Maserati History

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Maserati History



 1914 - present

Neptune’s Trident, The Ancient Symbol Of Bologna

One of six brothers, Alfieri Maserati founded the now famous marque in the mid 1920’s at Bologna. As the symbol for his new car he chose Neptune’s Trident, the ancient symbol of Bologna and the location of his works factory.

Until the outbreak of war in 1939 the vast majority of Maserati’s were single-seater race cars, while the company did manufacture a handful of two-seater sports-cars (again with the intention of racing them).

The first Maserati, the “Tipo 26” was produced on the 14th April, 1926. But the first notable car to leave the factory was the 8C-1100 of 1929; sitting upon an 8ft 2in wheelbase the car featured a supercharged 1087cc twin-overhead camshaft engine good for 100bhp at 5500rpm and giving the car a top speed of more than 80mph.

While the 8C-1100 was successful in some minor Italian races, Alfieri developed an even more powerful version that used a 1492cc engine good for 120bhp. Both versions used square-rig bodies with raked-back radiators, while their fuel tanks were housed in a tapering tail.

In 1930 the 4CTR-1100 appeared, featuring a 1088cc twin-overhead-cam engine fitted with a Rootes-type supercharger blowing through a Weber carburettor. Performance was ensured by keeping the weight of the car down, the 4CTR tipping the scales at a relatively low 1360lb.

Ettore And Ernesto Take The Helm

But tragically Alfieri Maserati would pass away in 1932 – leaving the running of the business to two of his brothers Ettore and Ernesto. While still very much concerned with the development of racing cars, the brothers also believed that, to ensure commercial success, they would need to manufacture a road car with broad consumer appeal.

Of course the war would intervene in their plans, and so the first semi-production Maserati road car would not appear until 1947, following a company restructure that would see the “Orsi” group assume ownership with Ettore and Ernesto retaining senior partnership roles with the company.

The A6/1500 model had a simple ladder-type layout, including three inch tubular side-members, with cruciform and lateral cross-bracings. Independent front suspension was by coil springs and wishbones, while at the rear the rigid axle was suspended on coil springs with radius arm location.

A far simpler power plant was chosen for the production car (ease of maintenance and robustness being virtues any immediate post war production car would require), in this instance a 1488cc six cylinder unit good for 65bhp at 4700rpm. The engine was closely modelled on the 1936 racing unit, but without the supercharger attached the engine would remain unstressed and ever-reliable.

Beautiful, Aerodynamic, Farina

But perhaps the most important feature was the body style, modelled by Farina. Not only was it beautiful, it was also very aerodynamic and, even though the engine was perhaps a little underpowered, made the A6 good for a top speed of around 95mph. The direct development of the A6 was the A6G/2000 range, built from 1951 to 1957, the series 1 having a single-cam 1954cc engine, while the series 2 (from 1954) used a twin-cam 150bhp 1985cc engine.

Maserati Tipo 26
The Maserati Tipo 26 may have been the first, but was not the most noteable...

Maserati A6
The A6/1500 had a beautiful body styled by Farina...

Maserati 3500GT
The 3500GT was the first Maserati to be built in any sort of quantity...

Maserati Ghibli
Styled by Giugiaro, the Ghibli was based on the four-door “Quattroporte” saloon - then the fastest saloon car in the world...

Maserati Bora
The first Maserati to be manufactured after Citroen took control, the Bora used the same Maserati engine as was designed for the SM...

Maserati Merak
The Merak used a smaller V6 engine, but the space saved was put to good use by the designers with the inclusion of an occasional 2+2 seat configuration...

Maserati Khamsin
The Khamsin was the last model to be released prior to the De Tomaso take over...

Maserati Kyalami
The 1980 Maserati Kyalami, based on the four-seater "Longchamps" after De Tomaso took control...
Both motors were born from race track, being de-tuned examples of the Formula 2 design of the day. Rear suspension on the series 2 cars had cantilever leaf springs and radius arms, and a top speed of just under 120mph. Growing tired of the involvement of the Orsi group, and buoyed by the success of the A6 and A6G, Ettore and Ernesto decided to leave Maserati and start-up their own company, “Osca”. The 1950’s would see the company continue to trade under the Maserati name, despite having no involvement with the family.

Despite the loss of their links to the past, the factory continued to develop both Formula 2 and Formula 1 race cars. Their road-going 300S sports-car was closely based on the F l design, using the same type of twin overhead camshaft six-cylinder engine good for 260bhp and giving it a top speed over 160mph. Despite its awesome performance, the decision was made to squeeze a new four-cam 4.5 litre V8 engine into the same basic chassis. The result was the brutal 450S, which had more than 400bhp on tap – giving it blistering performance but, strangely, only limited success in competition.

The Maserati 3500GT

The first Maserati road car to be built in considerable numbers was the 3500GT. Launched in 1957; it would not be officially on sale until 1958. The 3.5 litre twin-cam six cylinder engine was derived from their race cars, had an 8.5:1 compression ratio, triple twin-choke Weber carburettors and good for 230bhp at 5500rpm and a top speed over 140mph.

The chassis was a complex affair, partly tubular, partly stiffened by pressed steel members, with coil spring independent front suspension, but the rigid rear axle was suspended on half-elliptic leaf springs, with extra radius arm location.

There were drum brakes at first, but a Girling disc setup followed in 1960. Carrozzeria Touring and Allemano built the first batch of bodies, and some 100 were completed in 1959, the first complete production year. Coupe and drop head styles were both available.

In 1962, Maserati broke new ground, by offering a revised version of the car, the 3500GTI, which was fitted with “Lucal” fuel injection. Although this only produced another 5bhp in peak performance, it made the car both more flexible and more fuel efficient.

An even more exciting Maserati road car was first shown at Turin in 1959, the very limited-production (only 32 produced) 5000GT. Using the same chassis and suspension layout as the 3500GT, the 5000GT had a 4935cc version of the racing V8, detuned a little for road use, but still producing a very healthy 330bhp at 5700rpm. Needless to say the 5000 was extremely expensive!

A revised six-cylinder road car, the “Sebring”, was introduced in 1963. Developed directly from the 3500GTI rolling chassis, it had a “Vignale” 2+2 coupe body, and was shorter, by four inches, than the previous model. Good for 235bhp at 5800rpm, it could reach 137mph, and achieved 16.4 seconds for the 1/4-mile.

In the same year Maserati also launched their stylish “Mistrale”, again using 3500GTI/Sebring mechanical components, but with a neat fixed head, or convertible, style by “Frua”.

Initially the car had a 3.5 1itre engine, but later there was a 3692cc/245bhp six, and eventually a 4012cc/255bhp option, this being the final stretch of the long-serving twin-cam unit, descended from the early 1950s single-seater racing unit. This last iteration made the Mistrale good for a top speed of 155mph!

Next came the Ghibli, a startlingly beautiful two-seater fastback coupe, styled by Giugiaro when he was working at Ghia. Introduced at the 1966 Turin show of 1966, the Ghibli was fitted with either a 4719cc/330bhp or 4930cc/355bhp four-cam V8 engine.

The Ghibli’s chassis design was based on the larger four-door “Quattroporte” saloon (then the fastest saloon car in the world) and its shorter-wheelbase derivative, the Mexico. Even though, or perhaps despite the fact that the Ghibli still used a rigid rear axle with half-elliptic leaf springs, it would provide extremely popular (for such an expensive “exotic” supercar), with some 1274 being manufactured before production ended in 1973.

The Vignale Indy, The First Maserati To Have a Unit Construction Body

The Indy of 1969-75 was, strictly speaking, not a traditional sports-car. The sleek fixed head style by Vignale offered 2+2 seating, but more importantly was the first-ever Maserati to have a unit construction body. Although it looked a little like the Ghibli, the two cars were structurally very different.

Indy models were equipped with either a 4136cc/260bhp or 4719cc/330bhp engine, and were good for top speeds in excess of 150mph. But the development of super-cars is an expensive passion, so much time and money required for research and development, with the resultant product being priced so that only a handful can afford them. And so, in 1969, Orsi sold the company to Citroen.

The first true 'Citroen-controlled' Maserati was the mid-engined Bora coupe of 1971. In the evolving fashion of the day, this was a mid-engined car featuring a 4.7 litre V8 longitudinally mounted and fitted with quad twin-choke Weber carburettors mated to a 5 speed ZF transaxle. There was coil spring independent suspension and disc brakes all round, which gave good roadholding, but rather a firm ride.

Giulio Alfieri, Father To Many Famous Maserati Models

The Bora’s styling was by Giugiaro, and engineering was led by Giulio Alfieri, the 'father' of so many famous Maserati models. It had a steel unit construction body/chassis structure, and the Citroen influence was evident in the cars “hydraulic plumbing”. It was a heavy machine - weighing almost 4500lb with two passengers, their luggage, and a full 20 gallon petrol tank. On the other hand, engine was good for 310bhp at 6000rpm giving it a top speed of 162mph, and even though cars like the Jaguar E-Type could out-sprint it to 120mph, it was still a success.

Developed from the Bora, and first shown at the 1972 Paris salon, the Merak shared a virtually identical chassis platform, and style, but was powered by the 2965cc 90 degree four-cam V6 engine which Maserati had already developed for the Citroen SM Coupe. In the Merak, the engine featured triple Weber carburettors and was good for 190bhp at 6000rpm.

Because the V6 was slightly shorter than the V8 Maserati were able to extend the cabin, just enough to incorporate two tiny seats for small children. And while the smaller engine made the Merak some 200lb lighter than the Bora, it was not nearly as powerful and made the early model Merak’s good for a top speed of only 135mph, while in the 0-60mph dash it was almost 2 seconds slower!

A later development was the Merak SS, which had a more powerful 220bhp engine and a top speed of more than 150mph – and in recognition of the luxury deemed mandatory for any car with US export intentions Maserati fitted the car with air-conditioning. When Peugeot took over Citroen the writing was on the wall for Maserati.

Ownership Changes Hands, Again

The Peugeot rationalisation plan called for the dumping of the wonderful Citroen SM, and then the withdrawal from Maserati. Liquidation followed, but Alejandro de Tomaso would come to its rescue and merge it with his company. He would go on to develop a re-engined version of his Longchamps, the V8 powered Maserati “Kyalami”. Fiat would go on to take control in 1993, and then Ferrari would acquire 50% of the company in 1997 and, effectively, total management control.

Also see:

Maserati 450S V8 | Maserati Racing Heritage | O.S.C.A | The Story Behind The Rise of Neptunes Trident (USA Site)
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