Classic Design Snapshot from 1961: Maserati 5000 – The Maserati 3500’s Ugly But Fast Big Sister

I’ve had a bookmark in my 1961 Auto-Parade on this page for a while, with the notation “ugly Maserati”. That doesn’t apply to everything from the front wheels back, but that face really is one only a mother could love, or the Shah of Iran. Let’s just say that the transition from the classic Pininfarina-style front end to the new Corvair-inspired flat face and low-set headlights was handled better by some than others. That’s not to disparage an otherwise phenomenal car, and a brutally fast one. Let’s take a closer look, in color.

The 500 is one of the most legendary gran turismos of the post war era, less for its face but but for it’s immense power and 172 mph top speed. Folks were willing to give a car with that kind of performance a bit of grace.

The 500 GT is essentially a 3500 GT with the first road-going application of Maserati’s superb new DOHC V8 engine, designed by Giulio Alfieri to power the Trident’s racing cars, along with new bodywork. When the displacement limit was raised to 4.5 liters, the 3 liter six was struggling to keep up, despite its superb balance and reliability. The 450S was the result, and created a legend.

When the Shah of Iran wanted something more exclusive than the 3500 GT, Maserati enlarged the 4.5 V8 to five liters, detuned to 340 hp with a milder cam, and implanted it in a strengthened version the 3500’s tube chassis. Thirty-four 5000 GTs were ever built, with bodywork by various small coach builders. Only the first two, including the Shah’s, had this body by Touring.

Strictly speaking, it’s not really Corvair-inspired, because it appeared in 1959, the same year as the Corvair. But undoubtedly, the transition to flat grilles, and low set headlights that GM introduced in its 1959 large cars, as well as earlier concept cars, had an unmistakable influence here.

Kind of a mash-up between the ’59 Olds,

and Virgil Exener’s XNR. Except the XNR was also designed in 1959, and built by Ghia. Maybe Ghia was looking at Touring? Unraveling the endless design cribbing is impossible.

But let’s not leave before we look at the better side of the magnificent 5000 GT.