Curbside Classic: 1997 Maserati Quattroporte IV – Still Wedgy After All These Years

For the third entry on Gandini Week, we’ll take a gander at the later part of the Italian designer’s work. After having worked for Bertone for 15 years and spent five years at Renault, Marcello Gandini went completely independent. Despite the whole Fiat X1/9 plagiarism affair of 1971, when Maserati owner Alejandro de Tomaso called (presumably collect) in the late ‘80s, Gandini accepted the charges.

Gandini had designed a couple of Maseratis back in the ‘70s, when the marque was owned by Citroën. The Khamsin was one the highlights of that era, but there had also been the confidential Quattroporte II – essentially a stretched Citroën SM with a 4-door Bertone body. When De Tomaso took over the Trident in 1975, the odd front-drive QP2 fell through the cracks and was soon forgotten, as it was soon replaced by the rather fantastic Giugiaro-designed Quattroporte III.

De Tomaso figured that the best way to get Maserati back in the black was to go down-market, so the Biturbo was created in 1982. It was a much smaller car than anything Maserati had produced since the ‘50s and, thanks to being partially manufactured by Innocenti, it was a lot cheaper as well. This gambit paid off at first as volumes shot up, but the plan soon soured when disastrous quality control became all too obvious.

The Maserati range, by the mid-‘80s, was a mess of outdated styling, shoddy assembly and misfiring engines. To address the first issue, Alejandro de Tomaso called on Gandini, who supervised a phased refresh of the Biturbos from 1987 onwards, culminating in the Ghibli II and a new V8 coupé, the Shamal.

In 1990, the Quattroporte III went out of production. Maserati had a 4-door Biturbo handy, but that was not quite in the same league. Besides, around this time, Alejandro de Tomaso was in talks with Fiat for a direly-needed financial lifeline. When that came through, work on a brand-new flagship sedan could proceed. And Gandini was again asked to get busy.

Despite Fiat’s assistance, money was tight, so the only possible solution was to stretch the Biturbo platform a bit more. Ever the proponent of the Wedge School of Automotive Design, Gandini gave the new Maser a pointy front end and a chunky rear, though the ‘90s zeitgeist made it all far less aggressive and more rounded than the wedges of yore.

The trademark angle-cut rear wheel opening, pioneered two decades before on the Countach LP500, was obviously still close to the stylist’s heart. If nothing else, it gave the Quattroporte IV a bit more personality (as well as a family resemblance with the Shamal), but the fact that Gandini was still applying the same tricks that he was doing back in the early ‘70s was perhaps a sign that he was phoning it in.

Maserati’s new “big” saloon hit the market in April 1994 with a 280hp 2.8 litre twin-turbo V6 under the hood as the sole option, save for Italy where a 2-litre was the default – the smaller engine, interestingly enough, was a marginally more powerful than the larger one. The transmission was either a 6-speed manual of a 4-speed auto.

Sales were not exactly brisk, but help was at hand: in 1996, a 330hp 3.2 litre twin-turbo V8 derived from the Shamal’s unit became available. This is what our feature car has, as attested by the script on the flank.

This did improve sales a bit, but the Quattroporte remained a rather discreet presence on the roads. Fiat and Ferrari were now in complete control of Maserati, so they went through the saloon with a fine toothcomb to improve it in a number of ways, leading to the Evoluzione (a.k.a series II) being presented in 1998.

Part of the Evoluzione refresh was the deletion of the famous dash clock – a sacrilege! Fortunately, our feature car is a first series, so the timepiece is still there, ticking away amidst the walnut burl. Some traditions should not be tampered with.

Despite the improvements, buyers remained few and far between for the Biturbo’s final (and some say best) avatar. The new 3200GT coupé was the Maserati everyone had eyes for – a real sign of renewal for the long-suffering Trident.

The last Quattroporte IVs were put together in late 2000 and sold into the next year. In total, only 2400 were made in seven years, including 750 with the V8 engine. Everything is relative, though: 2400 units was the nameplate’s best score to date (QP1: 776 units; QP2: 18 units; QP3: 2155 units). Of course, the when the QP5 arrived in 2003, the scale sort of changed – they shifted over 25,000 of those.

The Quattroporte IV was the last of the truly exclusive Maserati saloons, as well as one the final Gandini 4-door design to see production. Even a wedge starts wearing thin, after a while.