After Maserati was acquired by Alejandro de Tomaso in 1975, the company (backed by substantial government investment) began to move away from its traditional line of exclusive high performance motor cars.
The future lay with the Biturbo: a sporty executive range launched in 1981 to compete with the likes of BMW, Mercedes and Jaguar. It would also spearhead the firm’s re-entry to the lucrative North American market.
Despite the Biturbo initially selling quite well, Maserati’s product line throughout the mid-to-late 1980s was much the worse for lacking a flagship befitting the marque’s heritage.
That was due to change in early 1992 when Maserati hoped to begin production of a new supercar. Named Chubasco after the violent Central and Southern American storms, a fairly well advanced prototype was displayed at Maserati’s annual end-of-year press conference in December 1990.
Unveiled alongside the new Biturbo-based Shamal and two-litre Racing, the Chubasco was a completely new mid-engined two-seater with a planned production run of 450 units. It would theoretically be pitched as a cut-price rival to the Lamborghini Diablo and Ferrari Testarossa.
Alejandro de Tomaso had long been a fan of the competition-derived spine chassis layout and adopted it for his pioneering Vallelunga and subsequent Mangusta models during the 1960s. The Chubasco also used this arrangement and was based around an aluminium honeycomb central backbone with ribbed light-alloy subframes to carry the suspension and engine. Unequal length wishbones were fitted each end with inboard pushrod spring/damper units at the front and a pullrod layout at the rear. The fuel tank was located within the central chassis tube.
Marcello Gandini was responsible for the handsome bodywork: it attached to the chassis by way of dampers that absorbed vibration and insulated the cockpit from noise.
Gandini paid considerable attention to airflow and created three front intakes that channelled air underneath the doors and out through the rear bodywork. These not only cooled the engine and ancillaries but enhanced the ground-effect produced by a flat underside and rear venturi.
The Chubasco also had an electric hard top that slid backwards over the engine while, in typical Gandini-fashion, Lamborghini-style scissor doors were utilised. To add a finishing touch body-coloured aero discs covered the split-rim five spoke wheels.
Power would come from an uprated version of the 3.2-litre 32-valve 90° V8 found in the Shamal. Dry-sumped, twin turbocharged and with four overhead camshafts, output was a quoted 430bhp at 6500rpm but no other technical details were released. Transmission was via a six-speed manual gearbox with twin-plate clutch and limited-slip differential.
Despite being very well received, the Chubasco programme was soon cancelled by Fiat who had acquired 50% of the debt-plagued Maserati company in January 1990. Cited as too expensive to build, just the one prototype was ever produced. However, the Chubasco’s chassis layout lived to see another day and was used as the basis for the Barchetta one-make racing car launched in 1992. This in turn became the De Tomaso Guara in 1993.
Text copyright: Supercar Nostalgia
Photo copyright: Maserati - https://maserati.com