Let me start by saying that I’ve never owned a Maserati; in fact I’m not sure I’ve ever sat in one, even if only at a car show. But seeing this Quattroporte parked at Costco a few months ago stirred all kinds of memories. It all started in Venice, in 1964 …
In the summer of 1964 our family traveled around Europe in our European delivery Volvo 122S station wagon, previously shown here. Since even before my first visit to Europe in 1960, I was obsessed with cars and in particular die-cast “toy” cars. I already had a decent collection of Matchbox, Dinky Toys and Corgi’s before we arrived in the UK in January 1964, and my collection had grown over the six months before we got to the Continent. Once in France, and later Italy, I was overwhelmed by the availability of exotic brands of both the toy makers (French Dinky, Norev, Solido, Mercury and others) and the cars themselves (Ferrari, Porsche, Alfa Romeo) which I’d rarely seen in England. At the time, my dad smoked, so we regularly went into the small tobacconist stores, or tabacchi (seen above in a modern photo from the ‘Net) which also sold stamps, phone tokens, postcards, newspapers and postcards. These were items my parents seemed to always need, but for me, the draw of these shops was the die cast cars always on display. And what I wanted was a die cast Ferrari, red of course. Finally, in Venice, my mom gave in to my whining.
But what she bought me wasn’t a Ferrari. It was Italian, it was red, and exotic, and made by a brand I’d never heard of (at least in the context of toy cars), Mercury. It was a Maserati 3500GT. I still have it, a bit worse for wear. In fact, I took this photo just for this post, having dug it out from a box in the basement after seeing the Costco Ghibli. Under the hood is what looks like the longest straight six in history, though with its twin-spark head, maybe it’s to scale. Unlike Paul Niedermayer, who has revealed his appreciation of the 3500GT here and here, I never warmed to it and always thought of it as “not a Ferrari”.
Over the next few years, I’m not sure if I got any more diecast Maserati’s, though quite a few Ferrari’s joined my collection. But despite the emergence of Lamborghini, Maserati suddenly seemed less in Ferrari’s shadow with cars like the Mistral, and Ghibli. More about the Mistral soon, but the AM115 Ghibli, with its V8 and long, low, and wide stance, finally elevated Maserati up to the level of Ferrari and almost up there with Lamborghini. Since the first 350 and 400GT’s, and then the Miura, Lamborghini was still unchallenged for the top step of the podium in my eyes. But as an American, there was something special to me about the fact that the Ghibli had a V8.
Not the greatest photo, but I took this black and white picture of a Ghibli at an outdoor car show in the early seventies.
And because we can never have enough pictures of Ghibli’s, here’s another shot, from Wikipedia, in Italian red.
After the Ghibli, to me Maserati started its decline. The angular style of the Ghibli’s front engined successor, the Khamsin, looked awkward to me, and the mid-engined Bora, was well, boring compared to a Miura or Ferrari BB. With the BiTurbo, I didn’t think things could get any worse. But they did.
I’ve never been a fan of the Citroen SM, but at least Citroen and Maserati brought some interesting technology to their partnership. Chrysler and Maserati? Not so much. In my long Silicon Valley career, I only worked for one startup. The founder drove one of these. Nice guy, and very sharp, but I didn’t stay there long. Maybe it was the car.
Fast forward a few decades, and I wasn’t really paying much attention to exotic cars. I was vaguely aware of some relationship between the former rivals Ferrari and Maserati. I knew Fiat was in there somewhere too. But suddenly I started seeing new Maserati’s on the streets again.
First some Coupes and Spyders, but then the four door sedan somewhat incongruously named Ghibli. To me the Ghibli will remain a front engined V8 GT, so I’m glad Maserati still uses the Quattroporte name on at least one four door sedan. Though to be honest, I just assumed the Costco car was a Ghibli until i checked some photo’s and realized it had the longer wheelbase and rear quarter window of the Quattroporte.
And even considering where I live, these were not just occasional sightings in upscale neighborhoods or on Sand Hill Rd near the VC headquarters. I think I finally realized the Ghibli was starting to eclipse the E Class or 5 Series as a Silicon Valley status symbol when I saw a realtor’s Ghibli parked in the driveway at a residential Open House. Over 3000 Ghibli’s were sold in the US in 2016 and over 5000 in 2017 before sales dropped. Well over 100K Ghibli’s have been sold worldwide in less than a decade. Does that make it a success, or has the volume devalued the brand? Probably irrelevant …
By then, Maserati even had an SUV! The Levante has gained some fame as the car of West Virginia senator Joe Manchin. On a recent cross country ski trip, I saw two Levante’s in short order on snow-covered roads in the Sierra Nevada mountains of California.
I haven’t been able to find recent Maserati sales figures, but according to a recent Automotive News article, Maserati’s “Brand Loyalty” is way up. Slightly more than Tesla, but below Genesis.
I mentioned earlier that I would revisit the Mistral. Here is picture I found online, and it was in fact recently covered by Paul here. But if I hadn’t for once forgotten my phone on a recent trip to the grocery store, I could be showing my own pictures of a Mistral. For parked in a stall at my local supermarket, tucked among Tacoma’s and F150’s and Priuses and CRV’s, was a red Mistral coupe just like the one in the photo above. Clean but not concours-perfect, stunning alloy wire wheels, skinny little 185 or 205 section tires – it looked petite and so out of place. And absolutely gorgeous.
I’ll wrap up with another shot of my 1/43rd scale 3500GT, taken using portrait mode on my iPhone. After seeing that blue Quattroporte at Costco six months ago, these memories and thoughts came slowly bubbling up. When I saw the Mistral at the market, I knew I had to write them up. Never a Maserati owner, and not really a fan or even a follower, but it’s a brand that has left its mark on me.
I followed a Maserati today: a black SUV. But it was SO distinctive that I didn’t know what it was until it slowed to pull into a parking lot and I saw that scripted name on the liftgate.
MB n BMW went high volume and built SUVs so why can t Massarati.?. So sad. Still they still build the ” thinking mans” Ferrari .
I see quite a few late model Maseratis over here why I dont know but they are selling, the worst part of the Citroen SM is the engine the rest of it is just Citroen tried and true systems
Conversely, the Bora had Citroen hydraulics. That didn’t translate well either.
I see them (the Ghiblis seem preferred) around here from time to time, but not nearly as often as I see Ferraris of all types. I’ve virtually never seen a vintage Maserati on the road.
But it’s a marque that’s stuck in my mind ever since I was a little kid; I think due to a memorable Flintstones episode. https://flintstones.fandom.com/wiki/The_Stonefinger_Caper
To this day, I can’t see “Maserati” and not think “Maserocki”.
I drive past a Maserati dealer twice daily on my commute – They are not exclusively Maserati, but also handle the Alfa Romeo and (dwindling) Fiat lines as well. I have noticed a surprising number of Maseratis out and about in the Indianapolis area.
I will have to start watching my Costco parking lot more closely. But I have certainly never seen anything as interesting there as when I found the Lambo Espada at a Sam’s Club.
That TC project with Chrysler was truly a mess. It is pretty bad when the project did more for Chrysler than it did for Maserati, because it did almost nothing for Chrysler.
The modern Quattroporte is an example of a modern car that they got right the first time, and then they fiddled with it for a decade and a half just to make changes. It still looks good, but I like the original best. The same thing happened with the Audi A5; it looked great when introduced, and then it got the upgraded nose, etc. It still looks good, but they changed it for the sake of change. Honestly, Dodge probably did it right – they left the Challenger alone and kept improving the mechanical bits.
With that being said, the original Ghibli and Mistral (and 3500GT) are gorgeous.
Loved reading this. Great pictures, and it made me happy to see you still had that toy Maserati from your travels in the ’60s. Great memento to accompany what sound like great memories.
I remember feeling a glimmer of hope for the brand around the turn of the millennium, and then a bit later with some genuinely exciting-looking two-doors. But the four-doors… there just seem to be so many of them, to your point.
At least they’re really good looking four-door,nand that trident emblem will probably always generate some level of excitement for me, whatever it’s attached to.
Talk about the CC Effect taken to a new level: what are the odds that both of us would have forgotten our camera/phones when encountering a Maserati 3500 GT? Especially when we both had strong associations with that particular model?
Even in Eugene there’s a sprinkling of Masers to be seen. They have made real inroads.
Excellent article, thank you! We have a small tech community here in Kanata/Ottawa, and I’m always disheartened by the number of tech executives who stubbornly continue to drive their premium brands year round, including during four months of seriously corrosive road salt on all our roads. Some off lease or used top level brands here, will have disappointing signs of salt corrosion. Making secondhand purchasing a more careful challenge. If only more drivers here would park their nice cars in winter.
I love that this Maserati is at Costco. Guess the owner is right in the scrum with everyone else, using their giant shopping trolleys as battering rams to barge others out the way because even though the mountain of 300-roll packs of toilet paper is so tall it has its own weather systems, they might run out.
As to the Biturbo: I can’t decide why to roll my eyes; should it be because lookalike Italian car styling (cf Volvo 780 and numerous others designed by the usual suspects), or because resemblance to the VW Fox? Oh, let’s do both.
I don’t know that the Chrysler’s TC by Maserati is objectively worse than the Biturbo. If I ignore Iacocca’s egotism and all its accompanying baggage about this car, and I also ignore the LeBaron, and we suspend any “ewwwww, Chrysler” snobbery, this is not a bad-looking thing; I would say quite a bit easier on the eye than the Biturbo.
I’m not sure if I meant that the TC was objectively worse. But I think it was another step down for the brand’s image and reputation. And, I was 30 years younger then and still associated that name with an Italian RWD Gran Turismo with a V8 or at least an inline six.
I don’t disagree with you. I was speaking only of design.
” In my long Silicon Valley career, I only worked for one startup. The founder drove one of these. Nice guy, and very sharp, but I didn’t stay there long. Maybe it was the car.”
Then again, it might just have been your point of view.
This was not a car meant to enhance the Maserati brand, but the Chrysler brand. Had the Italian workmen not objected so fiercely that the first 200 or so TCs built had to be CRUSHED due to such miserable workmanship, not to mention the delays in receiving parts from European suppliers, the car could have hit the market a year or more earlier.
I for one own an ’89 model, VIN ending in 0766, and it is a fine driving machine with nearly 300,000 miles showing on the odometer and as far as looks go, it looks better than the new stuff being built these days.
The Maserati 3500 and other Italian makes such as late 1950’s/early 60’s Ferraris really appeal to me. It might be the open road, dolce vida GT vibe that these cars exude. This was before the super slinky look from the mid 60’s took off. The latest fighter jet/ rocket ship designs just seem too extreme to me. I guess it’s all academic, not like I could afford to buy any of them!
Bit of a confession here – I am one of those modern Maserati owners – our family truckster is a Levante with all the trimmings – Zegna silk/ leather interior and one of the special paint options.
These are very color sensitive- white, as shown above makes them look flabby, whilst darker colors look great in my opinion. And the chrome grille looks much better than the black one. Interiors can look a bit dowdy in black or really special in the contrast leather finishes.
The quality of the thing is really good and it sounds wonderful in sport mode. It has a long hood/pushed back cabin proportion that stands out amongst all the Cayennes and Range Rovers. The handling is very rear drive biased due to the rear mechanical limited slip diff (it will get quite sideways according to a friend who was following me) and it can also waft quietly when you want it to.
As a previous Porsche owner I know Cayennes very well – wonderful vehicles and whilst the Maser is not as perfect, it Ida capable and genuinely charming alternative.
SUVs from sports car companies are a bit divisive amongst enthusiasts, but if you need to transport kids, dos, bikes, etc. and need some off road capability, they fill the need whilst also offering an entertaining drive.
I think Maserati are on the right track – Levante for volume to support their sports cars – I am very interested to see how their coupe replacement turns out…
Here’s our Lev before we brought it home – as it’s based on the Ghibli architecture it’s got a long hood, short cabin proportion…
I’m sorry if I came across negatively about the modern Maser’s … but perhaps I do feel that way. My relationship with them is decades old, and complex, and indelibly influenced by the “but it’s not a Ferrari!” toy that my Mom bought me almost 60 years ago. Which I still own, so I have some loyalty to the brand, though I wasn’t asked my opinion for that survey 😀
Some interesting takes here. My first notion of Maserati was reading some books as a kid about a character named Perry Clifton who apparently drove a Maserati of some sort. That was the last of it in my consciousness until almost a decade later when I first read about the BiTurbo at its introduction. That car became my first real introduction to the marque and I loved it. I still love it and all of its variants. Of course I then became much more aware of the history, the old cars, saw more Maseratis than I ever knew were built at one of the 90s Monterey Historic Car Races where they were the featured marque (and realized the Kyalami surely influenced the BiTurbo design no matter how much the BT looked like an E30 BMW). I simply don’t care about the reliability issues, nobody buying a Maserati back then either had one or used one as their exclusive car and if you had to ask the price even of the base BiTurbo, well…you now the saying.
Today? Still loving the BiTurbo and its more and more outrageous offspring culminating in the Quattroporte Iv to say nothing of the Shamal. But the last two decades of QP have all been immensely interesting to me, the Ghibli not so much, the Levante blends in too much (I’ll take an Alfa Stelvio over it any day) which is easy to say not having driven a Levante.
Re the TC, eh, the vast majority of them never even came with the Maserati engine and probably none of the TCs left today are using one. So they’re just another Lido flight of fancy, trading on an exotic name association. 90% of its appeal is as a better looking and better interior-ed LeBaron but if the styling were reversed between the cars perhaps we’d think the LeBaron was the better looking one simply by dint of it being rarer and not a mainstay of the Thrifty/Dollar Rent-a-car fleet for too many years. In short, overall it did nothing to raise the luster of the Chrysler brand and the Maserati name was sullied enough by the BiTurbo’s dreadful reputation already to not hurt itself too much by the association either.
Most surprising though to me is that Maserati has been in the ascendancy for two decades now while Lancia has been heading the other way. (and Alfa Romeo has mostly held steady).
Never mind the funny looking guy.
The first time I saw this 62 3500 GTI it was love at first sight. Just enough of all the good stuff without looking tacky.
Yeah, to my mind Maserati was definitely second fiddle to Ferrari way back when. But still an exotic, still desirable. The Bi Turbo and TC in the 80s didn’t do it’s reputation any good, but times were tough, they had to figure out how to survive.
But. But. When they went to Buick styling, the Buick/Maserati, I lost all respect for them. Buick portholes on a Maser? Unforgivable. While they do seem to be selling more of them than before, to me it’s just a race to the bottom. If I wanted a Buick, I’d buy one.