Classic Maseratis to remember Tazio Nuvolari

Andrea Cittadini drove four historic models and two from the current Maserati range in Nuvolari's stomping grounds.  Photos by Angelo Corradini, Maserati

Certain brand names are appealing because they have a significant history behind them that offers frequent flashbacks and an endless stream of ideas, events, and fascinating details. We had the opportunity to drive four jewels from the Maserati crown dating back to the 1960s: those owned by Orsi, those that made the greatest impact from a point of view of creativity and prestige for this Modena-based company, born of its conquest of the 1957 Formula 1 World Championships and the repeated successes of barchetta sports cars on racing circuits worldwide.

From 1957 onward Maserati created such jewels as the 3500 GT, the first model to be mass produced, followed by the Quattroporte and the Mistral in 1963, all the way up to the Ghibli in 1967. The four cars we tried all belong to collectors, with the exception of the saloon, which is owned by the company itself.

The Maserati GranTurismo Sport and GranCabrio Sport were chosen as supporting players.

The dream venue for this presentation was Mantua: a city whose magnificent historic district continues to bear witness to its glorious past. Giovanni dalle Bande Nere and his untimely death come to mind; as do the Gonzaga and the d'Este dynasties, the latter Dukes of Modena.

It was also in Mantua, more specifically at Castel d'Ario, that one of the greatest drivers in racing history was born: Tazio Nuvolari. The other is Fangio, both of them a cut above the others, with no buts about it. Driving along the highways and by-ways so dear to the "mantovano volante" - or "The Flying Mantuan" - from Mantua to Castel d'Ario and back, makes us feel very lucky indeed.

The route is not particularly long, but often recalls a racetrack. We relive the past and imitate the gestures of legendary figures on their own turf, all while driving cars of inestimable significance and value that have made car racing history. All of this enriches us: not from an economic point of view, but rather culturally and intellectually.  

These are experiences that we will always look back on nostalgically, dampening memories of these disheartening times when we feel as if we are floundering in a sinking economy surrounded by feckless politicians.

With the Maseratis we turn back the clock and it is easy to imagine an intrigued Tazio looking down upon us. He may have even driven these cars himself! We hope that his relics have found a worthy abode with the reopening of the museum: the yellow jersey, his brown leather helmet, the gold tortoise given to him by D'Annunzio...

The car that has captured our attention is the oldest, but also paradoxically the easiest and most enjoyable to drive: the 1961 3500 GT Spyder, a convertible designed by Vignale and attributed to the hand of Giovanni Michelotti. It was the first Italian car to have electrically powered windows as standard equipment. Impeccable in its blue and maroon paint job and leather interior evoke the timeless charm of a cosy parlour. Docile yet passionate in abandoning itself to a drive en plein air.

Even the roominess of this 3500 GT is surprising, especially when compared to today's cars. There are even two emergency seats in the rear. This particular model is one of the last to have a carburettor. Later models have injection engines.

We chew up kilometres on the small improvised track, under the watchful eyes of the monuments to Tazio at Castel d'Ario that seem wonder what our impressions are. There is a life-size figure - even bigger - in bronze by Zangani, the same artist who created the statues of Don Camillo and Peppone in Brescello, already featured in our first issue of KERB in 2012; a mark of continuity for our publication. The other is the old bust, always in bronze, by Menozzi, not far from Nuvolari’s birthplace. He stares curiously as we change cars and climb into the flagship, the Quattroporte designed by Pietro Frua for Vignale, the fastest saloon in the world when it made its debut in 1963.

We had once before driven this delight in the rain at the Guareschi estate, so being able to drive it on dry roads is always a pleasure. In some ways this car is still modern: comfortable, complete, sporty - even ifit is strange for a saloon, but after all it was born of a genetic pool of race cars. Indeed, when the term "flagship" was used, it was not by chance. It can be seen in the details; like the avant-garde dashboard with instruments arranged so that each and every function is clearly and easily found at your fingertips. The Quattroporte 1 and pleasurable driving experience; passengers in the rear sink into totally relaxing seats.

The scenario changes drastically with the Mistral Coupé and its 4,000 cc engine. This is indeed a vehicle for top-notch drivers. The steering wheel is high and harder to turn, the transmission is rougher, and the driving position is different - almost rally-esque I would say - but there is obviously a completely different power and performance, also thanks to the square-tube chassis, which truly make this GT worthy of its name.

A magnificent design by Pietro Frua: one of the most beautiful in the world, even for the third millennium, earning it an instant cult status. The rear-view cupola window opens to access a roomy boot, the spoked wheels feature a large, central, winged nut, the round headlights that stare at you like two eyes... It was also the car that inspired Maserati to use the names of the winds. It was the French importer, Colonel Simon, who suggested this brilliant marketing strategy to the maison. Ever since, all the two-seaters were to bear the names of the winds, while other models became the namesakes of the circuits where Maserati reigned supreme: Sebring, Indy, Mexico, etc. This Mistral was a sports car for the connoisseur! The one we tried had an injection engine, but many owners opt for a carburettor if they use the car only occasionally, to keep maintenance to a minimum.

Finally we arrive at the Ghibli coupé. This is a car that embodies the pure beat and swing of London. Perfect for those who want to make a splash and can afford to do so. This is when the lines of the automobile got longer and longer. Competition between Italian carmanufacturers became more and more ruthless: Ferrari, Lamborghini, Iso Rivolta. The Ghibli was also named after a wind and featured a 4.7 engine from the outset. The performance benchmark was higher, while the driving position was lower and longer, like in the Formula 1 of that time.

The bonnet has two air intakes that allow the engine to breathe and the designer of this vehicle, Giugiaro for Ghia, included pop-up headlights, which could be fashionable even today with just a few added touches. The headlights were a trend found in many 1970s models, even by Gandini. This Ghibli is a real looker, with a particular colour that we would not have expected on this type of car, yet only adds to its appeal.

This custom-model is a real status symbol and also a great drive. It's like being in a padded shell, with the rest of the world outside. Power windows and air conditioning were already part of the package.What can we say about the modern models? The GranTurismo Sport has the enormous advantage of combining the incredible beauty of Pininfarina's splendid design, which always pay tribute to historic models, the comfort of four truly comfortable seats, and the less extreme features of the GranTurismo MC. Of course now there is also a four-seat MC for more-demanding clients who want a stiffer structure and a street version of a race car.

The GranCabrio Sport is a second or third car, perfect for driving from Los Angeles to San Francisco via Malibu Beach and Santa Barbara, or even along the French Riviera. They represent the evolution of the vintage models. The history of the Trident is brimming with exceptional models and, even from a technical point of view, the company founded by the Maserati brothers has always introduced cutting-edge solutions. Somebody should write a book about it. This commitment has never been broken, despite having changed numerous owners. Just consider the V12 racing engine introduced experimentally in 1957that went on to win in 1967 on the Cooper F.1 of Surtees and Rodriguez... Or the research on mechanical injection.

And one more thing has remained unchanged. The driving pleasure afforded by these vehicles. But it's always a question of taste: do we want the analogue versions of yesterday or today's digital ones? What do you think? Mmmm - maybe one of each...

Please deliver them directly to my home!

MASERATI CLASSICHE

Those who have had the opportunity to get to know the world of Maserati over the course of many years including the historical events, the men and the technicians who have come and gone over time, preserve indelible images in their memories. Perhaps even a sense of belonging. We know that the company has a significant historical heritage, jealously guarded for years only by the passion and tenacity of Ermanno Cozza, who was born in 1933 and boasts a 60-year-long career in the company, initially as an employee and later as a consultant and curator of the Historical Archive.

Well Cozza's work has finally come into its own with the creation of Maserati Classiche (Classic Maseratis), where collectors and owners of cars made in Viale Ciro Menotti 322 can find the entire body of knowledge of Maserati. We are speaking of an incredible volume of priceless documents. 100,000 original documents, more than 55,000 drawings and plans from 1926 until today. All drawn by hand on a 1:1 scale as was once done, or in some cases at the drawing board; true works of art if we consider that today this work is done exclusively by computer, even though some great designers still nurture a penchant for pencil and paper. Then there are 8 thousand Bills of Materials, 22 thousand technical specifications, 13 thousand folders on each individual chassis number, old brochures.

There are also reams of correspondence with famous clients. All these documents have been digitized and Cozza, although he continues to show up in the factory, has passed the project on to his disciple Fabio Collina, the new collectors' guru. Important documents, because the value of these historic cars - some of the rarest and more sought-after models - continues to climb. Like gold and silver, they have become a sort of store of value, and having the confirmation of certain details or the guarantee of the truthfulness of information concerning specific models is fundamental, especially in the case of auctions.

But it doesn't end here: in addition to the papers, Maserati Classiche also possesses many models of style, the Fangio steering wheel that won at Nürburgring in 1957, the trophies won over years of racing... From a chassis number, Cozza and Collina are able to expound on the birth, life (death in some cases) and miracles of all the models to come out of the red brick sheds in the centre of Mutina, as the Romans called the town of Modena.

In fact, Maserati Classiche performs the following services: from the certification of authenticity of vintage models, to the supply of certificates that narrate the history of each individual car. They have created kits dedicated to historic models that can be purchased on the website www.maseratistore.com, including replicas of the use and maintenance manuals and homologation stickers. The maximum price is less than 300 Euro. There are also historic

catalogues of the models we drove for this article.

TECHNICAL DATA

- 3500 GT

3,485 cc 6-cylinder inline engine, 200 hp, produced between 1957 and 1965. Coupé and Spyder convertible.

- QUATTROPORTE 1st SERIES

4,136 cc V8 engine and then 4,719 cc from 1966, with 260 and 290 hp from 1966. Produced between 1963 and 1969.

- MISTRAL

3,485, 3,694, 4,014 cc 6-cylinder inline engine, with 200 to 265 hp, produced between

1963 and 1969. Coupé and Spyder convertible.

- GHIBLI

4,719 and 4,930 cc V8 engine, with 340 and 330 hp, produced between 1967 and 1972.

Coupé and Spyder convertible.

-GRANTURISMO SPORT

4,700 cc V8 engine, 460 hp, produced since 2012, Coupé.

-GRANCABRIO SPORT

4,700 cc V8 engine, 460 hp, produced since 2011, Spyder convertible.

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