The As­phalt Jun­gle

Automobile - - Contents - By Arthur St. An­toine

The bril­liant sim­plic­ity of a Maserati brings about a change.

IN MY CA­REER, while be­hind the steer­ing wheels of automobiles of ev­ery type and color, I have ex­pe­ri­enced mo­ments of joy too nu­mer­ous to count. Usu­ally I am alone, free to fo­cus on the charisma of the ma­chine and the splen­dor of the pass­ing land­scape as I think to my­self, “This is why I love cars.”

There was the time I pi­loted a Lam­borgh­ini Aven­ta­dor Road­ster, roof off and cock­pit open to the cobalt sky above, up Go­ing-to-the-Sun Road in Mon­tana’s Glacier Na­tional Park, the nar­row twolane wrig­gling against a per­ilous drop-off, snow­dusted moun­tains ris­ing nearby and be­yond, the V-12 be­hind me purring with muted power and primed—at the slight­est touch of my right foot—to ex­plode in mech­a­nized fury. The week I spent driv­ing a Dodge Chal­lenger R/T through the Amer­i­can South­west, just me and the Hemi V-8 and the rush of warm desert air as we dis­cov­ered land­locked salt­wa­ter seas, end­less dunes of pure white sand, and Trin­ity, the de­liv­ery room of the world’s first atomic bomb. The af­ter­noon on Cal­i­for­nia’s High­way 1 at the helm of Reeves Call­away’s open-cock­pit C16 Speed­ster, fresh from its Con­cept Lawn de­but at the 2007 Peb­ble Beach Con­cours d’El­e­gance, me the first out­sider to don one of the car’s two paint-matched Stand 21 hel­mets and take the 700-horse­power su­per­charged beast out for a romp, no wind­shield to fil­ter the view, no mo­torist im­mune to the shock of spy­ing the sil­ver UFO with the ex­posed, hel­meted alien fast ap­proach­ing in the op­po­site lane.

All of those and more were joy­ous ex­pe­ri­ences, yes, but a slow burn, the kind of hap­pi­ness you feel on a per­fect af­ter­noon at the beach or dur­ing an af­ter­noon bar­be­cue with friends and fam­ily, the steaks rare and the beers cold and the con­ver­sa­tion warm-hearted.

But re­cently I drove a 2018 Maserati GranTurismo Con­vert­ible Sport. Al­though I can­not be cer­tain why, I felt a shock of emo­tion I have felt on only a hand­ful of oc­ca­sions in my life, all of them 40 years ago. Call it what you will— bliss, rap­ture, an epiphany. One af­ter­noon in the Maser, seem­ingly from out of nowhere, it struck me. It changed me, too.

The last time I ex­pe­ri­enced any­thing like it was back in col­lege. Dur­ing my sopho­more year at the Univer­sity of Michi­gan, I lived alone in a small top-floor dorm room over­look­ing one of the school’s sports fields with the main cam­pus build­ings be­yond. I had a rou­tine. With classes done for the day, I’d hit the dorm’s din­ing hall early, the bet­ter to avoid the din­ner crowds and, more im­por­tant, to catch the evening’s spe­cial lasagna be­fore it con­gealed too much. Af­ter­ward, back in my room, I’d grind some fresh cof­fee beans (be­fore the Star­bucks in­va­sion, only a few spe­cialty stores in Ann Arbor sold them) and brew up a small carafe in my lit­tle Krups ma­chine. Suit­ably en­er­gized, I’d don gloves and a down parka (it was al­ways dark and al­ways cold) and head back to cam­pus for a walk in the crisp win­ter twi­light. And on a few nights, whether it was the caf­feine or the or­ange and ice-blue of the dusky sky or the etch of a cres­cent moon above or just be­ing young and hav­ing every­thing in front of me, I’d feel, as I walked through the chill of the com­ing night, a wave of ela­tion. Ab­so­lute peace. A con­tent­ment where I had no wor­ries and no­ticed beauty all around me. I felt hard-wired to the earth, as if things were sud­denly clear to me. It couldn’t last, of course, not with pa­pers to write and ex­ams to take and the re­spon­si­bil­i­ties of adult­hood soon to shoul­der. But in those few pre­cious mo­ments on those rare win­ter evenings, I felt … bliss.

The GranTurismo Con­vert­ible is hardly a new au­to­mo­bile, hav­ing served as the flag­ship of Maserati’s range since its in­tro­duc­tion way back in 2007. Changes in the en­su­ing years have been mostly cos­metic (a small nod to moder­nity is


the Fiat Chrysler-sourced 8.4-inch color touch­screen). The 4.7-liter nat­u­rally as­pi­rated V-8, mak­ing 454 horse­power at 7,000 rpm, is based on the en­gine used in the Fer­rari 360 Mo­dena—from 1999! The gear­box is not a cut­tingedge dual-clutch de­sign but rather a gen­tri­fied six-speed au­to­matic (it does have shift pad­dles, though). As if to drive home the “time­less­ness” of this $165,000 rag­top, to start the en­gine you ac­tu­ally have to twist a key in the ig­ni­tion. To any­one who has grown up believ­ing smart­phones have al­ways ex­isted, the GranTurismo will seem as pri­mor­dial as a Tyran­nosaurus rex.

Dated, per­haps, but this sen­su­ous Maserati is ex­pres­sive and thrilling in ways that far faster, far more mod­ern sport­ing automobiles sim­ply aren’t. The car is as “dig­i­tal” as an anvil. That is not a crit­i­cism. In­stead, the GranTurismo’s ana­log essence comes through to your fin­ger­tips un­fil­tered and unapologetic. (The steer­ing isn’t even elec­tron­i­cally boosted.) The V-8, un­muted by tur­bos, sim­ply howls with pas­sion and power. Just lis­ten­ing to the Fer­rari-sourced pow­er­house for a half-hour could lift the pall from the worst of bad days.

I spent a mem­o­rable af­ter­noon hurl­ing the GranTurismo around my fa­vorite moun­tain two-lanes in Mal­ibu, the top folded away, the ex­haust play­ing a 32-valve aria as I flipped the shift pad­dles up and down through the gear­box. For an old chas­sis, the GranTurismo proved re­mark­ably solid and quiver-free—es­pe­cially given the lack of a roof struc­ture. It even sticks well, charg­ing hard through cor­ners de­spite its tour­ing na­ture and 4,300 pounds. This is sports car driv­ing the way it used to be, with no sense that com­put­ers are do­ing much of the work for you, the con­nec­tion be­tween you and the ma­chine pal­pa­ble and en­chant­ing.

And then it hap­pened. I was driv­ing home along Pa­cific Coast High­way, the sun warm on my face, the ocean to my right sparkling green and blue and break­ing gen­tly on the shore. The Maserati’s V-8 was alive with the cho­rus of whirling valves and cams and rods, the ra­dio play­ing one per­fect tune af­ter the other—Spring­steen, Seger, the Stones, War­ren Zevon. I ex­pected noth­ing more than to sa­vor my good for­tune at be­ing able to drive this car in the here and now. But sud­denly, as if a spigot had opened in­side me, I felt flooded by a eu­pho­ria I hadn’t felt since those long-ago mo­ments out amid the Michi­gan win­ter dusk. Briefly, in­tensely, every­thing was right and at peace and I had not a care in the world. I had no thoughts of bills or dead­lines or the world’s in­jus­tices or all the things I’d done wrong up to now. Once again I felt that ac­cord with the earth, as if I un­der­stood with­out know­ing what or why. I was so over­come I al­most pulled over, but in­stead I kept driv­ing, hop­ing the feel­ing would con­tinue. It did.

When I got home, be­fore I’d ut­tered a word, my wife and daugh­ter said al­most in uni­son, “You look dif­fer­ent.” They could see it, and I was. In a beau­ti­ful car, I’d felt that elu­sive bliss I’d thought lost to a mo­ment in time. And now I could hope that some­day, if I were lucky, it might come again. AM

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