". It required a special hydraulic fluid that nobody ever heard of that you couldn't buy in an auto parts store, and owners tended to top it off with brake fluid, which destroyed its internals. The whole setup was seen as troublesome, complicated, and expensive.
. . . now, here's the reality check: The accumulators last 10-15 years on average, depending on how much you drive the car or how long you let it sit. They cost between $100 and $150 each to rebuild. Nearly every Jaguar since 1998 and most expensive luxury sedans from the 1990s onward have symilar systems for self-leveling and such. This once complicated, mysterious, "expensive and troublesome" kind of system that was the territory of Citroen only has now become pretty common, and you can buy an XJ6 for $1500 that uses them. The point is, they are really no big deal. They freaked people out in the 70s, people balked at the price of fixing it in the 80s, but in this day and age, you'd rather hope to have to have all of the hydraulic system rebuilt than to have to buy new dampers or a windshield.
General servicing: I will call a Merak more "complicated" than "sophisticated" in its design. You will find that the inner structure of the body is made up of all kinds of little weird box sections and places that are either hard to reach/make servicing difficult, or trap water and promote rust. Something as simple as replacing a throttle cable END -- not the whole cable -- is an adventure in removing obscure access panels and discovering new small compartments within the design of the car. Something as simple as changing the air filter requires removal of a few pieces off of the carburetors once you have the air cleaner lid off. The accessories are driven by an assembly running from a shaft off of the engine, and the assembly needs to be aligned perfectly. Reaching the front of the engine is a test of patience and acrobatics.
Service-wise, the Merak makes the 308 and Esprit look easy . . . but with that said, it's still very doable. If you are comfortable with servicing mid-engined cars, you'll find a way to do everything you need on a Merak.
The good part about servicing is that they really don't need much. They have timing chains, not belts, and really don't have anything life-threatening that disintegrates in a few years or wears out in fewer than 30k miles. Many Merak owners I have encountered are not mechanically inclined or don't work on their cars, and have enjoyed them reliably year after year without having to do anything serious. It seems that every 10-15 years they just need to be gone through and freshened up as described with the red car above.
Some things to beware of:
- Timing Chain Tensioners: The ones on early cars, when they wear down (say 30-60k miles), can allow the chain to skip from something like turning on the AC at idle. Solution is to replace with later SS chain tensioners, or new original style.
- Hollow (sodium filled?) valve stems, like on 2-valve 308s, can corrode and weaken on a car that sits for a long time without being stareted.
- Rust protection is typical 1970s Italian -- i.e. none. Don't be surprised to find the insides of some panels not even painted. Most common place to look for rot is under the rear seat cushions or under the fuel tanks (which are behind the rear seats). Due to poor design that lets water in, and insulation around the tanks traps moisture. I think by now the majority have been rusted here; usually they get caught and repaired before it gets too bad.
Other places to look for rust include the lower door skins and door edges, the fender lips, and the lower portions of the fenders and quarter panels. The place where you really hope to not find rust are around the windshield. Overall, I would compare them to 308s when it comes to rust protection.
Wheels -- those beautiful Campagnolo wheels on the Merak are RARE and EXPENSIVE. Do not buy a Merak without them!!!
Glass -- is hard to find, so pass on a car with defects in the glass
Trim -- is expensive; figure that every little chrome bit such as a side marker surround is at least $100. Door handles are $200-$250 each if you're lucky. Don't pay much for a car with missing or damaged trim, because it will be difficult and expensive to put right.
That black strip around the waistline -- some have it and some don't. I don't know if it was an option, or what. I've seen it and not seen it on every type of Merak.
What I like about the Merak:
- Smooth, exotic but understated styling -- nice mix of race car and gentleman's grand tourer. One of Giugiaro's best.
- Well-balanced handling
- Comfortable to drive and live with
- Generally strong and reliable engine; regular use should alleviate valve stem worries, so just make sure the tensioners are good. Other than that, just typical maintenance.
- Low maintenance compared to other exotic cars of the era
- A Merak in good order is a reliable car. No worry about overheating, parts falling off, things breaking that don't break on normal cars.
- Noise in the cabin is just right: you can enjoy the sound of the engine, but you can also hold a conversation at 85 mph without shouting.
- One of the last handbuilt Maseratis.
1980 308 GTBi