Car Show Classic: 1957-1960 Maserati 3500GT – The Italian Thunderbird

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I know that car shows are generally considered “cheating” here on Curbside Classic, but this morning when I pulled in to work and saw a Maserati 3500GT in the parking lot at the mall, I just couldn’t ignore it.

Every Saturday morning, there is a group of car folks who gather in the Mall parking lot to check out each other’s cars, and there are sometimes some quite interesting cars, but I’ve never walked over there to check it out, because just like the editors here, I’m not particularly interested in perfectly restored cars, or cars driven only on Saturday mornings.  And while I’d love a ride in a Hemi ‘Cuda (there was a purple ‘Cuda convertible surrounded by 10-15 folks this morning), I’m not all that interested in starring at one as if it were a pinnacle of engineering achievement.

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But the site of a beautiful, original seeming, restrained, front-engined Italian GT sitting by itself and ignored by the crowds was more than I could resist.  As best I can tell from my research on the web, you are looking at a Maserati 3500GT from the years 1957-1960.  The key identifiers are the taillights, the fog lights and the front blinkers.  And the key differences starting in 1961 were fuel injection and a standard 5-speed transmission, changes that earned the new name of 3500GTI.  This car is a touch confusing, however, because the license plate implies that it is a GTI.  Maybe it’s had an upgrade to the GTI engine.


Look at those fins!

But as I’m no expert in the Maserati and have neither driven one nor sat in one, I’d rather focus on the part of this car that is readily apparent to all of us:  The styling.

And the more I look at the pictures, and think about what car we can most closely compare to this car, only one comes to mind:  the 1955-1957 Ford Thunderbird!

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The similarities continue

The headlights are neither hooded nor frenched, but the sweepline into the fender combines with the hood scoop to give a Thunderbird impression to this beautiful Italian GT.  The wrap around windshield and the shape of the roof continue the similarities.

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Reminiscent of a 1957 Thunderbird?

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More like a 1958 Thunderbird

The round gauges and three-spoke steering wheel are similar to the redesigned interior of the 1957 Thunderbird; but, of course, the bucket seats and rear seat are more like a 1958 Thunderbird.

3500 GT Six

Pretty far from a Y-Block (not from the actual car)

The detuned 3.5 liter, inline six-cylinder racing engine, with dual spark plugs for each cylinder certainly ends the similarities.  How Stuff Works Auto explains:

The all-aluminum twincam inline-six had hemispherical combustion chambers and twin spark plugs. It drove through a four-speed ZF gearbox, with a five speed optional from 1960 and standard from ’61. The trio of Webers eventually was supplanted by Lucas mechanical fuel injection, bringing another 15 hp and a GTI badge.

But the racing engine alone didn’t make for a race car or a sports car.  This car is a GT, a Grand Touring car, one designed to travel long distances, fast, and in comfort.  As Donald Osborne, of Velocity TV, says of the 3500 GT, “It is a pleasure to drive.  Fun to drive, no.  This is a boulevard Cruiser, a car that is designed to cross continents.”  Sounds a bit like a certain “Personal Car” from Dearborn, no?


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Separated at birth?

So, did I make this all up in my mind, or are these long lost twins that were separated at birth?

Related reading: Paul Niedermeyer’s unexpected (and un-photographed) encounter with a Maserati 3500 GT in the deep woods of Oregon: Auto-Biography: Maserati Dreamin’