(first posted 9/26/2017) Most cars made after around 1980 leave me cold, but there are exceptions. The 1998-2002 Maserati 3200 GT is one of those. I remember those when they came out in 1998, thinking to myself: “Hold on. Maserati is still in business? And they’re doing this?” I had seen a couple of Quattroporte IVs on occasion, but they just looked so puny and odd that I figured Maserati were now reduced to building parts for Ferrari or Fiat. I was wrong – the 3200 GT was the start of something of yet another Maserati rebirth.
In my opinion, the ‘80s and ‘90s were the worst era for Maserati. Boxy Biturbo derivatives galore, iffy quality control and lousy de Tomaso management almost killed the Trident after it had almost been done in by Citroën in the ‘70s. The only model that had any trace of the Maserati magic, to my eyes, was the gargantuan Quattroporte III. The rest of the range seemed miles away from the Khamsins, Indys or 3500 GTs of yore. By 1990, Alejandro de Tomaso found himself in dire financial straits, so he had to sell his participation in Maserati to Fiat, who got Ferrari in on the deal by 1996.
Maserati were chiefly making V6-powered cars by then. Only the Shamal still held on to the V8 mystique, though Marcello Gandini made it look about as appealing as a brick. Infused with far better quality control and management from their neighbours in Modena, Maserati were now in a position to make a clean break with the dreaded de Tomaso era. Italdesign’s Giorgetto Giugiaro was commissioned to design a new swooping coupé, which would use the 3.2 litre V8 – now built under the competent auspices of Ferrari. Giugiaro did very well. The result was a muscular car, not dissimilar to the Aston Martin DB7 from the front.
But the back – oh, the back! – was pure, unadulterated genius. Those daring boomerang LEDs gave the car such immediate personality that it cannot be mistaken for anything else. Somehow, these were never homologated for North America, which pretty much sealed its fate. Barely three years after it was introduced, it was out of production; less than 5000 were made. A revamped “Maserati Coupé” took its place, with completely anonymous tail lamps replacing the LED boomerangs. The lowest common denominator had won again, having claimed the Jaguar E-Type, the MG B and countless others in previous decades.
The 3200 GT’s interior seems like a very snug place to be, too, compared to the nausea-inducing cream leather of some of the Maseratis of the ‘80s. The chintzy gold clock was kept on as a memento of those days of excess. There was a 4-speed autobox available, but the majority of cars shared our CC’s 6-speed manual transmission.
In my opinion, aside from the 3200 GT-derived Coupé and the obligatory SUV, Maserati has been making great cars again since this one. The marque has had such a checkered history that it’s not impossible they will hit another low, but they’ve been at the top of their game for the past 20 years – how many automakers can make the same claim?