How could I resist this evocative image posted to the Cohort by T-Minor? Two of my favorite things: a classic Maserati and the classic Vienna Opera House, right behind it. It reminds me of two memorable trips to Austria; in 1969, when I first encountered the Indy, and in 1980, when we met up with my parents in Vienna and my father took us to the Opera (Verdi’s Falstaff) , a highlight of a few wonderful days there.
It’s only natural that a lover of fine automotive engine music would drive the Indy to the Opera. Or even just for the visual appeal, if not the actual opera. But just what is that big dark sedan brooding off to the right?
As evocative that photo above is, it’s a bit hard to make out the details of the Indy, so I’ll show it a bit more clearly too. The Indy was a bit confusing to me when it came out in 1969, seeing how it seemed to compete in-house with the brilliant Ghibli that arrived two years earlier. Why build two such similar cars, technically and otherwise? The Indy—whose name celebrated Maserati’s two victories at the 500 in 1939 and 1940—sat on the same 100″ wheelbase chassis as the Ghibli, and used the same basic V8 engine, although the early versions of the Indy used a smaller 4.2 and 4.7 versions of the 4.9 the Ghibli used. So what was the point?
A semi-proper back seat. The Indy was a true 2+2, whereas the Ghibli was 2+1 (two in the front, two halves in the rear). Its little seatlet was usually folded down for more luggage and utterly useless for adults.
There were of course other differences, most of all in their design, The Ghibli (above) was one of Giorgetti Giugiaro’s most brilliant designs ever (to how many cars has that phrase been applied?), and the Ghibli was Maserati’s answer to the Lamborghini Miura and Ferrari Daytona. It even outsold them both, but then it was a bit cheaper. But no less beautiful, if a bit more restrained.
The Indy was designed by Carrozzeria Vignale, and actually had a different brief than the Ghibli. It was designed to replace the aging Mexico and gen1 Quattroporte, and at a lower price point than the top-line Ghibli. Although not quite in the same league as the Ghibli, Vignale did an excellent job of disguising the Indy’s four-passenger accommodations. The cockpit was moved forward, and the body was a couple of inches taller than the Ghibli. And the hood couldn’t be raked as aggressively, because it used the taller and cheaper wet-sump versions of Maserati’s DOHC V8s, unlike the dry-sump Ghibli.
As such, it was essentially a competitor to Lamborghini’s Espada, a bolder (and more commodious) shot at a four-passenger Italian supercar. Some 1104 Indys were built from 1969 to 1975, with the 4.9 V8 on the last few years. Standard transmission was a ZF 5-speed; a Borg Warner 3-speed automatic was optional (and joy-killing).
If you’re going to the best opera (Don Giovanni) with just one other, the Ghibli is the preferred way to go. But if it’s a foursome, one could much worse than to take the Indy, eve if it’s just Falstaff. And when it’s in the Vienna Opera House, it’s going to be highly memorable in either case.