Why are four-door cars considered less desirable than two-door ones? The coupé or convertible almost universally commands more interest from the gearhead crowd than the so-called “mundane” sedan. This has been true for decades and is the main reason why Enzo Ferrari always refused to include a saloon in his range. Maserati showed the world that sports cars can have four doors. Maybe that was their main purpose, in retrospect.
That’s not to say that they “invented” the concept of the sporty four-door – they just did it well and more consistently than any other carmaker. This is the fifth Quattroporte since the nameplate hit the market in 1963, and they are currently making the sixth in ever-increasing numbers; I see those fairly regularly in my neck of the woods, but they blend into the traffic. A nice jet-black QP5, on the other hand, is a true attention-getter.
Maserati have done many great cars in their long history, but the Quattroporte is the only one that spawned an actual legacy. It was not a foregone conclusion when the first one was launched, almost 60 years ago. Back in the prewar days, when folks bought chassis and had a coachbuilder fit whatever body they fancied, the sporty saloon was a popular proposition. Bentleys, Bugatti or Duesenbergs routinely had this type of body. After the war, the big Euro behemoths disappeared, along with traditional coachbuilders, and sports cars generally became smaller. By the mid-‘50s, high-end sports saloons had become extremely rare.
Legacy French, Italian and German makers had abandoned the niche by then, leaving only a couple of British offerings with modestly-sized 6-cyl. engines. Jaguars were a saccharine version of the concept and Bentleys had become too antiquated and heavy to really qualify, but there were a few holdouts: one might be able to get one of the final old-fashioned Alvises (top left) or 2-litre ACs, or pay an arm and a leg for a Bristol 405 (top right) or a Lagonda 3-Litre. A few years later, the Facel-Vega Excellence (1958-62, bottom right) was the first sign of the niche’s re-birth, albeit a rather ephemeral one and using a Chrysler V8. But it was tenuous, as the disastrous 1961-64 Lagonda Rapide (bottom left) showed.
Such was the scene when Maserati launched the Quattroporte in 1963. The first generation (top left; 776 units made from 1963 to 1969), powered by an all-alloy DOHC 4.2 litre V8, was a great success compared to any other high-end sports saloon that preceded it. This did not prevent Maserati from being bought by Citroën, leading to the aborted FWD V6-powered oddity that was the 1975-78 Quattroporte II (top right; about a dozen made). This was soon remedied by the third generation (1979-90; bottom right), which returned to the V8-and-RWD playbook. This righted the flagship, even as the marque was undermined by Alejandro de Tomaso’s questionable direction. The fourth QP (1994-2001; bottom left), based on a stretched Biturbo platform, punctuated this era, being launched just as Maserati came under the stewardship of Fiat and Ferrari. A choice of V6 or V8 power was available to move the smallest Quattroporte ever.
The QP1 was designed by Pietro Frua and the ill-fated QP2 wore a Bertone badge but was authored by Marcello Gandini. The glorious third was a Giugiaro job and Gandini got a second bite at the apple with the stretched Biturbo that followed. A new Millenium and the Fiat / Ferrari influence may have been at play when Pininfarina was assigned the contract for the fifth Quattroporte. Ken Okuyama is credited with the Maserati’s design – one of the Japanese designer’s only four-door cars. By the way, Buick called and they want their ventiports back.
The platform was completely new, with an independent coil-sprung double wishbone suspension both front and rear on aluminium subframes supporting a steel unit body. The engine is placed behind the front wheels mated to a Ferrari-sourced Formula 1-type paddle-controlled six-speed “automated manual” transaxle gearbox or, as in our feature car, a standard-issue ZF 6-speed auto. Said ZF box is located next to the engine though, unlike the paddle one.
Under the hood, just as everywhere else, the QP5 broke new ground. Gone were the twin-turbocharged engines of the De Tomaso years: the 4244cc DOHC 32-valve all-alloy V8 churning out 395hp was a pure Ferrari product and was already in use on the Maserati Coupé when the QP5 came to be. When time came for the inevitable mid-life facelift in 2008, the Quattroporte S was introduced with a 4.7 litre V8, available in 424, 434 and 444hp variants.
Our CC is a pre-facelift model, albeit one of the last ones. The Sport GTS trim includes a leather / alcantara upholstery and carbon fiber rather than wood veneer inserts seen on the Executive trim cars. Engine and transmission are identical in both variants, so the Sport GTS trim mostly meant for the QP to look sportier, with a mesh grille (and ventiports), blacked out trim pieces, red accents on the tridents and so on.
The seven-spoke 20-inch wheels with lower profile tyres hint at the sole substantively sporty difference that this Sport GT trim brings to the table, namely better handling and a slightly lowered stance thanks to the tyres, improved Brembo brakes and Bilstein shocks.
After the clearly subpar Quattroporte IV, the rebirth of Maserati under Fiat ownership and Ferrari’s tutelage was nothing less than a resurrection. It took a little while for the mistakes of the ‘70s and ‘80s to be replaced by a new generation, starting with the 3200 GT, to take the beleaguered Italian marque into the new century. The QP5 was the real star of the show, the one that successfully replaced Lancias and Mercedes as the default ride for Italian VIPs and proved that Maserati could build a genuine sports saloon for this era, just like they had done in the ‘60s.
By the time production was stopped in 2013, the Quattroporte V had totaled over 25,000 units – ten times what the previous generations usually managed. This is a significant number, in that it’s small enough to keep these in the exclusive car category, but large enough to show that it convinced many folks who had never bought a Maserati that, beyond the styling and image, the marque and its products had turned into a serious alternative to German, British or Japanese luxury saloons.
Another resurrected legend, the Touring carrozzeria, even made a literal handful of QP Bellagio “Fastback” specials (more of a hatchback, really) in 2008, just to keep the exclusivity thing going.
Quattroportes all have had their individual quirks, both good and bad. The current QP is a poor re-hash of this one, sadly, and the second and fourth generations are less than stellar. On the other hand, the first one dared to re-invent a niche, and the third, as the last handmade Italian luxury saloon, holds a special place in automotive history. But all in all, I think the most consequential QP was the fifth. I don’t usually find cars of the present century all that interesting, but rules are made to have exceptions. I guess that makes the Quattroporte V something rather exceptional.
Vintage Review: Maserati Quattroporte III, by Yohai71