A salute tto Maserati
It’s been a tough ride but Maserati makes it through to 100
THE LAST thing I expected to find while going through the illustrious history of Italian supercar maker Maserati, was a prominent mention of SA’s famed Kyalami circuit.
The company’s last F1 win, with Juan Manuel Fangio at the wheel of a 250F took place in 1957 at the German Grand Prix – but in 1967 Pedro Rodriguez recorded the company’s last F1 win with a Maserati threelitre engine, taking the chequered flag at the SA Grand Prix at Kyalami in a Cooper-V12.
Fast-forward to 2014 and it’s a special time for the Modena-based factory, with next month marking a century of Maserati’s existence. It’s an establishment that opened its doors in Bologna, founded by Alfieri Maserati to service Isotta Fraschini cars – but which later on (along with three other Maserati brothers) started the car-manufacturing business.
The famous trident on the bonnet of every car, as you may or may not know, was inspired by the statue of Neptune in the Piazza Maggiore in Bologna (the home-city of the Maserati family), with the blue and red in the logo matching the city’s official colours.
The early years saw the company mainly converting customer cars for racing, with the first genuine Maserati only seeing the light of the day in 1926 in the form of the 1.5-litre supercharged eight-cylinder Tipo 26 race car (which weighed 760kg and made 90kW).
The move to Modena, the current home of Maserati, came with the company’s original sale in 1939 to a family based in that city. Importantly, this was followed by Maserati’s first road car, the A6, born in 1947 with a 1.5-litre 48kW engine and a top-end of 170km/h (just 58 of these were built).
Today Maserati is owned by the Fiat Chrysler group (which also owns Ferrari); with the current selection including the sporty twodoor GranTurismo and GranCabrio; the luxury-limo Quattroporte; and the company’s latest family sedan, the Ghibli (which is a fabled Maserati nameplate in its own right).
And what better way to celebrate a centenary than to gather these cars, along with two rather special centenary-edition models, in Muscat – an area said to be the jewel of Arabia – for a blast in commemoration of the past.
As you’d expect, the honour of the Centennial Edition badging goes to the sportiest cars in the stable, with the range-topping MC versions of the four-seater GranTurismo and GranCabrio scoring visual flair which I reckon even ‘ol Alfieri would be proud of.
Power, as before, is courtesy of a 338kW/520Nm 4.7-litre naturally-snorting V8 – while Centenary tweaks include new body colours, wheels with centenary logos, specifically-toned interiors with special embroidering, and lashings of car- bonfibre across the cabin. And here’s a little tip; go for the Magma Red or Inchiostro Blue paint – they represent the colours in the Maserati badge and the colours of Bologna.
The blue GranCabrio Centenary I bulleted through the golden mountainsides of Muscat was both one of the sexiest and most celebrated cars I’ve yet driven. That Ferrari handbuilt V8 – good for a 0-100km/h time of 4.9 seconds and a top-end of 289km/h – is a pearler, especially at sea-level where its naturally-breathing lungs are meant to exhale. With the roof down and everything hardened and sharpened, this is a special car with a front-mid layout, sports exhaust roar, and some special handling thanks to rear-biased weight and a limited-slip diff.
Having said that, when you get into newer machinery like the latest-gen Quattroporte and all-new Ghibli, it quickly becomes apparent how much the coupé and cabrio sportscars have aged – with things like switchgear and dials looking particularly outdated.
From the outside, though, they are still Monaco-spec red-carpet head-turners, and like Clint Eastwood they pack enough firepower to demand respect.
With the Ghibli being the most highly-anticipated car and its launch in SA imminent, I spent a fair amount of time getting up close and personal with this BMW 5 Series/Mercedes E-Class sized (but not priced) sports sedan. And let me tell you, this car, which now accounts for half of Maserati’s sales numbers on the planet, has a lot going for it both in terms of looks and under the skin.
The all-wheel-drive Ghibli S I drove was family-man nirvana, powered by a modern 3-litre twinturbo V6 (designed by Maserati and manufactured by Ferrari) mated to a silky eight-speed auto box. The 301kW/550Nm may not sound supercar slaying, but like most twin-turbos out there this thing builds power like a tornado, and when I first hit the loud pedal I actually commented to my co-pilot that it felt quicker than the super-duper GranCabrio we drove earlier.
With a 4.8 second 0-100km/h sprint time my seat-of-the-pants impression was spot on, and I’d go as far as to say this engine in-gear will carve up that Centenary hairdryer too. Being all-wheel drive means that the Ghibli S Q4 has prodigious levels of grip, but my sideways slide hoofing it into an intersection laid claim to the power-to-the-rear bias (moved upfront only when needed). Sadly all-wheel drive won’t come to SA, but the rear-wheel drive S gets the same engine/gearbox and power output, and a limited-slip diff for extra traction. Keep an eye out for this one.
I also had a quick spin in the Ghibli turbodiesel, mainly because it’s the first-ever diesel-powered Maserati produced – and I suspect it may be popular with local buyers. And before you get all snarky, the engineers have gone to great lengths to give it some aural entertainment.
This 202kW 3-litre diesel V6 will get to 100km/h from standstill in 6.3 seconds, but it’s the 600Nm of grunt which makes for healthy overtaking and very-proficient distance munching.
This thing is the A380 in Maserati’s range in terms of longhaul luxury and refinement, but still gets the necessary gearbox and suspension Sport modes and limited-slip diff to ensure its Maseratiness.
It’s exciting times then for the Italian brand, especially when you consider that there’s both an allnew SUV (the Levante) and twodoor coupé (the Alfieri) confirmed for production.
Happy birthday Maserati, keep ’em coming ...
A limited number of GranTurismo and GranCabrio Centennial Edition models have been built to honour Maserati’s 100th anniversary.
Ghibli revives a famous name and it’s due to arrive in SA in the near future.
Maserati A6 was the company’s first-ever production road car.