Once you cross a Rubicon, there’s no going back. Maserati probably had little choice but to go crossover, but they weren’t without options. Last week we looked at one. Here’s another.
I think it’s universally agreed most things sound better in Italian. In fact I’d be prepared to wager even the Italian for enema sounds vaguely appealing. A personal favourite however is the Italian term for coachbuilder – carrozzeria. For me it conjures faded monochrome images of artisans hand beating aluminium sheet into something far lovelier than was strictly necessary. Most carrozzerie’s created memorable work, but Touring Superleggera’s back-catalogue of innovative design, spanned from the 1930’s and some of the most significant body shapes created for manufacturers like Bristol, Alfa Romeo, Ferrari, Jensen, Aston Martin and Maserati.
Maserati’s relationship with carrozzeria Touring was in decline by the time the original Quattroporte was created in 1963, as indeed was Touring Superleggera themselves. The Frua-shaped Quattroporte being the only choice if you wanted near-supercar performance in a close-coupled three-volume four-door saloon at the time. By 1966, Touring had folded but some forty years later, it was revived and one the new carrozzeria’s first projects was a slightly more classical take on a Maserati with added practicality than Giugiaro’s Kubang we looked at recently – the Quattroporte Bellagio.
Unveiled at Villa Erba during the Villa d’Este Concorso d’Eleganza in 2008, the Quattroporte Bellagio Fastback Touring (to give it it’s full name) was a shooting brake-style estate version of Pininfarina’s rather lovely fifth series Maserati saloon; perhaps the nicest of the breed this side of Pietro Frua’s original. Carrozzeria Touring stating the Bellagio was; “A real GT that succeeds in combining a sporty attitude and high performance with the requirements of space, functionality and convenience of a hatchback, without compromising refinement or class.”
Built to owners exacting specifications throughout 2009, only four were ever produced; no two identical, making them exclusive as hell. Visually however, I’m not sure I can say Touring’s conversion was a total success, the rear three quarters appearing a bit bulky, a bit dare I say, Panamera even? But viewed against the Porsche or indeed the production Levante, it’s a work of unparalleled artistry and rarefied good taste. Not that this is likely to trouble the target Levante customer for a nanosecond.
The ideal of a typical Maserati owner as some silver haired Gianni Agnelli lookalike wafting down to his Tuscan villa alongside his impossibly beautiful mistress is now as much an construct from the roseate past as the eternally dapper Snr. Agnelli himself. And frankly, were he still with us, Gianni would probably find a crossover a little easier to get in and out of anyway.
So in a world where the traditional big name carrozzerie appear to have lost their independence, their credibility and increasingly, their relevance, what hope does someone like Touring Superleggera now have? Is it possible to carve out a niche catering to the few who still value style and recognise good taste and are prepared to pay bespoke prices for the trouble? Or will they be forced to take the way of the Bahar and follow the money? I think we both know the answer.