The history of Maserati’s Quattroporte model line is as intriguing as it is diverse.
To most people with an interest in automobiles, the Maserati Quattroporte needs no explanation. The moniker itself may be even older than that of the Mercedes S-class, yet longevity serves, at best, as half an explanation for the strength of the Quattroporte nameplate. Particularly as, in time honoured Italian fashion, there’s little continuity and wildly varying flair to Maserati’s successive four-door super saloons. Yet ‘a Quattroporte’ always remained a statement car. For one reason or another.
A brief recapitulation:
First generation (AM 107), design by Pietro Frua: As the name would suggest, the Quattroporte was devised as true four-door version of the kind of stately GT that was an Italian luxury staple of the ’50s & ’60s. Stylistically, it was very much in the same vein as some of the marque’s 3500/5000 GT and Mexico models, albeit with the added practicality and space of the additional set of doors. As the likes of the Jaguar XJ12 or Mercedes 300 SEL 6.3 were still some years off, Maserati had the market of equally fast and luxurious saloons all to themselves, resulting in a resounding sales success – certainly by the standard of coachbuilt, thoroughbred 1960s exotica.
Second generation (AM 123), design by Marcello Gandini at Bertone: As recently discussed, the ’70s take on the Quattroporte concept was an oddball in numerous ways. Neither truly avant-garde, nor strikingly luxurious, the front-wheel driven Quattroporte II failed to capitalise on the formula of dashing grandeur established by the previous generation car. For these reasons, it appears unlikely that a proper production run would had been very successful, even if the troubles at Maserati’s Citroën parent company hadn’t brought the model’s career to a premature end by the mid-70s, prior to the Quattroporte II being homologated.
Third generation (AM 330), design by Giorgetto Giugiaro: Based on the Kyalami GT (which itself was a descendent of the De Tomaso Longchamp), the third Quattroporte was a peculiar concoction in that it marked the return to unashamed luxury on the one hand, yet combined its opulent dimensions with the kind of sober origami shapes and clean surfaces Giugiaro simultaneously employed to clad considerably more humble fare, such as the Lancia Delta.
The striking, but hardly conventionally attractive result would serve as stylistic blueprint to Maserati’s then owner, Alejandro de Tomaso, resulting in the marque’s Biturbo range of models being visibly influenced by its design – despite Giugiaro not being involved in the development of those cars. However, the Quattroporte III also left an imprint of its own outside of the Maserati range, as it was the car of choice for Italian celebrities and – if the movies and television are to be believed – mafia bosses.
Fourth generation (AM 337), design by Marcello Gandini: Like the second generation, the Quattroporte for the ’90s marked a significant change from its immediate predecessor. Based on the platform of the smaller Biturbo models, this Quattroporte was not intended to be a luxurious super saloon, but a BMW M5 fighter. Its compact dimensions (just 4.5 metres in length) added nimbleness, but would’ve made the car a tough sell to series Quattroporte owners used to far more space and comfort.
In addition, Gandini’s second stab at a Maserati saloon design was already seven years old by the time production started in 1994. At this point, the Italianate wedge shape profile had already become somewhat outdated – the less said about the utterly superfluous, self-reverential rear wheel arch, which makes this Quattroporte’s short, tall rear end appear even bulkier than it needs to, the better.
Fifth generation (M139), design by Ken Okuyama at Pininfarina: As Maserati had since come under Ferrari’s management, the Quattroporte unveiled in 2003 marked a clean break with the previous generation again. This time around, the intention was to create yet another super saloon, combining the handling of a proper gran turismo with space for all the family, not to mention Poltrona Frau leather interiors, a Ferrari-derived V8 engine and romantic Pininfarina (albeit influenced by the Zagato-designed A6G model) looks.
The jerky sequential gearbox offered at first took the ‘four door sports car’ concept too far though, but the combination of supremely elegant looks, the flair of a true Italian thoroughbred and, eventually, a serviceable gearbox resulted in this Quattroporte being considered an offbeat connoisseur’s alternative to the (German) luxury car establishment regardless.
Sixth generation (M156), design by Dennis Braga/Marco Tencone at Centro Stile Fiat: Ten years after its predecessor’s unveiling, the most recent Quattroporte heralded another sea change at Modena. Created after FCA had taken over the brand’s management from Ferrari (yet still using the former sister brand as engine supplier), and without input by any carrozzeria, this Quattroporte had to fill the role of a luxury top model for a brand that doesn’t compete with Bentley anymore, but BMW and Mercedes. With the smaller Ghibli saloon simultaneously engineered to take on the BMW 5 series et al, the sixth Quattroporte was consciously aiming for a corner of the market (the Chinese one in particular) where cars the driver of the car isn’t necessarily the owner. In that regard, the Quattroporte VI is closest to the third generation, in terms of spirit.
Given Maserati’s limited budget and the lack of input by those elements of the Italian automotive industry that truly understand luxury, it didn’t come as much of a surprise that the Quattroporte VI, despite its impressive powertrain, lacks the ‘coachbuilt’ luxury flair that had characterised all of its predecessors in some way. Its enormous size, heavy-handed styling and some blatant parts sharing meant this Quattroporte’s flaws were rather difficult to overlook. Even though arguably the most competent car overall the brand has ever created in this class, its lack of charm and genuine luxury have since prevented it from giving the BMW 7 series the run for its money it was intended for.
As of today, Maserati is on the verge of ending production of the kind of sports cars the marque was once renowned for – resulting in the Quattroporte remaining as the brand’s last traditional offering. It would be a shame if this was the note on which this proud marque went out.
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