Maserati is ever true to its Italian origins. It is the epitome of style and embodies the romance and allure of speed.
Although now owned by Fiat, Maserati continues to make luxury sports cars for those who want to get somewhere fast and look mighty fine doing it. It also continues to focus its attention on the thrills and oil spills of the race track.
Based in Modena, known as the capital of engines, Maserati is close neighbours, both literally and in spirit, with the Italian giants of Ferrari, Lamborghini and Pagani.
It is this home town rivalry that has helped to fuel Maserati's racing passion and driven its success.
Maserati began in the foothills of northern Italy at the turn of the 20th century. Here Carlo Maserati designed his first single cylinder engine in 1898 and went on to become a test pilot.
He used his savings from his flights to fund his flights of fancy: he built his first car, a single cylinder engine in a rough wooden chassis.
Carlo continued to pursue his motoring ambitions and engineering dreams until his untimely death in 1910. This devastating loss passed the responsibility for securing the family legacy to Carlo's brother, Alfieri.
Alfieri set to work founding a factory that manufactured spark plugs in 1914. It was not a great time to be starting a business: he quickly saw his production being taken over by Italy's war effort. But, as the dust settled at the end of the war, the Officine Alfieri Maserati SA was ready and raring to go.
Let's have a look at how Maserati went on from these humble beginnings.
Wanting to keep it in the family, Alfieri brought in his brother Mario – an artist, and the only member of the Maserati family that had strayed away from engineering.
Mario's artistic eye was challenged with designing a logo that would define and reflect Maserati's speed and style.
He used his hometown of Bologna as his muse, using Neptune's trident as the centrepiece, with the colours of the flag, red and blue. This remains Maserati's badge of honour to this day.
Maserati began its racing career by producing a 2-litre Grand Prix car for Diatto – the Tipo 26. This car was a direct descendant of Diatto's GP 8C Turbo but outperformed its cousin across the board. Alfieri grandly described the Tipo 26 as having “all the characteristics of all the cars which had been built so far”.
Maserati achieved its first racing win in this year, with Alfieri's brother hitting over 167 km/h over a straight kilometre. This helped kick-start sales to the growing community of gentleman racers, who began to queue far down the Bologna street outside Maserati's workshop.
Maserati sent a clear message to its racing rivals by setting its first world record. By finishing a 10 km race at an average speed of 246 km/h, Maserati held the speed record for the next decade.
Maserati set itself a place on the international table by winning the Tripoli Grand Prix.
This was also the first stand-off with future rivals Ferrari at the Italian Grand Prix. Maserati threw the first punch by being the only constructor on the winner's podium that year.
In another family tragedy, Alfieri passed away on the operating table at just 44 years of age due to kidney failure.
Many of the Italy's premier racing drivers: Nuvolari, Nazzaro, Minoia, Campari, lined the streets of Bologna for his funeral procession.
The remaining Maserati brothers abandon their current jobs and tried to catch the falling business before it hit the ground. Bindo Maserati was appointed the chairman, and the youngest brother, Ernesto, took charge of the engineering.
Despite the internal turmoil, the Tipo V5 made a successful debut.
In another aggressive move towards rivals Ferrari, Maserati took on Ferrari's recently departed racing driver, Tazio Nuvolari, after he fell out with Enzo Ferrari. In Maserati's 3-litre 8CM, which used some of the world's earliest hydraulic brakes, Nuvolari won the Belgian cup, the Nice GP, the Ciano cup and the Tourist Trophy.
Maserati started feeling the tension in the air in the run-up to the Second World War. German car manufacturers, like Mercedes and Audi's Auto Union, started making impeccably designed luxury cars thanks, in part, to heavy funding by the Nazi party.
Feeling the winds of change, the remaining Maserati brothers decided to they needed to change gears or they would see the opposition streaking away from them. They sold Maserati to rising Italian entrepreneur Adolfo Orsi, but remained in management positions within the company.
Orsi celebrated his new-found position by launching the Maserati 8CTF – which stood for “8 Cylinder Fixed Head”. This car's claim to fame was its victory in the Americas – taking first place at the Indianapolis 500. Maserati remains the only Italian manufacturer to ever achieve this.
As with most European car marques during World War II, all manufacturing was diverted to supporting the war effort. At the end of the war, Maserati took a turn off the race track and decided to make a road car for the first time.
The A6 1500 debuted at the Geneva Car Show and was named after the founder Alfieri.
By taking the style and grace it had developed for the track, and applying it to the road, they caught the eyes of the public and the car was an immediate success.
This luxury car had great symbolic value to the Italian people – it showed the war was over and working people were getting back on their feet.
Orsi divested himself of many companies that he owned, dividing them up between his family members, but he chose to keep Maserati for himself and his son, Omar.
Orsi, a man of astute business acumen, realised that the prestige of selling world-class racing cars would help boost his trade in machine tools.
Juan Manuel Fangio took the top spot at the World Championship podium with a brilliant debut for the Maserati 250F.
In a rivalry of Shakespearian proportions, the fair city of Modena was split in two. The two giant motoring families, Ferrari and Maserati, used the roar of the engines as their battle cries as they faced off in Modena's 1956 Formula 1. They raced under the shadows of their respective headquarters – both companies had chosen Modena for its home.
But this rivalry came to a tragic end during 1957's Mile Miglia in the village of Guidizzolo. Ferrari driver Alfonso de Portago and his navigator Edmund Nelson lost control, taking their own lives and those of nine spectators.
This accident was caused by an overzealous Portago failing to change his tyres in time before they blew, however, the manufacturer was blamed and Enzo Ferrari himself was embroiled in a manslaughter case for many years before it was dismissed as an accident.
Seeing this tragic loss of life, and the serious risks of culpability, Maserati pulled out of factory racing. However, it continued to build cars for private racers and switched its focus to road legal grand tourers.
The swinging 60s saw an economic boom that reinvigorated the car market. Maserati used this trend to release the White Dame, the first prototype of the 3500GT, which was introduced to the public the following year.
The White Dame caught the attention of the Shah of Persia, who was impressed, but felt he needed something more exclusive.
Maserati obliged. It created an 8 cylinder model of the 450S GranTurismo and finished the interior with precious woods and gold. It was widely considered the most luxurious car in the world.
After a quiet few years for Maserati motor racing, lead engineer Giulio Alfieri produced the legendary Tipo 60, commonly known as the Birdcage. Although it never earned any wins for the Maserati name, instead being given to other teams, it won two consecutive years at the 1,000 kilometre Nürburgring and in a string of races across the US.
Maserati wanted to reinvigorate its style in line with the constantly evolving fashion trends of the 60s, so gained cult appreciation by collaborating with Italian designer Giorgetto Giugiaro.
The 8 cylinder Maserati Ghibli was revealed at the Turin Auto Show, and orders went through the roof. While only intending to produce 100 cars, Maserati immediately upped production to 400. By the end of the Ghibli's run, Maserati had sold almost 1300 models.
Giugiaro helped create two new unmistakably Italian sports cars, the Bora, and it's so-called little sister, the Merak. Both were shown off at the 1972 Geneva Motor Show.
Giugiaro also produced the space-aged hyper-coupé, the Boomerang, which, unfortunately, was only ever a concept car.
Italian president and war hero, Sandro Pertini, chose Maserati's Quattroporte Royale as his official car for all state business. Pertini travelled everywhere in his Maserati for many years but, when he pulled up to Enzo Ferrari's house in one he was refused entrance, despite his official position.
Maserati moved from fringe fashion to popular culture as the Quattroporte was used in 1982's Rocky III, the classic horror movie The Fly and The Dead Zone in 1983.
Maserati cashed in on this by releasing its most popular car of all time – the Biturbo.
The Biturbo was named after its 2-litre V6 engine with two turbochargers, generating its awesome power – the first ever in a production car.
This two-door coupé was the basis of most new Maserati models well into the 90s, and by the time it had finished production in 1993 around 37,000 had come off the production line.
The 1990s and beyond
Maserati entered the modern era of automotive production when it was purchased by Fiat in 1993.
Luca di Motezemolo, President of Ferrari, was appointed CEO, ending a rivalry that spanned four decades. Ferrari turned from arch enemies to saviours, as for many years Maserati had been struggling financially.
The first car released under new management was the 3200 GT, again designed by Giorgetto Giugiaro.
This car was reinvigorated with a new engine and released as the Maserati Spyder, which helped Maserati return to the US market.
Maserati also added a remake of the GranTurismo and a new Quattroporte. This expanded range caused Maserati's sales to sky-rocket. This was helped by a second Italian president, Carlo Azeglio, choosing the Quattroporte as his official state car.
Maserati chose the 2000s to return to the track in headline-grabbing fashion. Its powerful new track car, the MC12, claimed a huge line of victories, including 14 titles and 19 victories in the FIA GT, two Manufacturer's cups, five Driver Championships, six Team Championships and three victories in the Spa 24 Hours.
With an incredible racing record going back almost a century and record sales in recent years, Maserati's dramatic and flamboyant legacy has gained it worldwide recognition. It’s a long way from sparkplugs being manufactured in the foothills of northern Italy to making cars suitable for presidents. Maserati has gone the distance with style, grace and, of course, with alarming speed.
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