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Maserati – Celebrating 100 Years Of Motoring Passion

maserati_thumbnailRacers were daredevils in 1926. Never mind seatbelts, drivers secured their egos, dropped a heavy right foot, and let adrenaline and luck decide the rest. They sat in cockpits that were not only open from above were also open on the sides so they could hang their elbows out to get enough leverage to manhandle outlandishly large steering wheels.

 

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A great deal of leverage was needed to coax the ill-tempered machines of the day through the turns.

Alfieri Maserati was one of them, and today’s extreme athletes would call him crazy. Alfieri founded the company with his brothers, Ettore and Ernesto in 1914. The brothers weren’t a standalone company, they were building race cars for Diatto but that all changed when the operation shut down in early 1926. The foursome carried on, building the cars for themselves under the now-famous Trident badge designed by another brother, Mario. In a bold move, the upstart Maserati marque would make its debut on the biggest stage in European motorsports; the Targa Florio. With financial backing from friend and confidant Marquis Diego de Sterlich, they bought 10 Diatto 30 Sport chassis and developed a 1,492cc straight eight engine to compete in the under 1,500cc class. In the end a single car, dubbed the Tipo 26, would carry their dreams. On April 25th 33 machines from racing stables throughout the world took the green flag in Sicily, and a torturous 8 hours, 37 minutes, and 11 seconds later Alfieri and his ride-along mechanic Guerino Bertocchi won their class and came home ninth overall. The brothers were in business.

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In 1937, interest in the company was sold to industrialist Aldolfo Orsi who excelled at managerial tasks, which the Brothers Maserati weren’t so good at. It was a mutually beneficial deal. The transition freed the brothers up to build cars, a task they excelled at. And the Maseratis made the most of their time, creating the venerable 6CM which would win the Targa Florio outright from 1937 to 1939.

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The Maserati momentum carried on as the company made its mark in America’s great race; the Indianapolis 500. The 1939 Maserati 8CTF Chassis # 3032, known as the Boyle Special, was driven to victory in back-to-back Indy 500s by Wilbur Shaw in 1939 and 1940. The sleek Italian roadster was the first European marque to win the 500 in almost a decade. Its key to going fast was its brakes. The Maserati’s 16-inch magnesium drum brakes were superior to the fragile, production-based brakes the competition was running. So where everyone else coasted through the corners, Shaw could accelerate into, brake, and power out of the turns. Another advantage was the engine’s use of a twin-roots style, positive-displacement supercharger at a time when centrifugals were in favor. The roots blower provided its 15 psi of pressure very low in the rev range which was great for a car coming out of the turns like the Maserati was. Powered by a 365-horsepower inline, fixed head eight cylinder engine, the car proved long in the tooth; finishing third in ’46 and ’47, and fourth in ’48. It also won Pikes Peak in ’46 and ’47 with Louis Unser at the wheel.

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The next Maserati milestone was 1957, when the automaker made waves on the track and on the street. The 3500 GT was Maserati’s coming out party at the 1957 Geneva Motor Show. The 3500 GT, the marque’s first mass-produced road car, featured a twin-cam, twin-plug, triple carb inline six rated at 220 horsepower. Produced from 1957 to 1964, a total of 2,226 examples were built.

The more impressive achievement was on the track where the incomparable Juan Manuel Fangio was power-sliding his Maserati 250F to the 1957 Formula 1 world championship.

The 250F was built in 1954 with an uninspiring 220-horse A6 inline six powerplant as a customer racer. Nevertheless 1951 F1 champion Juan Manual Fangio was tapped to drive the Maser for the factory team and the 250F came out of the gate in impressive fashion, winning the first two Grand Prix of the year. But when the muscular, V8-powered Mercedes W196 Silver Arrow hit the scene Fangio jumped ship and won four of the six remaining events, and the 1954 championship.maserati_07

Fast forward to the ’57 season, the 250F was updated with a lightweight, space-frame chassis and improved suspension and Fangio resurfaced to man the tiller. These two would team up for what many insiders consider the most epic drive in motorsports history. Coming into the German Grand Prix at the Nurburgring Fangio needed to gain six points on his rivals to clinch the drivers’ championship with two races still on the schedule. After qualifying on pole, the 250F fell to third shortly after the green flag, astern of the Ferrari contingent of Mike Hawthorn and Peter Collins. But by the third circuit he was again on point. The team strategy had Fangio starting with half-full fuel tanks. He would be lighter and faster and in need of fresh tires at about the time he would need fuel. Non-stop races were the norm in this era, but while Team Maserati’s thinking was sound, the execution was horrid. On lap 13 he wheeled the 250F into the pits, having built up a half-minute lead thanks to a few record lap times. But after the pit-road debacle Fangio found himself almost a minute behind the Prancing Horses in third place. This is where the onslaught started as Fangio conjured a Zen-like connection between car, driver, and racing surface. First, the team planned a bit of misdirection. Fangio came out and ran one regular-paced lap, lulling Ferrari into believing he couldn’t catch them and it worked because Ferrari drivers were told to run steady. On Lap 16 of 22 on the 170-plus-turn, 14-mile Nordschleife circuit, Fangio unleashed the beast, breaking his own lap-record time lap after lap, using his trademark power slide driving technique to perfection. On the 20th lap Fangio’s time of 9:17.4 was an astonishing 11 seconds quicker than the Ferraris and about nine seconds faster than his record, pole-qualifying lap. Hawthorn and Collins, who had long since dropped the hammer on their Ferraris, were caught on the next-to-last lap. Fangio worked his magic and passed both of Enzo’s entries, besting Hawthorn by a scant 3.6 seconds at the checkered flag.

The 250F went out a champion as Maserati changed hands in late 1957 and its racing programs were dismantled. Most of the 26 250Fs were then sold to privateers and, as a consequence, 60 percent of the grid of the season opening 1958 Argentine Grand Prix were 250Fs. They remained competitive until 1960 when mid-engine racers obsoleted the mighty Maserati.

Amazingly, in 1962 Fangio’s Nurburgring 250F popped up for sale in the October issue of Road & Track. The small classified ad offered the motorsports legend for the mind-boggling price of $3,650…. in Mobile, Alabama of all places. Yep, $3,650; that’s less than a Ford Thunderbird or even a Chevy Corvette cost in ’62. Today, that Maserati is worth well past $3 Million.

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The 1967 Ghibli was noteworthy as the first Maserati without any styling connection to the 3500 series. The Giorgetto Giugiaro-penned design features a long hood, low nose with a clever bumper that also serves as a grille surround, and a sweeping fastback. The Ghibli’s decidedly sharp-edged look can be seen as a stepping stone to the “fully wedged” supercars that would follow in the ’70s. Among its contemporaries, a facsimile of the Maser’s silhouette would surface in the Ferrari 365 and Lamborghini Espada. Under the Maserati’s hood, a 4.7-liter V8 roars to the tune of 320 horsepower. The all-aluminum V8 features four chain-driven cams and four two-barrel Weber carburetors. In total, 1,295 Ghiblis rolled off the line during its production run from ’67 to ’73. Maserati kept the overall Ghibli profile and basically moved the V8 to the rear in 1971 to create the Bora. (Check out more photos of the 1971 Ghibli pictured above)

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The 1980s and ’90s were dark times for Maserati as the square, chunky Biturbo coupe and Quattroporte sedan carried the torch, or would that be Trident, for the company. Things took a turn for the better at the 2004 Geneva Motor Show where Maserati dropped the MC12 on the world. The MC12 was a homologation car that would allow the factory to race in FIA’s GT1 class. The plan was to produce 25 of the hand-built supercars for public consumption. When the MC12 sold-out before its launch then started collecting checkered flags on the race circuit, Maserati commissioned a second batch of 25 cars in 2005. Between 2005 and 2010, the MC12 won the FIA GT1 championship Manufacturers Cup twice, the Drivers title five times, the Team title six times, racking up 22 victories in championship races in the process.

The MC12 is based on the Ferrari Enzo platform as the two rivals were part of the Ferrari-Maserati Group at the time. The Maser is longer and wider than the Enzo and it can “only” muster a top speed of 205 mph versus the 217 posted by the Enzo. The MC12 is powered by a mid-mounted, 6.0-liter V12 that features an aluminum crankcase, titanium connecting rods, and extremely efficient four-valve cylinder heads. The MC12 made quite a splash and Maserati the automaker rode the wave to its current line of exotic offerings; the Ghibli, Quattroporte, and GranTurismo.

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Maserati’s 100th birthday cake is topped with the big dog of its 2014 lineup; the GranTurismo, an aggressively styled coupe that features a 454-horsepower, 4.7-liter V8. The GranTurismo, freshened for the 2013 model year, is anchored by a daring front fascia. The car’s design is highlighted by its grille with the Trident logo prominently positioned between two distinctive headlamps. The car’s long, carbon fiber hood with its aggressive central air intake and two side air vents, derived from those used on the race-track prepared GranTurismo MC Trofeo, also makes a statement.

Looking back to the origins of Maserati it is only natural to also project forward. With supercars featuring hybrid technologies, the emergence of hydrogen fuel cell cars, and technologies yet discovered, it’s hard to fathom where Maserati, and the automobile itself, will be in another 100 years; but it’s been quite a trip so far.

Have fun in your garage!

 


 

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