This week Maserati celebrates its centenary. We look back at the fruitful, and at times turbulent, history of the luxury Italian car firm
2 December 2014

The car maker that emphasises ‘Excellence Through Passion’ was born on December 1 1914, in Bologna, when the Maserati brothers Alfieri, Bindo, Ettore and Ernesto began building racing cars and making spark plugs. 

In 1926, Maserati produced its first car – the Tipo 26 – which scored a victory on its racing debut in the 1926 Targa Florio. It was around this time that another Maserati brother, Mario, an artist, created Maserati’s trident emblem – based on the Fountain of Neptune in Bologna. Six years later however, tragedy struck when Alfieri Maserati died from liver complications.

Alfieri would later be honoured with the reveal of the Alfieri sports car concept at the Geneva motor show in March of this year.

Despite the tragic setback, Bindo, Ettore and Ernesto continued to build racing cars until 1937, when they sold their shares in the company to the Adolfo Orsi family.

Orsi demanded the firm be relocated to Modena (where it remains today), while allowing the Maserati brothers to continue working in engineering roles within the company. Further racing successes followed, with the Maserati 8CTF winning the 1939 and 1940 Indianapolis 500. 

During the Second World War, the Maserati brothers focused their attentions on building spark plugs and other components for the Italian war effort.

Towards the end of the war, key engineers from Fiat and Alfa Romeo were brought in by Orsi, further ruffling the Maserati brothers’ feathers and essentially side-lining them. In 1947 they walked out of the company they had founded, going on to launch the OSCA Italian sports car company.

Shortly after their exit, Adolfo Orsi began signing off such road-going projects including the Maserati 4CLT, 8CLT, A6-series and the iconic A6GS. In 1954, the Italian company launched the Maserati 250F racing car to compete in Formula One.

Powered by a 2.5-litre straight-six engine firing out 270bhp at 8,000rpm and capable of 180mph, it propelled the legendary Argentinian racer Juan Manuel Fangio during the first half of the 1954 season and his entire 1957 drivers’ World Championship season.

After the 1957 Mille Miglia Guidizzolo tragedy, during which driver Alfonso de Portago died, Maserati pulled out of racing altogether and immersed itself in producing luxury road cars. This era proved to be a golden period for the Italian manufacturer, with the creation of the 3500GT that year, the V8-powered 5000 in 1959 and the Vignale-bodied Sebring three years later.

In 1963, the Mistral 2+2 coupé and spider were launched along with the company’s first four-door car – the Quattroporte – the latter two cars designed by Pietro Frua.

The stunning Maserati Ghibli two-seater coupé made its debut in 1967, while the Ghibli Spider was unveiled two years later. It featured a 330bhp 4.7-litre V8 up front and could sprint from 0-60mph in 6.8sec and on to a top speed of 154mph.

After a financial deal between Adolfo Orsi and General Peron of Argentina went sour in the late-1950s, the Italian banks began to put heat on Maserati’s assets. The new models throughout the 1960s were profitable enough to keep the creditors at bay, but time was running out for Maserati.

In 1967 it became apparent that Citroën was interested in building a flagship GT car with Maserati, and so in December 1967 Orsi sold a 60 per cent share in Maserati to the French carmaker – with Citroën acquiring Maserati outright by 1971.

The partnership resulted in cars like the Merak, Khamsin and Bora, but when Citroën sales were hit hard by the 1973 oil crisis, officials lost patience with the profit-dwindling Italian car firm. Under French ownership, employee numbers had inflated from 300 employees in 1968 to 900 in 1974, but productivity had fallen from 600 to 500 cars per year. In May 1975, Citroën declared Maserati bankrupt. 

Three months later, Alejandro De Tomaso bought a 30 per cent share in the company with the help of public holding company GEPI. De Tomaso cut senior management and the workforce by half and set about launching new models in the form of the Maserati Kyalami, Quattroporte III, Biturbo and Ghibli II.

During the 1980s, focus shifted away from mid-engined sports cars to more affordable boxy-styled, front-engine, rear-wheel-drive coupes. The Biturbo was a BMW 3-series rivalling 200bhp V6 available as a coupe or saloon and could hit over 130mph. However, reviews declared that development was too hasty and it was poorly made.

Maserati reached arguably its lowest ebb in 1989, with the ‘Chrysler TC by Maserati’ – essentially a re-badged Dodge Daytona marrying a Chrysler body with a Maserati engine – the motoring press at the time describing it as “taking the worst from each partner.”

In 1993 Alejandro De Tomaso suffered a stroke and sold his 51 per cent share in Maserati to Fiat, with considerable investment ploughed into Maserati by the Italian company.

Under Fiat’s reign, the Maserati 3200GT was launched in 1998, proving to be a turning point and injecting Maserati with much-needed integrity that it severely lacked. Fiat later sold a 50 per cent share to Ferrari, who later took full control, making Maserati its luxury division. 

In 2004, the Maserati MC12 supercar was revealed. Designed and built on the same chassis as Ferrari's Enzo, it was developed to signal Maserati’s return to racing after 37 years. Power came from a Ferrari-derived 6.0-litre V12 engine with 620bhp at 7500rpm, via a six-speed semi-automatic transmission. The MC12 was good for 0-62mph in 3.8sec and a top speed of 205mph. Only 55 examples were made.

That same year, the fifth-generation Maserati Quattroporte was released, powered by the same 395bhp 4.2-litre V8 unit from the 4200GT and GranTurismo. A year later, Ferrari gave up the company to Alfa Romeo under Fiat Auto and in 2007 Maserati turned a profit for the first time in 17 years under Fiat Group ownership.

Maserati is today preparing for its next round of new model launches. The firm's first ever SUV, the Levante, is due to go on sale at the end of next year, and has recently been spotted testing. It'll be followed in 2016 by a production version of the Alfieri sports car, which will arrive in both coupé and convertible forms. A replacement for the current Granturismo is planned for 2018.

Aaron Smith

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Comments
6

21 December 2013
As I was pleasuring myself perusing over your photographic tribute to Maserati, everything came to a grinding halt as I saw the Lamborghini Uracco being labeled as a Kyalami! I know its a rare car, and more car fans know what the head of MI5 looks like than this car, but in the age of Google Search, surely its not too much to ask for the rectification of this mistake to be my Christmas wish? (After all its the only Maserati I own)

alfie

289

21 December 2013
Yeh Alfie, unfortunately Autocar has got previous - they are crap at this sort of pictorial look back at a famous marque. They always get it wrong.
You would think that although they probably get some junior to put this together, who's knowledge of classic cars doesn't even reach back to a Pug 205...he/she would at least have the nous to Google something if he wasn't sure.
They also have a picture of a Kyalami labelled as an Indiy...and two more different cars would be hard to imagine!
If Autocar are going to do these look backs, they owe it to themselves with their long industry history, to get it right. I have told them before, its sloppy work, as can be seen by the high proportion of later model images.

2 December 2014
Rather than Massa be better MAAFIA

"After a financial deal between Adolfo Orsi and General Peron of Argentina went sour in the late-1950s, the Italian banks began to put heat on Maserati’s assets"

Amazing how car manufacturers get themselves into such financial swindles.- reminds me of an Irish situation .....

what's life without imagination

2 December 2014
...a picture of the Mexico - basically a two-door quattroporte but much prettier - and also a Shamal. And, as 289 said, image 31 is not an Indy.


2 December 2014
Need a picture of the Birdcage 75th concept. Beautiful car.

2 December 2014
It's a shame the image quality is generally very poor.
I could have provided far better from my own photographic archive!

it's not how fast you get there, rather where you are going!

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