L’anima di Tridente

Maserati’s cornerstone product also happens to be its oldest, and by some margin. Where now for the GranTurismo?

(c) car and driver

Prior to his untimely demise, former FCA helmsman, Sergio Marchionne was frequently characterised as a heartless technocrat entirely lacking in marque fealty. It was a narrative he did little to disavow and while the truth may not have been quite as cut and dried as his many detractors alleged, there can be little doubt that he was a gimlet-sharp pragmatist who would employ all tools at his disposal to achieve his ambitions – and if that entailed sacrificing a few holy effigies along the way, so be it.

What this made him was perhaps something more akin to an insurgent; Marchionne’s tactics being to move quickly, obtain results (quick and dirty would do), then on to the next firefight. In an ideal world, we can have little doubt that the man in the navy blue Angora sweater would not have chosen to jeopardise the market position and brand equity of a nameplate as cherished and rarefied as that of the Modenese Trident, but in the wake of the 2008 crash, as the Eurozone reeled from a sovereign debt crisis and Fiat Auto attempted to absorb the ailing Chrysler business, expediency would time and again over-ride sentiment.

Upon Mr. Marchionne’s 2004 accession in Turin, Maserati was in the process of being successfully recast in the effortlessly urbane image of Luca Cordero di Montezemolo, a man in the idiom and bearing of Agnelli himself. A man so impeccably, aristocratically Italian it hurt. Under his sguardo amoroso Maserati signed off on the masterful 2003 Tipo M139 Quattroporte V, arguably the last luxury saloon to truly deserve the sobriquet, ‘bellissimo’.

Quattroporte V. (c) cars.com

Designed by carrozzeria Pininfarina, from the gifted hand of Ken Okuyama, the 2003 ‘Porte combined the graceful majesty of form which would have had Sir William Lyons nodding in admiration.

But it was for sensual GT’s that il Tridente was revered, so at Geneva four years later, Maserati replaced its heartland model with the M139-derived GranTurismo. The full-sized four-seat coupé shared a shortened platform, crash structure, engine, drivetrain and suspension design with the saloon, clothed in a more aggressive, sinuous body, again from the house of Pininfarina – this time however by the magic marker of Jason Castriota – a designer whose profile might be said to outstrip the quality of his portfolio.

Suave, luxuriously appointed and finished in supple hides, the big Maserati coupé dripped high-end Italian class. And while its bodywork might have lacked the searing elegance of line of its Quattroporte sibling the slightly bella-bruta GranTurismo carried with it shades of 1960’s Shah of Persia, Touring-bodied 5000 GT in the manner in which it deftly skirted refined good taste with just a touch of flash.

While a contemporary Jaguar XKR was probably as quick, is likely to have handled better, was considerably lighter on its feet and almost definitely offered a more compelling ownership proposition within a well-rounded, thoroughly developed product (thanks in no small part to Uncle Henry), the big and decidedly weighty Maserati was nevertheless the sophisticate’s choice.

Fast forward a decade and the XK is no more, everyone else has either packed up or repackaged, but the GranTurismo limps on. Facelifted in characteristic Fiat Charter fashion, it suffers the serial indignities of a go-faster bodykit, blacked out wheels and window surrounds, not to mention an infestation of aftermarket-looking carbon fibre addenda.

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And while there remains little fundamentally wrong with the basic shape, eleven years on the inappropriate cladding only serves to further date it. Worse still, the cabin, while never a stylistic paragon, at least appeared somewhat convincing swathed in Paltrona Frau’s finest. But since the GranTurismo has been shorn of its traditional Armani-tailored image and now appears to come only in Alcantara-clad Dolce et Gabbana cap-sleeves, the cabin ambience is more Monaco nightclub than a sunset-dappled ristorante at Portofino’s fabled waterfront.

Attempts at updating the cabin interfaces have also been of the most slapdash (pun intended) variety. Shoehorned amidst the slivers of painstakingly oven-baked carbon-weave is perhaps the most incongruous and poorly integrated infotainment screen this side of a ’98 S-type, vividly illustrating FCA’s commitment to maintaining its most exclusive car brand’s positioning and market relevance.

Of course, the GrandTurismo ought to have been fondly pensioned off by now. In 2014, Maserati revealed the Alfieri concept, a contemporary reboot of the classic Trident-badged GT. A production version, set to debut in 2018, was to have been a lighter, more focused, 911 rival. Endlessly revised timelines and FCA’s debt-reduction priorities saw all manner of best intentions to hades and back again, with Alfieri (in whatever form it emerges) now provisionally set for around 2022 as the representative of Trident soul.

(c) motor.elpais

While the half-baked Ghibili, its ungainly Quattroporte VI twin and so-so Levante CUV illustrate the aspirations to which the brand has been recast, the fate of the aged GranTurismo speaks most eloquently of FCA’s level of care. But as we enter a post-Marchionne landscape, can those who value the marque retain any cause for optimism?

In the battle for FCA’s survival and the continued support of the vital investment community, Maserati’s patrician image simply became collateral damage. There exists a small window of opportunity for their new helmsman to correct the damage, but the job, if it is to be undertaken, will be slow, expensively painful and far from certain. Perhaps it’s simply too late for l’anima di tridente?

Author: Eóin Doyle

Founding Editor. Content Provider.

15 thoughts on “L’anima di Tridente”

  1. Nobody does ‘keeping a car in production for too long and ruining it through late-in-the-day updates’ quite like the Italians. Messing up a design like the GranTurismo’s in the way FCA have managed to do is, in a sense impressive. Back in the ’80s, some body-coloured addenda and the addition of Vitaloni Turbo wing mirrors would do, but the Maserati’s mutilation almost comes across like a conscious effort to ruin the car.

    In my neighbourhood, I regularly come across a GranCabriolet, quite similar to the one picture above (opalescent gunmetal grey on the outside, with a tobacco interior and roof, pre-facelift). It’s a marvellous thing. A bit too large and impressive for my tastes, yet striking an astonishing balance, thanks to its flamboyant stance and tasteful specification.
    Recently, it was joined by a new, white specimen in what must be SportLussoSomething spec (like the red car pictured above, just in white). It looks like a pimp bought a stock GranTurismo and then brought it to his mechanic mate, with €15.000 in cash on top and orders to ‘make it look mean and add better sat-nav’.

    It’s a true disgrace.

  2. A brief look on autotrader reveals just 87 Quattroporte’ s on sale in the UK at this moment in time. Some of the eight to twelve years old examples look particularly nice in green and maroon whereas the more modern version in white looks like an oversized soap bar with added bling, trinkets and unnecessary flounce.
    Such a shame; when my admittedly few car interested friends talk motors, Maserati is spoken about with fondness and a dreamlike quality – but wouldn’t touch with the proverbial barge pole. They must sell some but is the extremely old fashioned view of it being Italian therefore will break still a stigma? Or is it purely rubbish management? I wish I knew and could turn it around

    1. The M139-series Quattroporte V was a car in the Series One XJ idiom. No larger than it needed to be and a design, both inside and out which placed aesthetics above practicality, but not to an unacceptable level. They are still gorgeous cars. Sublimely elegant, sybaritic to occupy (although the ride quality wasn’t always impeccable) and possessed of an intoxicating soundtrack. Yes, it would cost you a fortune and possibly break your heart, but you just would. The GranTurismo in unsullied form, while arguably lacking a little of the ‘Porte’s allure, holds similar appeal.

      The current Quattroporte is more akin to a Stock Aikin & Waterman cover version of an time-honoured classic. Throwaway tat, quickly forgotten. They ought to be ashamed of themselves.

  3. Good evening, Eóin. I couldn’t agree more about the current Quattroporte: it’s a saggy overwrought and (visually) overweight mess compared with its handsome predecessor.

    Just in case anyone hasn’t seen it elsewhere on DTW, here’s a link to the piece you wrote on the Bellagio, a coachbuilt conversion of the Quattroporte V:

    https://driventowrite.com/2016/03/05/maserati-quattroporte-bellagio-touring-superleggera/#more-17644

    Now, that is one beautiful car, to my eyes at least. I can even forgive it for sharing its name with a rather vulgar Las Vegas hotel!

    1. I’m pretty sure that the name “Bellagio” refers to homonymous and wonderful town on lake Como and not to the casino of Las Vegas.

  4. Ciao Federico, sono sicuro che tu abbia ragione. Per favore perdona la mia ignoranza del tuo bellissimo paese (e il mio zoppo tentativo di umorismo!)

    1. No problem at all Daniel! I think that sadly a lot of italian people think that Bellagio is only the Casino in Las Vegas… Now you need to come and see the original Bellagio, especially in the Concorso di Villa d’Este’s days in April and maybe we will see there!

  5. Is it true that the Ferrari California started out as proposal for a new Maserati, before being repurposed?

    The Quattroporte V is delicious, although I must admit a soft spot for the Gandini-designed Maseratis and his previous QP. It apparently suffered from a ridiculous driving position and numerous other quirks, but has a certain appeal (and very expensive leather and wood embellishments).

    1. The Gandini QP is quirkily, eccentrically Gandiny, isn´t it? It is quite right-sized though, probably very easy to place on the road. It´s the one I´d go for if I wanted a thirsty, unreliable statement sports car.

    2. An acquaintance of mine used to own a Gandini QP IV, back in the day. With a wide grin, he once told me the story of when he successively lent the Maserati to two Porsche driving friends, who both went off-piste come the first country road turn, as they were utterly unprepared for the turbo boost kicking in at a rather unexpected point in time.

    3. I have to admit a similar soft spot.
      When I moved to my current location, there was a QP IV parking just around the corner. It had an excellent colour too, a very light, pale metallic green, and I think it was some sort of tobacco coloured inside. With the right budget, I’d take such a car at any time. I agree with Richard, I find it very handy sized.

  6. No, the Maerati Shamal has a much nicer boot than the Quattroporte IV. So i want a Shamal with the non-leather seats of the early Biturbo….

    By the way the age of the Maserati GranTurismo is not a real problem in my eyes. Especially not in the States, because there, all Maseratis are “new” in 2015, when Maserati was coming back to America.

    The real problem of Maserati is the ugly Levante and the halfhearted Ghibli. And my favourite italian sportscar of the last decade is the Alfa Romeo 8C.

    1. For once I can´t agree. The Shamal´s boot has a disturbing shutline. The 420 and Biturbos had a nicer arrangement. It´s not that I don´t like the Shamal; the others are more satisfying (especially the Biturbos)s. The new Ghibli simply does not have the visual heft or depth of quality you´d expect from a Maserati. To be fair, almost no car now does. Something elusive has disappeared from the exterior of cars. That said, other things being equal, the Ghibli is not even relatively very opulant or rich-looking. What car is? That´s the hard part. Ah – the Renault Espace. That is a rich-looking car and excuse me here but Ford´s Vignale Mondeo does suggest ritziness as well.

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