A flawed masterpiece is still a work of art, as our German correspondent discovers in Maserati’s most comely of four-door models.
Sometimes, one can win the lottery without ever having to enter. As on the occasion of our recent trip to Antwerp, when we weren’t at the mercy of the Rental Car Lottery, but had, thanks to a generous friend, a confirmed reservation for the front seats of a car I’d always admired – the Maserati Quattroporte V, also known as Tipo M139 in marque parlance.
First unveiled in 2003, the Quattroporte V re-established the model at the luxurious end of the performance car market, after its immediate predecessor had gone for a more unusual/contrived positioning. As originally developed by Ferrari, Tipo M139 was initially available only with the kind of sequential gearbox Modenese engineers were besotted with in those days. The inherent clunkiness and appalling lack of refinement of this set-up did little for the sales prospect of a model that was otherwise deemed spot-on for its brand and intended market.
The example we sampled during our 1400 kilometre trip across western Europe was, thankfully, a later Sport GT model, which means it was equipped with a more mundane, yet far more serviceable ZF torque-converter six-speed auto. The Ferrari-based V8 engine’s output remained unchanged though, at 400 hp.
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.
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 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.
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.
This fine concept from Maserati’s coachbuilt days illustrates how far from home the Tridente has drifted.
Maserati, at the height of their gilded age as an exclusive automotive atelier, produced a bewildering array of suave gran turismos and more overt sporting machinery, along with the occasional one-off for their more discerning clients. At the 1965 Salone di Torino, Carrozzeria Vignale, who carried out a sizeable proportion of Maserati’s styling duties displayed an elegant four-seater concept.
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