A few days ago I wrote about an Alfa Romeo 8C and, to be honest, I was expecting something more than the lukewarm reception it received. I thought everyone would’ve been bowled over by the splendour of the 8C Spider, but no. It just goes to show you cannot please all of the people all of the time. Not one to give up, though, I am sticking with the Italian drop-top V8 blueprint. It’s time for round two, and I reckon this one’s as enthralling to feast your peepers on, but with a cut-price budget to go with it. That’s the plan, anyway.
It’s a 2002 Maserati 4200 Spyder with a manual ‘box, and it rather jumped out of the screen when I saw the advert. Castle Motors, which is where you’ll find this particular car for sale, has managed to pick the perfect day to snap it because look: there’s some blue sky. That’s a rare treat at the moment, and it doesn’t ‘alf make the metallic magenta paintwork pop – I believe that’s the current lingo for what I am talking about. Whatever its colour, the 4200 Spyder is a bit of a looker. The 2,440mm wheelbase was 220mm shorter than the 4200 coupé, and while that meant losing the surprisingly practical rear seats, its sexy, trimmed-down silhouette more than makes up for it.
Of course, you could go for a Jaguar XK8 instead – I’m thinking about the X100, which was a contemporary – or an XKR if you want to match the power. That offers some degree of four-seat ability, even if the X100’s seats are next to useless for human beings. They are as upright and almost as uncomfortable as a church pew, but you can use them for luggage at least. I’d still take the 4200 every time, though, for two reasons. Firstly, its naturally aspirated F136 V8 engine is so much more characterful than the XKR’s supercharged AJ-V8. It delivers one of the most intoxicating V8 sounds going, without resorting to silly theatrics to make it sound ‘better’ like the modern-day stuff. It’s also a ferocious engine when it comes to revs, not just belting round to its red line with an eagerness than the AJ-V8 can’t hope to match, but ultimately revving much higher. Peak power comes in at 7,000rpm and the red line isn’t until 7,500rpm.
The other reason I much prefer the 4200 Spyder goes back to those looks. The X100 is a tidy-looking thing, but Geoff Lawson’s design was always compromised by running the old XJS’s platform and the desire to offer Americans a big boot for their golf clubs. And it’s always bothered me that, as a consequence, the hood didn’t sit flush and had to be covered by a vinyl tonneau cover. Fitting that was a faff involving poppers, and who has the time for those? Not many people, which is why you’d see XK8s and XKRs driving around with concertinaed scaffolding sticking up behind the driver’s head looking like some unfinished school project. Now compare that with the Spyder’s solution. A fully automatic hood that folds neatly away under an electrically operated cover. So much quicker and easier to use, and a whole lot easier on the eye to boot.
What are Spyders like to drive? Well, it’s been a long time since I’ve driven one – I reckon about 20 years give or take – and I am recalling the experience using a brain that’s shedding cells fast. It’s all a bit vague, if I am honest, but I remember the Spyder suffering from a dose of the dreaded scuttle shake. Was it noticeably worse than an X100, or an R129 SL for that matter? Maybe; maybe not. I just can’t say for sure because it’s been so long since I’ve driven either of those two models as well. The other thing that comes to my mind concerns the gearbox. The traditional view is nearly always that ‘manual is best’ and that the Cambiocorsa gearbox in these Massas was a ’rotter’. The thing is, I don’t remember the manual shift in these or the pedal arrangement being that brilliant, and I definitely preferred the automated manuals – that will cause a few gasps, no doubt. Does that mean I'm put off this one? No, I don’t think so, especially because all 4200s, Spyder included, had wonderfully quick steering and a rear-drive chassis that was well up for some tail-out fun without feeling spiky. It was one of the sportier convertibles in its day, that's for sure.
So there we have it. This might not have the rarity of an Alfa 8C but, compared with its immediate rivals from back in 2002, it’s still one hell of an exclusive machine. And also still so pretty, even now. It really hasn’t aged in terms of the overall shape or the details. As good looking as the 8C? Well, judging by the reaction to that, I am going to wager you think it's even better. And on reflection, I don’t think you’d be wrong to think that, either - and my choice this time will cost you £22,000 instead of a quarter of a million. Surely this time I'm on to a winner?
Specification | Maserati 4200 Spyder
Engine: 4,244cc, V8, naturally aspirated
Transmission: six-speed manual, rear-wheel drive
Power (hp): 385 @ 7,000rpm
Torque (lb ft): 332 @ 4,500rpm
Recorded mileage: 46,000
Year registered: 2002
Price new: N/A
Yours for: £22,750
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