Trident Tales: The Maserati Marque

Cars

Illustration Oscar Wilson/Influx
written by Chris Nelson

The flames rage, dancing from white to yellow to furious crimson. In the blink of a startled eye, a ball of heat engulfs the red Ferrari, reaching from below to grasp the open two-seater in blazing, clawing fingers. Scarletti leaps free and is instantly wrapped in the coat of a quick thinking mechanic, smoke spills across the straight as cars pour headlong into the white shroud.

At that same moment, on the far side of the 14 mile Nurburgring circuit, a squat white car drops into the banked curve of the Karussell, compressing as it arcs through the slingshot. Sterling Moss feathers the throttle as the Maserati momentarily unweights on the exit, before it squats down and bites, the fierce three litre engine propelling the feather-light Tipo 61 ‘Birdcage’ onto the open tarmac and into the long right-hand uphill curve, peripheries transformed to a blur of green once more.

Carnally hunkered like a mantis: The Tipo 61 Birdcage is a monster...
Carnally hunkered like a mantis: The Tipo 61 Birdcage is a monster…

Here is an era when lives and races balanced on a knife-edge, and the oil strained tarmac produced some of our most enigmatic stars and iconic designs – an era when Maserati stood as a titan. 1960 saw Moss claim his second Nurburgring win for the trident crest by a clear 4 minutes. His first had been in the dazzling 300S – a sleek, modern design with art deco influences that spoke of movement, even when standing still. Flowing curves, fluid lines and polished alloy side vents – it was a ‘proto-E-Type’ in looks and Ferrari beating in speed. Moss’s Birdcage may have lacked the sophisticated lines and classic good looks of its predecessor, but it was no less dominant. At rest it sits like a big cat waiting to pounce, wheels seemingly out of scale in its low slung body. But in the hands of Moss it was untouchable.

The elegant internals of the 300s
The elegant internals of the 300s

Maserati as a marque has lived a life steeped in glory and infused with the kind of intrigue and betrayal that would rival any Hollywood grandee or royal court. It is a story of humble origins, noble aspirations and villainous capitalists. Here is a tale of fiery Italian industrial strife, fiscal disasters, infused with Gallic flair, with plot twists tied to the overthrow of a south American dictator, a freefall from grace and ultimately, like the best dramas, redemption. At its towering heights, during that golden era of the 1950’s when Lancia was the choice of playboys and glamorous actors, Maserati stood apart as the marque of sultans and kings. The legendary A6G bloodline of spiders and berlinettas scored landmark track wins. This series of light alloy bodied cars were designed for gentleman racers and clothed by the finest carrozzerias in the land; these were the true supermodels of their time.

The A6G Berlinetta; made for gentlemen racers...
The A6G Berlinetta; made for gentlemen racers…

It would be easy to get lost in the drama of it all, were it not for the cars. Here is a marque born out of a primordial passion for motor racing and one that has evolved through its many metamorphoses. You’ll not find a trace of the subtle generational Darwinian gradualism so aptly demonstrated in the genetic code of the Porsche family tree. This is a tale of the punctuated change espoused by Eldredge and Gould – sudden jumps that have seen progeny transformed. The exquisite, race refined A6G begat the brutish 5000GT so beloved of the Shah of Persia, the crisp clean Khamsin lead to the cheap and frail Bi Turbo, before finally rising from the ashes as the 3200, delivered under current owners Fiat. Through it all, the Maserati name remained infused with the DNA of the founding brothers – Alfieri, Bindo, Ernesto and Ettore, and their drive to build and race.

The Khamsin: classic early seventies Bertone-ism
The Khamsin: classic early seventies Bertone-ism

In Italy the winds are heralds of great change, revered for their power and ferocity. It’s fitting then that Maserati harnessed their monikers for many of their offspring; the subtle Mistral, the glorious Ghibli, the futuristic Khamsin and hooligan Shamal. The Bora roars out the mountains, a devastating airstream that sends temperatures plunging, frosting the landscape with ice and driving seas into a fury. Maserati’s Bora was a radical departure from the front-engined Ghibli. It blew in a new era of car design; mid-engined, flat lines in the new folded envelope style of the Carabo, Manta and Iguana. This was a brief, yet heady period as design ran rampant and boundaries dissolved, a tiny window before the chill winds of the 1973 oil crisis gave everyone the flu. As a first offering from new owners Citroen, the Bora was a pure Italian supercar, sprinkled with Gallic technology. It screamed futuristic promise, whilst whispering darkly of the ghost in the machine.

1961_Maserati_5000_GT_coupé_005_8787

That Maserati survives at all stands not only as a testament to Italian determination, but also the momentum and drive that the flagship 5000GT generated. Maserati stamped its foot to the floor with this super exclusive 5 litre, 170 mph sports car and sheer torque dragged the company out of the fifties, and propelled it through the depths of the eighties, into the light again. Here is a marque powered by the latent energy of history. More exclusive than Ferrari, less obvious than Lamborghini, more daring than Porsche, its name alone still carries the ability to stir the soul.

CLICK TO ENLARGE