New Frontier (Part Seven)

Every car, no matter how well wrought has an Achilles heel. 

1970 Citroen SM. Image: daunatclassique

Like most aspects of historical record, the story behind the development of Maserati’s 2760 cc V6 engine for the SM is dependent upon whose account one believes, but its bespoke basis has by now been largely placed beyond doubt.

A primary stipulation from Quai Andre Citroën was for a compact and lightweight unit, physically no larger than their own in-line four. With the 114-series V6, the architectural layout chosen by Maserati technical director, Giulio Alfieri allowed these strictures to be met. However, this brought forth a number of structural and operational compromises – one in particular proving something of an expensive error.

Owing to the 90° included angle between cylinder banks, such engines were prone to uneven firing intervals and a lack of smoothness at certain engine speeds. The fitment of engine-driven contra-rotating balance shafts would have alleviated this, but was ruled out on cost and weight grounds. It was therefore decided to Continue reading “New Frontier (Part Seven)”

New Frontier (Part Four)

What prompted Citroën’s buyout of Maserati?

Maserati’s Viale Ciro Menotti works during the early 1960s. Image: norskmaseratiklubb.no

By 1967, Pierre Bercot had secured an engine supply deal with Maserati for Citroën’s forthcoming Projet S. Yet within a year, not only would he have taken over the Modenese atelier in its entirety, but inked a far more wide-ranging deal with FIAT Auto in Turin. But was the Citroën-Maserati takeover a symbiotic coming together, or simply Monsieur le President’s Victor Kiam[1] moment?

Having traditionally confined the lion’s share of their sales effort domestically and within Europe, the pull of the US market became too lucrative for Maserati to ignore. However, by the mid-’60s, the regulatory environment in the US was becoming increasingly hostile, with stringent crash testing mandates and emissions regulations, which for such a tiny outfit would ladle enormous costs upon an already stretched enterprise. By mid-decade, Maserati’s owners were already seeking a means to Continue reading “New Frontier (Part Four)”

New Frontier (Part Three)

Citroën didn’t have an engine worthy of their nascent 1970 flagship, but it wasn’t for the want of trying.

Image: The author

The highly unusual structure and operation of Citroën’s Bureau d’Études may have created a number of technical masterpieces, but it equally resulted in a number of serious operational drawbacks; perhaps the most serious being the lack of a cohesive singularity of purpose. Not only did the nominal Rue de Théàtre headquarters lack an effective figurehead (notably so in Lefèbvre’s wake), but the bureau itself was apparently scattered across a number of locations around Paris, each very much in effect its own personal fiefdom.

Of these, perhaps the least regarded represented the double chevron’s longest standing and most glaring weakness – engine development. This department, led by Italian former Fiat racing engine designer, Walter Becchia, seemed a largely forgotten outpost; the last meaningful programme to Continue reading “New Frontier (Part Three)”

Porte de Javel

The technically advanced 1974 Maserati Quattroporte expired at birth. We chart its brief life.

1974 Maserati Quattroporte II. (c) carstyling.ru

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 had been under way at Viale Ciro Menotti – 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 took a long hard look at Quai de Javel technology, in particular Citroën’s widespread use of centralised engine driven oleopneumatic applications for suspension, braking and steering, adopting them in varying intensity into forthcoming Maserati models.

But as the Franco-Italian alliance unravelled in the wake of both the energy crisis and Citroen’s financial collapse, work had begun on a new Quattroporte model, based wholly upon the chassis and technical underpinnings of the Citroën SM. Hence the AM 123 Quattroporte would be front wheel drive, employing not only a variant of the SM’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 by some marque aficionados that pressure was exerted from Quai de Javel to employ Citroën hardware, but the truth is that the impetus came entirely from Ing. Alfieri himself.

 

Carrozzeria Bertone was engaged to produce the AM 123 body design, which must have been something of a snub for Pietro Frua at the time. Creative Director, Marcello Gandini oversaw a modernist three volume shape, which thanks to the SM 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 previously associated with the Casa del Tridente. Only the nose treatment, which combined 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.

Quattroporte II (c) wheelsage

Marque aficionados remain divided on the subject of the Quattroporte II. Simply a four-door Citroën SM as some maintain, or a technological pathfinder of a new, less hidebound direction for il Tridente? Certainly its technical specification lends it an element of intrigue lacking in many of its stablemates.

There remains one area where it’s possible to speak with clarity however. Because Quattroporte II’s styling abundantly underlines that not only did Bertone’s resident design genius have more than his share of off-days, but that the fabled Italian carozzieri really struggled with the concept of the luxury saloon, especially when it came to the grand marques.

Theme : Hybrids : The French-Italian Connection

Cars no longer differ from country to country, but once they had definite national characteristics. What happened when two nations met – collaboration, collision or confusion?

Maserati Khamsin (c) bestcarmag

We now seem to have reached a consensus that the type of car most should be is ‘Germanic’, being lazy shorthand for something efficient, hard riding, fast enough and, usually, a bit clinical. Some sports cars remain, possibly, more traditionally ‘Italianate’ in spirit, being nervy, noisy and involving to drive. Nowadays, though, car making is truly a global industry where an Italian car maker might produce a model exclusively in Poland, and where the designers and engineers come from scores of different nations. Nearly fifty years ago this wasn’t the case.

American manufacturers found that they couldn’t Continue reading “Theme : Hybrids : The French-Italian Connection”

Theme: Evolution – Adaptation, Diversification, Survival

Maserati’s natural history came to an abrupt halt in 1975. Survival meant change – not just a new model, but an entirely fresh approach.

For a Hybrid, it's a fine piece of work. The 1976 Maserati Kylami
What expediency looked like in 1976. Frua’s AM129 Maserati Kyalami. (c) maserati-alfieri

It’s tempting to view evolution as a continuous series of gradual mutations, but events throughout history have illustrated it only takes a single catastrophic event to propel it in an entirely different direction – or stop it entirely. The 1973 oil embargo for instance was the motor industry’s very own fiery catastrophe and 1975 the year when the conflagration really took hold, consuming a swathe of specialist carmakers.  Continue reading “Theme: Evolution – Adaptation, Diversification, Survival”

Theme: Engines – The Greatest?

Italy’s engineering giants slug it out for your entertainment.

fiat12821

Given the size of the Italian motor industry by comparison to say, the United States or Germany, it’s difficult to compile a list of the great engine designers without coming to the conclusion that Italy has historically punched well above its weight. The fact that most of them were schooled through Italy’s once thriving aeronautical industry says as much about the era from which they emerged as the political and socio-economic causes, but either way, Italy’s contribution to the pantheon of notable engines is undeniable.  Continue reading “Theme: Engines – The Greatest?”