The cars we loved.
Big sporting coupes have been a segment that European automakers have been consistent with ever since the ’70s. Of course big by their definition is merely mid-sized by ours, but by whatever the standard, the European GT car from the late ’60s through the ’70s was something of a high watermark for design and technology. Except for a few exceptions.
Even disasters from Italy can be interesting. When De Tomaso bought Maserati in the ’70s, the company was realizing that its Longchamp luxury coupe was a flop. Meanwhile the new acquisition of Maserati brought the opportunity to try the Longchamp concept again, this time with subtle design changes by hired designer Pietro Fura. By changing the tail light, swapping the rectangular headlights for the requisite four rounds, the Kyamlami was born.
The exotic name was derived from a South African racetrack where a British racing team won the Grand Prix in a Cooper T81 fitted with a Maseratti engine. That bit of racing heritage was as close as the Kamlami would get to a racing heritage. With De Tomaso genes, the Kamlami would offer some of what made the Longchamp special while magnifying its problems.
The parts bin nature of the Kamlami like its tail lights from either Fiat or Citroen did little to make it feel like a cohesive design. Top that off with a front bumper that looked tacked on, the Kyamlami certainly had its design issues. But it’s silhouette was distinctive, with the short back and long hood suggesting power.
The Longchamp which was based on a Mercedes 450SLC was not the freshest of technological marvels but it did have a simple reliable Ford V8 under the bonnet. In the Kyamlami the engine was replaced with a homegrown unit from Maserati. Initially a 265 hp 4.2 liter V8 was offered, then shortly after it was bumped up to a 280 hp 4.9.
Transmissions were usually ZF 5 speed manuals, unless the customer requested an automatic in which case a 3 speed was supplied. Many of the parts and components on the Kyamlami came directly from the Quattroporte.
The Kyamlami did offer the expected performance of a high doller Italian exotic. 0 to 100 happened in the low 8 second range while the massive V8 offered plenty of torque and power. In addition to handling well thanks to a rigid chassis, the Kaymlami felt light on its feet thanks to a well-balanced chassis and weight distribution.
The things that made the car exciting to drive may have been overshadowed by electrical issues, poor gas mileage and a design that was too close to the Longchamp for some people’s tastes. Personally, I find the rather formal elegance of the blocky design attractive and more distinctive looking thanks to the quad headlight design. Small changes like alloy wheels and bumper refinements were the only visible improvements through the course of Kyalami production.
Overall the more plush interior, V8 power and Italian design heritage should have been enough to make the Kaymlami successful, but it too like it cousin was something of a flop. Factory like reliability and a pending fuel crisis did not help. Maserati has made considerable strides in quality since the days of the Kayamlmi, but continues to be a second-rate exotic compared to Ferrari.