Maserati Tipo 60 Birdcage Carrozzeria Allegretti & Gentilini, Modena 12 May 1959 Prototipo Maserati Tipo 60 Birdcage Carrozzeria Allegretti & Gentilini with Fantuzzi, Moss, Alfieri & Bertocchi, Modena 12 May 1959

Maserati Motor Cars

Il Tridente di Bologna

There were once six brothers in Italy who were artists. Their name was Maserati. One, Mario, worked with paints and canvas. The others made things out of metal.

Fine things with fine engines in them that won races and the respect of all men who admire artistry no matter what form it may take.

Of the five mechanically inclined brothers - Carlo, Bindo, Alfieri, Ettore, and Ernesto - three are still making cars as though they were making watches.

Bindo, Ernesto, and Ettore, however, no longer make the car that bears the family name. They work in Bologna in their hospital-clean, uncluttered shop, building a car called the O.S.C.A., which stands for Officine Specializzate Costruzioni Automobili.

Maserati Tipo 26. Targa Florio
Maserati Tipo 26. Targa Florio

Their neat little machines have won class awards in many of the world's races. At times, certain models are in great demand, particularly by Americans who want to race them in club events; but often impatient buyer: go elsewhere rather than wait for the fratelli Maserati to decide that a car is really finished.

The customer is always satisfied with less than it takes to satisfy a Maserati brother. Their motto seems to be: never make anything by machine that a fine hand and eye can create. It might take longer, it might not even be noticeably better, but that is the way the Maserati brothers work.

But this article is really not about the Maserati brothers, although a fascinating study they would make; it is about the company they started and the cars that now bear their name and sport the trident as a trade-mark.

Maserati is the only marque that has ever been noticeably successful in both track racing and road racing. Twice it won at Indianapolis and has won at such roads circuits as Sebring, the Nurburgring and the Targa Florio. And, as befits an engine bearing Neptune's trident for a brand, Maserati has also set racing records on the water. But that is getting ahead of the story.

Ettore, Bindo, Ernesto & Alfieri II Maserati. Modena 1931
Ettore, Bindo, Ernesto & Alfieri II Maserati. Modena 1931

Let's go back to the Maserati boys and the eldest, Carlo, who from childhood delighted in constructing things. His first job was in a bicycle factory and his first engine, built in 1898 was intended to propel a bicycle.

He worked for Fiat for a while and for other firms as an engineer and designer. He was a race driver as early as 1900. He was interested in making things go fast, and he was working on an engine for airplanes when he died at an early age.

Alfieri, the third brother, followed in Carlo's path as an Engineer and a racing driver. Ettore and Ernesto were also drivers and soon, with Bindo, they had grouped toghether in Bologna to build cars for racing.

Their first triumph was a car that won its class in the 1925 Targa Florio, driven by Alfieri Maserati and Guerrino Bertocchi. Bertocchi has been so closely connected with Maserati that he is almost another member of the family.

Maserati Tipo 8CL, Modena Factory 1948
Maserati Tipo 8CL, Modena Factory 1948

The Maserati brothers shared the faults of many artists - they were not very good at business. And their insistence upon doing a job right instead of just allright was not the fastest way to financial success. They needed outside assistance, and Commendatore Adolfo Orsi provided it.

In 1937, the factory was moved to Modena, a town some thirty miles from Bologna, which was one day to become the luxury-car capital of Italy.

Ferrari is also located near Modena. Maserati was building mostly race cars - particularly there was a 1500 c.c. dual-supercharged engine and a three-liter in-line eight-cylinder engine, also with double-supercharging.

The latter revised by Bindo, managed to produce 420 horsepower. This engine in a chassis with independent front suspension, was driven to victory at Indianapolis by Wilbur Shaw in both 1939 and 1940.

Maserati Corse
Maserati Corse

Luigi Villoresi, at one time Italy's champion, placed third at an Indianapolis 500 in a Maserati even though magneto trouble lost him time.

In the period before the second World War, the Orsis gained complete control of the Maserati factory and in 1947 the Maseratis left, going back to Bologna to found O.S.C.A.

The Maserati company survived the war. Perhaps surviving the postwar period was even more difficult for a business like Maserati. Bologna and Modena - in fact, the entire province of Emilia - were strongly communist, and still are.

Although the party has now fattened out into a comfortable, middle-aged sort of communism that elects mayors and once in a while organizes a spontaneous demonstration, but still enjoys the very real prosperity that has swept northern Italy.

Maserati Factory Engine Assembly, Modena 1956
Maserati Factory Engine Assembly, Modena 1956

As Maserati got back into racing, it found that its rear neighbour, Ferrari, was a chief competitor in both sports-racing car and single-seated Grand Prix cars. There were many close battles fought between the red-for-Italy cars.

Maserati had on its roster a number of the world's best drivers. Stirling Moss got his start in Continental racing mounted on his own Maserati and he later joined the factory team. Juan Manuel Fangio won his last of many world championships driving for Maserati. That was in 1957.

Actually, 1957 was both a good and a bad year for the trident. Fangio won the driving crown in the Grand Prix Maserati. The sports-racing car team, with both a three-liter design and a new, promising 4.5 liter one, was faring quite well against the Ferrari.

Which marque from Modena had the title remained to be settled at the last race of the season at Caracas Venezuela, in November. If the Maserati team cars could pull out a victory, the constructors championship would also go to the trident.

Maserati Corse Tipo 250F, Grand Prix, Pau, France, 1956
Maserati Corse Tipo 250F, Grand Prix, Pau, France, 1956

But disaster struck. One car was up-ended in the first lap. Another crashed and burned most dramatically. Still another collided with a lamp post. And so it went. Fortunately, there were no lasting injuries to the drivers, but Ferrari finished 1-2-3 and won the title.

The experience at Caracas was enough for Maserati. Not only had it lost the race and a number of cars, but the rules for racing the next year had been changed so that there was a three-liter limit on sports-car engines, ruling out the development of the 4.5 liter car. The factory quit racing.

Not since then has Maserati officially raced, but that does not mean that the engineers were not working on new ideas, developing new engines; or that the factory did not assist private individuals who raced Maseratis. It did, and still does.

At the Grand Prix of France at Rheims, in July 1957 one champion was getting his start - and in a Maserati too, the American Phil Hill. Five years later, in the season of 1961, Phil became the first American to win the world driving championship.

In 1959, Maserati came up with a startlingly new automobile that went like the wind. It was a sports-racing car affectionately known as the "Bird-cage". It is so called because its frame is made up of many thin little tubes all welded together in a cave effect.

In its front-engined version, the Birdcage was probably the ugliest car even seen on the racing circuits of the world - that is, until the rear-engined Birdcage came along.

The car is now in several versions - the Type 60 Birdcage, which is a two-liter car; the Type 61, which is a three liter; and the Type 53, which is the rear-engined three-liter car.

Another independent team, Camoradi, headed by the American, Lucky Casner, also had some good luck in racing Maseratis. Twice in a row - 1960 and 1961 a Camoradi Birdcage won the tough 1,000 kilometers race at Nurburgring.

Maserati also has built an engine for the Formula I Grand Prix car. It is a 3000 c.c., V-12 which gives 365 Bhp with tiny little pistons, Lucas Fuel injection and an amazing flexibility.

The Maseratis for the road, the Gran Turismo cars, are a far cry from the humpy racing Birdcage. Sleek bodies by Frua and Vignale house either a 3.5, 3.7, 4, 4.2 or five-liter engine. The cars come with a choice of either carburetors or fuel injection and either wire wheels or disc.

All the GT Maseratis have a five-speed gearbox. And they all go very fast very smoothly, handle like well-behaved cars should, and stop with disc brakes. That's all you see now in Italy. Everyone's driving a Maserati.

The first Maserati production was the 3500 GT which first appeared in 1957. Bodies were by Allemano and Carrozzeria Touring and about 100 were built in 1959.

Development on this model included the adoption of Girling disc brakes and in 1962 Lucas Fuel Injection was added and Maserati became the first Italian manufacturer to offer fuel injection on a production car: then came the two seater Sebring, a luxury car with Vignale body; four headlamps and Borrani knock-on-wheels.

At the 1963 Turin Motorshow Maserati exhibited two new models, the Maserati Mistral drophead coupe by Frua and the Quattroporte by Bertone; a four-door, four-seater saloon with top speed of about 130 mph.

1966 saw the superbly elegant 174 mph Ghibli designed by Giugiaro and built by Ghia and at the 1968 Turin show Maserati presented the Simun, a four-seater coupe by Ghia which never went into production. The Indy made its appearance in 1969 and stayed in production until the company collapsed in 1975.

Citroen took over Maserati in 1969 and the SM went into production in 1970. The engine was a Maserati design, a V6 of 2670 cc. with 9 to 1 compression and 180 bhp. Fuel injection, adopted in 1972 increased output to 188.

The Bora mid-engined coupe by Giugiaro went into production in 1970. The engine was a four cam Maserati engine developed by Alfieri and the Merak was derived from the Bora and used the SM V6 engine, increased to 2965 cc.

With the fuel crisis demand for the Citroen SM fell and Peugeot who were now the owners of both Citroen and Maserati decided to close the factories and sack the 800 skilled workers.

Alejandro De Tomaso who had always been a Maserati enthusiast and had raced a 150 S successfully in 1956, decided to try and save Maserati. The Italian Government was also anxious not to let such a famous name die and so with GEPI aid De Tomaso took over the company.

At the end of 1975 control of Maserati passed from Citroen to De Tomaso and GEPI and is now making progress and re-establishing its position as a viable enterprise. Production is about two a day and is on the increase.

The Kyalami goes into production in December and it is hoped that the new Quattroporte by Giugiaro shown at Turin will be made in mid 1977.


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