29 May, 2015
Happy 100th, Maserati
Although purists insist the history of Maserati begins in 1926 and their first racecar, the house of Maserati has been around since 1914, when young and talented Alfieri Maserati opened his car shop
When you are a Maserati, you are born an engineer. Five out of seven Maserati brothers went on to become engineers, beginning with the eldest, Carlo, Fiat engineer and race car pilot. Alfieri Maserati, the most talented of them all, was only 23 when Carlo died during a race aged merely 29, but not even that immense trauma managed to diminish his love for all things automobile – at the time Italy’s favorite pastime. The year is 1919 and the entire country has just had an epiphany: no one can beat them at designing cars. Although very young, Alfieri Maserati was already quite aware of his skills – and reluctant to let anyone control him and his genius. In 1914, he opened his very own studio-shop-car factory: Societa Anonima Officine Alfieri Maserati. The name is there, the studio is there, but the legend is yet to be born. Alfieri and his brothers Ettore and Ernesto decided to see what happens when you install an airplane engine into an automobile, and started playing around with various Isotta-Fraschinis. Their brother Bindo (second eldest after Carlo) was – quelle surprise – an engineer with the already famous builder. Still, the pre-war Europe of 1914 wasn’t the best place to start a new business, and the Maseratis barely got by for a couple of years. After the war they moved their studio to Ponte-Vecchio, just outside Bologna, and the legend was… almost born. Pretty soon after the big move, the talented siblings got some attention from the house of Diatto. Alfieri, no longer just a naïve speed fiend, but a young man of 35, this time around knows how to sell his talent well. Diatto, established in 1835 and famous for horse carriages, ordered a racecar from Alfieri and Ettore: Tipo 20 won its very first race, piloted by the very man who designed him – at the time the often risky business of racing was left to the mechanic/engineer/designer, as others often mistrusted untested vehicles. Diatto Tipo 20 was fast and successful on the racetrack, but only won one other race – the 1924 24 Hours of Monza. In 1926, Maserati finally takes off the ground when Alfieri cuts ties to all other carmakers and creates the car he wants to create. Say hello to Tipo 26. Powered by an 8-cylinder, 125hp engine, this baby reached top speed over 160 km/h, beating the almighty Bugatti and winning the prestigious Targa Florio, as well as several other races.
Alfieri wasted no time, and registered his business and its now famous logo; the trident designed by his brother Mario, a successful artist. The legend is finally born. In 1927, Alfieri was severely injured during a race in Messina, but insisted on continuing his work, although agreeing to pass the racing torch to Ernesto. Two years later their family name had already become synonym for excellence, but when Baconino Borzacchini set world speed record averaging 246 km/h over 10 kilometers, Alfieri Maserati reached godlike status. Borzacchini’s car – a Tipo26M – was powered by an 8-cylinder, 2.5-liter engine, built in light alloy and propelled by Alfieri’s genius. At the time, speed records were omnipresent, to say the least, both in Europe and across the pond, and the Western world bitten by the speed bug. Only five years after his terrible crash, Alfieri succumbed to irreparable damage inflicted to his body, dying on March 3, 1932 at the age of barely 44. After Alfieri’s death, Bindo finally quit his job at Isotta-Fraschini and took over the family business, with Ettore running the race division and Ernesto taking care of research and development. The brothers soon discovered how important Alfieri’s genius was to the business, and even though by that time the house of Maserati was established as the builder of finest racecars in the world, the three of them lacked the spark to create automotive perfection. In 1937, Maserati was sold to the Orsi family, industrial rulers of Northern Italy, but the brothers remained with the company for ten more years before retiring. No race track was safe from Maseratis, be it in Europe, or South America, where talented pilots seemed to sprout everywhere (does the name Juan Manuel Fangio ring a bell?), but another war threw a wet blanket over all the fun and glamour, halting production of Maserati for the second time. Merely a year after the war ended, Maserati introduced the A6 1500, a road- ready GT designed by no other than Battista Pininfarina. Although perfect in every technical way, fast and gorgeous, the model was not the hit everyone thought it would be, and only sold in a little over 130 pieces in the ten years it was made (1946-1956). Bindo, Ettore and Ernesto all retired from the business in 1947, and the brand remained with the Orsis until 1968. In those eleven years, they did everything they could to keep the company running as if Alfieri was still at the wheel, producing every single model he designed; among them the 3500 and the 5000 GT, the 1967 Ghibli and the 1965 Mistral – but it just wasn’t the same without him. In the following decades, the house of Maserati changed hands several times. First it was sold to Citroen, who debuted the magnificent SM in 1970. That model, still breathtaking after 44 years, was apparently too avant-garde for the era and almost ruined the French maker financially. Citroen sold the brand to the Italian government, who soon sold it again, to Argentinian racecar pilot and industrial magnate Alejandro de Tomaso. In 1983, Maserati was sold to Chrysler, who only kept it for four years before selling it – this is the last transaction, we promise – to Fiat. The second golden age of Maserati yielded some of their best models, including the big hit 3200 GT (1998) and the MC12 (2004). Today Maserati makes four models – Ghibli, Quattroporte, Granturismo and Grancabrio – all purebred Maseratis laced with passion of the century gone by and the brilliant spirit of Alfieri Maserati.