A grand tour.

Neue Luxury - - Front Page - By Ray Edgar

Amid the white noise of re­al­ity TV and the whin­ing clam­our of the wannabe celebrity, it’s star­tling to find some­one with ac­tual ac­com­plish­ments who prefers to re­main anony­mous. This is not a new phe­nom­e­non, of course. In fact, it was once ad­mired and as­pired to. It was called ‘cool’.

“This is not about me,” says the col­lec­tor in ques­tion. “It’s about an ap­pre­ci­a­tion of his­tory and lin­eage, prove­nance and de­sign.” This self­ef­face­ment, I have come to ap­pre­ci­ate, is com­mon among Maserati own­ers. Yet it doesn’t stop the crowd gather­ing.

Be­guil­ing them is a sil­ver, pre-pro­duc­tion 1956 Maserati GT, de­signed by Gio­vanni Mich­e­lotti for the Turin coach­builder Alle­mano. Hand built a year be­fore Maserati went into full pro­duc­tion with the 3500 GT, this, the A6G is, ac­cord­ing to its owner, “a lit­tle bit unique be­cause it left the fac­tory with full rac­ing spec­i­fi­ca­tions”.

In­deed so to­tally did rac­ing pre­oc­cupy Maserati that be­tween 1946 and 1957 the com­pany pro­duced just 137 cars be­fore re­al­is­ing the po­ten­tial – and eco­nomic ne­ces­sity – of the pro­duc­tion sports car. “These are re­ally hand­made lit­tle jew­els,” the owner re­calls. “Only 21 were made with the Alle­mano body, 15 are left and no two are alike.”

He should know: he owns two of them. These in­cred­i­ble cul­tural arte­facts have been in his pos­ses­sion since 2007 and in his heart much longer; bought from the same col­lec­tor who beat him at auc­tion when he was just 24. “Twelve years later the stars aligned,” he re­calls. “The col­lec­tor needed some money and I was in the right place and the right time.”

The GT – Gran Tur­ismo, or grand tourer – was de­signed for well-to-do gen­tle­men (‘whose over­coats are lined with cash­mere,’ as Maserati’s his­tory books dis­cretely de­scribe them) who liked to cruise the Con­ti­nent in lux­ury, style and – nat­u­rally – at speed. The Maserati A6G was con­sid­ered the finest han­dling car in the world at the time. “It’s lusso com­bined with a full­com­pe­ti­tion en­gine,” says the col­lec­tor. “This is ef­fec­tively a rac­ing car com­plete with a gen­tle­man’s car­riage.”

More than a badge, the Maserati tri­dent hon­ours Bologna with its statue of King Nep­tune where the Maserati brothers’ jour­ney be­gan in 1914. The tri­dent can’t help but con­jure a dev­il­ish streak, brought to life most acutely as you shift be­tween first and sec­ond gear. “A so­phis­ti­cated, wealthy gen­tle­man was not go­ing to want a trac­tor to drive around. He wants that fire, that pedi­gree”. The A6G presents an el­e­gant and time­less de­sign sig­na­ture that was lever­aged by As­ton Martin and a num­ber of other coach builders in the years that fol­lowed. It was in­deed ahead of its time.

So what does a col­lec­tor of (cur­rently half a dozen) ex­cep­tion­ally fine Ital­ian au­to­mo­biles look for? Pedi­gree is one thing. “This is a piece of his­tory. Maserati’s very first Gran Tur­ismo. The own­ers of Maserati would have driven this very car. It would have been tested by fac­tory rac­ers. The A6G is a fu­sion of com­pe­ti­tion pedi­gree and the most re­solved de­sign think­ing of the pe­riod. Finely tuned over two years, be­tween the leg­endary Fan­gio’s wins in 1954 and af­ter he won races in the 300S. This is as pure an ex­pres­sion of the time as you’re likely to find.”

But as with many col­lec­tors, there is a strong per­sonal at­tach­ment driv­ing their pas­sion. In this case, one tinged with poignancy. “My her­itage is Ital­ian and I’m very pas­sion­ate about Ital­ian de­sign.”

He con­fides that he still re­mem­bers his first drive in an Alfa Romeo at the age of two. His fa­ther died when he was four. “I’m very much my fa­ther’s son, but I had to learn the hard way. Grow­ing up with­out a fa­ther was very chal­leng­ing, be­ing true to your­self and not ac­tu­ally hav­ing the road mapped out for you.”

That Ital­ian her­itage gave him strength as a young man, he re­calls. To­day he re­turns to Italy on busi­ness many times a year and reg­u­larly drives the A6G in famed races such as the Mille Miglia.

As we over­take through traf­fic and wind around the bay, two things are no­tice­able: the en­gine’s ea­ger growl and the pub­lic’s ap­pre­ci­a­tion and turn­ing heads.

As we drive he re­calls a de­cid­edly grander tour he un­der­took with his wife. “We were in Italy for the Sil­ver Flag race and were to at­tend a black-tie din­ner be­ing held un­der the stars in the mid­dle of a 600 year old pi­azza. The A6G was one of the cars to be put on dis­play. Roar­ing through the hills of Italy from our ho­tel 30kms away, it was delightful to see so many gen­er­a­tions of Ital­ians com­ing out of the cafes, tip­ping their hats and smil­ing as we drove by. The Ital­ians recog­nise that the car is part of their his­tory, they ap­pre­ci­ate its beauty and de­sign and they are very proud of it. It’s very hum­bling to be a cus­to­dian of that kind of ob­ject.

“Quite sim­ply, they were the best en­gi­neered cars in the world, the most beau­ti­ful. They were works of art and they were the most suc­cess­ful. The A6G is very much func­tional art. It has an ‘X’ fac­tor that you sim­ply can’t quan­tify. Each has a bur­den of his­tory and each of­fers a unique way of see­ing the world. A way of recog­nis­ing the pas­sion of a cul­ture and re­spect­ing what was ac­com­plished.

“It’s not just about a badge, it’s about an idea of lux­ury and the cul­ture that sits be­hind it. It’s about a unique and iden­ti­fi­able DNA. Sim­i­lar to what draws some­one to­ward a made to mea­sure suit as op­posed to some­thing off the rack per­haps. It’s the way it is made, the ar­ti­san­ship in­vested, the knowl­edge be­hind each de­tail, the ma­te­ri­als, the way it feels and the ex­pe­ri­ence de­rived from it.

Since re­turn­ing to Italy af­ter sev­eral own­er­ship changes – Citroen, Chrysler and now Fiat – Maserati is un­der­go­ing one of the great con­tem­po­rary de­sign re­nais­sances. One hun­dred years af­ter the Maserati brothers founded the mar­que, it’s en­joy­ing an era of pro­duc­tion suc­cess that might al­most match its il­lus­tri­ous rac­ing his­tory.

In­deed when the Pin­in­fa­rina de­sign­ers took on the task of re­design­ing Maserati in 2007 they looked to the 1950s, tap­ping into the dy­namism of the long, ebbing and flow­ing fend­ers of the 450S and the A6GCS.

Now Maserati’s de­sign has been brought in-house, with for­mer Pin­in­fa­rina de­signer Lorenzo Ra­ma­ciotti at the helm. “I be­lieve a lot in im­print­ing,” Ra­ma­ciotti says, echo­ing our col­lec­tor’s sen­ti­ments about recog­nis­ing prove­nance and au­then­tic de­sign sig­na­tures. De­spite the Maserati de­sign cen­tre hav­ing four­teen na­tion­al­i­ties rep­re­sented within its bor­ders, Ra­ma­ciotti says “The phi­los­o­phy of a com­pany is wo­ven into its en­vi­ron­ment. To­day, Ital­ian de­sign, more than a pass­port, is a state of mind.”

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