It is impossible to say what was the lowest point in the history of the brand that was founded by five brothers in Bologna in 1914, the year of the war. The early death of the eldest, Carlo, at not even 30 years old? The also too early death of the driving force, Alfieri, at the age of 45, which drove the three remaining brothers Bindo, Ernesto and Ettore into the arms of the industrialist Adolfo Orsi? The first near-bankruptcy, which ended in a takeover by Citroën and culminated in the capricious sedan SM, whose abbreviation mechanics interpreted as sado-maso because the technology was so complicated? Or the second near-bankruptcy, when the Italian state picked up Maserati and sold it to Argentine entrepreneur Alejandro de Tomaso for the symbolic price of a tank of gas at today’s prices, just so the workers wouldn’t end up on the street? The more than windy quality of the cars in the de Tomaso era, when the biturbo models not only rusted and became defective but sometimes spectacularly burned down? And what would the Maserati brothers have said to the fact that, of all things, the eternal competitor of their day, namely none other than their neighbor Ferrari, became the brand’s savior? So when a new Maserati GranTurismo is presented now, and immediately an entire strategy, a model roadmap until the end of the decade, when the brand with the trident in its logo finally seems to be entering calm waters, then it’s time to sit back and ask the all-important question: How the hell did the brand survive the permanent scraping in the end? Why were there always people who believed in the radiance of Maserati and wrote the story a little further? The answer is on the road: it was the cars, plain and simple. Anyone who looked at, perhaps drove or even owned a Maserati knew that a world without the elegant Grantourismo from Modena would be a great deal poorer.
Actually founded as a racing car forge – and quite successful at it – it should be road cars that make up the myth of the brand and have carried it through stormy decades. It started with the A6 1500, marketed as the Maserati 1500 GT. The idea was as simple as the technology of the post-war economy: to put a sports car on the wheels with feasible means using all the knowledge acquired in racing. What made it special was the body, drawn by Pininfarina, a young Italian design studio whose star was just rising. You have to imagine the production of the A6, which was introduced in 1947, much differently than today’s production facilities: Having just moved from Bologna to Modena, everything at Maserati was handmade, and if someone had a better idea along the way, it was incorporated into the future cars without further ado. In total, only around 60 vehicles were produced from the A6, but even this first WuDrf hinted at what they were to become famous for: beautifully designed fast cars for comfortable travel, executed by specialists and exclusively priced.
The A6 was the first and also the last Maserati in which the Fratelli Maserati were still personally involved. Shortly after the presentation at the Geneva Motor Show, the brothers announced that they would go independent with a rival company (O.S.C.A.) and focus on racing again. The automotive brand remained in the hands of Adolfo and Omer Orsi, under whose aegis automotive icons were to be created in the decades to come.
To do this, they turned away from the manual labor of the Fratelli Maserati era and made the leap to mass production. Even the first more widely available Maserati, the 3500 GT, became a resounding success. The concept was influenced by the racing of those days. Instead of a self-supporting body, the 3500 GT was built on a side-member tubular frame containing a poorly tamed racing engine. And now the highlight: the aluminum outer skin came from the country’s leading coachbuilders, highly specialized artist’s factories that shaped sheet metal like sculptors. The majority of the 3500 GT came from Carozzeria Touring, but Allemano, Vignale or Bertone also supplied bodies. What a delicious time, when the rich and beautiful of the world had their tastes shaped by tin Michelangelos like Giovanni Michelotti or Pietro Frua, and under the dress was the best of the racing technology of the time! Even more than for the 3500, this sentence applies to the up to 340 hp 5000 GT.
The trigger for this was the Shah of Persia, who later went down in history as the involuntary founder of the German Autumn. He was not only a dictator and the declared enemy of the European left, he was also a car obsessive. His handful of Maserati 3500 GTs with their six-cylinder engines weren’t powerful enough for him, so he demanded the eight-cylinder from the 450S race car be transplanted into a GT chassis. Once again, Carozzeria Touring was responsible for the exterior, and the result was so convincing that it did not remain a single piece, but a total of 34 cars were created, each of which was dressed differently by no less than eight coachbuilders. Today’s market value of the 5000 GT: Just under the million mark.
The question of whether one should afford a Ferrari, Lamborghini or rather a Maserati was asked again and again in the 1960s. From 1963, with the presentation of the Mistral, Maserati for the first time afforded itself the luxury of real names for its automobiles. While Ferrari relied on the myth of America (Daytona, Superamerica California) and Lamborghini on fighting bulls (Miura, Islero, Espada), Maserati called on the winds: The Mistral blows in France, the Ghibli in the Sahara, the Bora in the Adriatic, the Khamsin in North Africa and the Shamal in the Persian Gulf.
The most iconic model is the Ghibli, which was launched in 1966 and whose design set the tone for what a desirable sports car should look like for decades: Long snout, wide cheeks, sloping rear. The Ghibli was the masterpiece of the young Giorgetto Giugiaro, who would go on to design not only seven more Maseratis in the decades to come, but also such defining vehicles as the first VW Golf, Fiat Panda and Ford Mustang. By the end of the 1960s, the owners were nevertheless up to their necks, which was also due to the less successful models, lack of innovation capital, resulting old-fashioned technology and dwindling sales figures. This is how the French manufacturer Citroën came on board as the main owner.
The Ghibli successor Khamsin stands out from this era, one of the most beautiful and coherent designs in the company’s history. Lighter and less macho than the Ghibli, wedge-shaped but still elegant, and with all the ingredients that comprised automotive dreams in the 1970s: V8 engine, flip-up headlights, Campagnolo aluminum wheels, four exhaust pipes and leather sport seats. And hurray, revolution: Instead of the antique rigid axle with leaf springs like the Ghibli, the Khamsin had a real independent suspension for the first time!
Star tenor Luciano Pavarotti drove Maserati, Frank Sinatra or Henry Ford. You had to be able and willing to afford one – the latter mainly because of always capricious technology. This was all the more true in the de Tomaso era, and because the cars clearly lacked that grandeur that had so distinguished them until then, the valley of tears in the 1980s was long, ugly and barren. It is said that the analog clock in the cockpit was the only thing that worked reasonably reliably on the biturbo Maseratis. After Alejandro de Tomaso’s stroke in 1993, Fiat took pity on the brand and four years later signed it over to its sister company Ferrari, of all things, the historic opponent in the battle for top times and luxury clientele from the very beginning. One could not have guessed that there, of all places, would be lovers who would pick up the trident with strong arms and even stronger ideas and carry it into a great future.
In the first step, Ferrari put production on hold and technically converted the factory from the past to the future. The very first new model showed where the journey was headed, and so the company called on the services of a deserving man of the brand: none other than Giorgio Giugiaro designed the 3200 GT. The most striking detail of the coupe: the boomerang taillights with diodes instead of bulbs, which were new at the time. The 3200 GT finally reignited the hearts of lovers from the second it was presented. Only the biturbo engines had been carried over from the old days, but they were also dropped from the successor, which was simply called the Maserati Coupé, and replaced by a Ferrari unit. Since 2007, Maserati’s sports car has been named for what it is: GranTourismo. That’s only fitting, since the luxury sedan, which has been built intermittently since 1963, is called the Quattroporte, simply a four-door model. This only works with the Italian language! The first series of the GranTourismo was built for 12 years, and just like in the heydays of the 1960s and 1970s, the elite went for it: Whether Cameron Diaz or Lionel Messi, whether Britney Spears or rapper 50 Cent, where the trident is on, it was finally back on top. With its successor unveiled at the end of 2022, the company, which is now part of the Stellantis Group, is moving further into the future. Now there is not only a choice of two gasoline engines, but for the first time also one with electric drive. And in keeping with tradition, the car is based on the racing DNA of the A6: The state-of-the-art drive system with 800-volt technology is derived directly from Formula E. Racing technology in a beautiful dress, a recipe for success.