Another stylistic dud from the pen of Marcello Gandini, the technically advanced 1974 Maserati Quattroporte expired at birth. We chart its brief life.
When the Maserati Quattroporte was introduced in 1963 it became the first Modenese four door super-berlina, offering well-heeled customers the space and practicality of a sedan with the dynamism and vivid performance of a grand turismo. In 1969 however, production of the model ceased, with close to 800 built – a commercial success by Casa del Tridente standards.
A significant cultural shift was taking place at Viale Ciro Menotti by this time – Automobiles Citroën having acquired control of the Modenese carmaker the previous year. With work quickly progressing on a new sub-3.0 litre V6 engine for the double chevron’s forthcoming grand turismo, Maserati engineering chief, Ing. Giulio Alfieri seemingly took a long hard look at Quai de Javel technology, in particular Citroën’s decision to use engine driven oleopneumatic applications for suspension, braking and steering.
With his engineering team at work on the mid-engined (Am 122) Merak, which broadly shared its engine and transaxle design with that of the SM, Alfieri (with the bureau d’étude’s blessing one assumes) clearly saw cost-sharing benefits in adopting a good deal of similar thinking for his forthcoming saloon. Hence the AM 123 Quattroporte would be front wheel drive, employing not only a variant of the Merak’s powertrain, but full Citroën-derived hydropneumatics.
The timelines are a little uncertain at this point, but muddying the waters to some extent was a concurrent commission from longstanding Tridente customer, Shah Karim al Husseini Aga Khan IV for a bespoke four-door saloon. Given a model code (AM 121), this car, based on a lengthened floorpan and suspension design from the production Indy GT model was powered by a 4.9 litre version of Maserati’s mighty V8 powerplant.
Something of a marque aficionado, the Shah had previously commissioned a highly distinctive carrozzeria Frua-bodied 5000 GT which was to form the basis for the first generation Quattroporte’s body styling. Once again, Frua was commissioned, this time producing an elegant, conservative shape, with a distinctively tall, slim-pillared six-light canopy treatment.
Two cars were built (the second was sold by Pietro Frua to King Juan Carlos of Spain) and were believed to have been developed to production standards, so it remains unclear as to why this attractive and comparatively cheap to produce design was not proceeded with. It’s been suggested that pressure might have been exerted from Quai de Javel to employ Citroën hardware, but more likely is that Ing. Alfieri was pretty much wedded to his high-technology Franco-Italian alternative.
Alfieri engaged carrozzeria Bertone to produce the AM 123 body design, which must have been something of a snub for Pietro Frua at the time. Studio head, Marcello Gandini oversaw a modernist three volume shape, which thanks to the SM/Merak powertrain’s longitudinal positioning, mounted well back in the engine bay, avoided the usually unsightly dash-to-axle ratio which otherwise would have dictated the proportions.
Bearing a notable thematic similarity to Gandini’s Jaguar XJ40 proposal of the same year, the AM 123 Quattroporte carries its 1970 BMW Garmisch cues in an even more overt manner, not just in the surfaces and volumes, but in the bonnet and bootlid treatments, which are far more BMW in execution than anything associated with the Casa del Tridente. Only the nose treatment, which combines the fabled Maserati emblem with a Citroënesque six-headlamp arrangement suggests otherwise, although a set of kidney grilles would undoubtedly have sealed the deal.
Unlike the Jaguar proposal, the Maserati was a relatively harmonious form, but in essence, there was, just as with the Browns Lane study, little marque-specific resonance in its slightly bland overall appearance – Gandini again resorting to liberal use of brand iconography by way of compensation.
The cabin too, while distinctly modernist, was not particularly attractive – a massive slab of dashboard with digital readouts for instrumentation and a sprinkling of SM goodness here and there, which combined to offer a rather mixed set of visual metaphors.
The 3.0 litre Maserati V6 was said to have provided less than vivid performance in the heavy Quattroporte bodyshell, but a larger capacity V8 derived from the same power unit was in the process of being developed. However as the car neared production – it had made its world premiere at that Autumn’s Paris motor show – the already precarious financial situation of their French parent reached a tipping point.
Maserati was placed in administration and with full homologation for the Quattroporte incomplete, the programme was cancelled with only thirteen cars built. Three are said to now remain. Under new owner Alejandro de Tomaso, a further attempt was made at replacing the Quattroporte, the resultant Quattroporte III being a hybrid of Tridente and de Tomaso genes, with body styling from Ital Design, itself believed to have been derived from another rejected Jaguar proposal. All roads, it would seem, lead to Browns Lane.
Marque aficionados remain divided on the subject of the Quattroporte II. Simply a four-door Citroën SM as some dismissively assert, or a technological pathfinder of a new, less traditionalist direction for il Tridente? It’s difficult to be certain, but its technical specification certainly lends it an element of intrigue lacking in many of its stablemates.
There remains one area where it’s possible to speak with more clarity however. Because what Quattroporte II’s styling abundantly underlines is not only that carozzeria Bertone’s resident design genius had more than his share of off-days, but that the fabled Italian design houses really struggled with the concept of the upmarket luxury saloon.