Starting out with racing cars, Maserati evolved into production sports cars in the 1950s, becoming one of the principal manufacturers of that breed. Several ownership changes took place along the way, and by the 1980s, few Maseratis were reaching America. Then, after the company was bought by Ferrari, a resurgence of interest began to develop.
Early in the 20th century, the Maserati brothers in Italy took an interest in automobiles, but solely for competition. That’s what made the Maserati name familiar.
Three of the brothers–Alfieri, Bindo, and Ettore–founded a company in 1914 at Bologna, to tune Isotta racing cars. During World War One, the trio also manufactured spark plugs. By 1919, Alfieri had opened a garage, and the brothers built a four-cylinder racecar.
Not until 1926 did the brothers form a company under their surname. For an insignia, they chose Neptune’s trident, which was the symbol of Bologna. During the 1930s, until war intervened, the Maseratis issued only racecars, plus a handful of semi-roadgoing models. In 1938, the Maseratis sold their interest in the company to a firm headed by industrialist Adolfo Orsi, which prompted a move from Bologna to nearby Modena.
After the war, the brothers formed another company, O.S.C.A. Maserati, but postwar automobiles had no connection to the Maserati family. Instead, the original company–controlled by Orsi–chose to produce both racing and road cars (but not many of the latter, for the next decade).
A production car that evolved from the A6/1500 racer went on sale in 1948, remaining on the market until 1957. In that year, famed driver Juan Manuel Fangio won the World Championship in a Maserati. But tragic accidents at the Venezuelan Grand Prix brought official competition to a halt. So, Maserati turned to sports-racing cars and GT (Grand Touring) models.
Serious road-car production began with the 3500GT, augmented by a few 5000GT models with V-8 engines. Maserati fans will recognize some of the other model names that emerged during the Sixties, including Sebring, Mistral, Mexico, and Ghibli, followed later by Bora and Khamsin. After dropping the traditional inline six-cylinder engine and the Quattroporte sedan by 1970, Orsi sold his interest. In 1968, Maserati had joined with Citroen (of France) to build an engine, which resulted in the Citroen SM of the 1970s.
By 1975, Peugeot controlled the Citroen company, and intended to discontinue Maserati. Instead, Alejandro de Tomaso took a 30-percent interest and added a Kyalami coupe to the product list.
In 1979, Maserati revived a Quattroporte sedan. Three years later, a Biturbo model–breathing with the aid of twin turbochargers–joined the group. Later in the 1980s, Chrysler and Maserati entered into a joint venture to produce Chrysler’s TC by Maserati.
That joint-venture convertible was the only Maserati-related automobile available to U.S. buyers, until a brand-new Spyder appeared for the 2002 season. Styling was credited to Italdesign-Giugiaro, a top Italian design firm, and Ferrari handled marketing in the U.S. The Spyder’s 4.2-liter V-8 developed 390 horsepower, and was available with a four-mode Cambicorsa gearbox. A four-passenger Coupe GT followed in 2003.
A year later, another Quattroporte sedan bore the Maserati emblem, designed by Pininfarina. The new luxury sedan blended Italian style and elegance with sporty driving characteristics–no surprise from a company with such an extensive sports-car and racing heritage. Maserati described the Quattroporte as “contemporary Italian art,” combined with “a sporty temperament.”
Modern-day Maseratis continue to entice sports-car and luxury-sedan shoppers with plenty of dollars to spend, and crave the company’s carefully-crafted blend of sensuous styling and vivacious road performance. Current sports cars might not match more exotic Ferraris, but they cost a lot less; and the sport-luxury Quattroporte is almost in a class by itself.