MISSION MASERATI / AUTUMN/WINTER 2016 / ISSUE FIVE / NOTES MAGAZINE
Kevin Drayton rubs shoulders with 007 to bring you the lowdown on a legendary Italian car marque
In ‘Trigger Mortis’ the James Bond franchise novel written by Anthony Horowitz set in 1957 and published last year by Orion Books, our hero is tasked with protecting a racing driver. In order to stick close to his charge Bond has to learn to drive a Maserati 250F and is given lessons by an expert – who just happens to be female* Bond later takes the controls himself on the racetrack, with thrilling results. This is the car driven by the likes of Fangio and Stirling Moss to victory after victory. The power, glamour, brutality and mystique of the name epitomises the world in which Bond operates in that period.
I’m on my second Maserati now – and before you get excited, whilst it is of inestimable value to my spiritual wellbeing, thanks to my preference for seeking out older, low-mileage and well maintained cars, it is of less monetary value than most of the ultra sophisticated racing bikes that seem to obsess so many of my colleagues. But then it’s all about passion isn’t it? How else could I have justified my first Maserati (the infamous 3200GT) that was more like a bad tempered teenager than a means of transport, spending vast amounts of time in bed (read workshop) and sulking at the slightest provocation. I took it to Halfords one Sunday morning to buy it a treat and when I presented whatever the trinket was, the car absolutely refused to move from the car park, clearly thinking it deserved something far nicer.
Turbo failure would occur without warning, leaving me to nurse the beast home as I waved cheerily at overtaking cyclists. Slipping the clutch was a concept unknown to the vehicle and if asked to do a number of hill starts you knew that distinctive burning smell would soon fill the cabin. We did manage to drive it all the way to Tuscany one summer, only for me to spend a day in the local Maserati dealership, where the language barrier did not stop me understanding the mix of admiration and pity with which the manager regarded me as the pick up truck deposited self and car in the workshop. We managed the 2,000 odd kilometre return drive over several days with a sense of euphoric achievement as we pulled up at our hotel for each night without problem.
When it wasn’t sulking, boy was it fun. A flattish, relatively unpopulated autostrada was its natural habitat when man, machine and metalled surface came together as one. And just as importantly, for a designer, it looked a million Euros. Wherever we stopped you only had to wait a few seconds for someone to strike up a conversation.
However, one autumn I had a bad attack of being sensible and decided it had to go. As Frank Sinatra didn’t sing: “Regrets, I’ve had just one.”
The day after we parted I started looking at advertisements for second-hand Maseratis. It took me a while to find the well looked-after, (relatively) low mileage silver 4200 coupe that currently warms the cockles of my ageing ticker, but the wait was worth it. This beauty does everything the 3200 did but with the manners of someone who has been through Eton, Cambridge and the Coldstream Guards rather than as the stroppy delinquent I used to know.
Why the difference? In a word: Ferrari. Between the two models, the Prancing Horse took the marque into its stable, gave it psychotherapy, a beautiful new engine and a whole new attitude to reliability - but without losing the essence of the earlier vehicles. Result: pleasantly surprised and very happy architect. Incidentally, the legendary Maserati 250F developed just 220 bhp from a two and a half litre engine; my 4200 develops 390 bhp which suggests that there’s a lot more waiting to be unleashed than I ever come near.
This beauty does everything the 3200 did but with the manners of someone who has been through Eton, Cambridge and the Coldstream Guards rather than as the stroppy delinquent I used to know.
So what of Maserati today? Thanks to the lovely people at JCT 600 Brooklands in Leeds and particularly their infectiously enthusiastic Brand Marketing Manager Sue Leadbeater, I can tell you. The marque now comprises three models: the Ghibli, the Quattroporte and the Levante – the Maserati of SUVs.
The Ghibli, resurrecting the name first used in the company’s legendary 1966 V8 GT styled by Giugiaro, is a four door genuine four seater that arguably combines the best of the saloon and GT worlds. It is available in three versions including a diesel. For me it manages the Tardis trick of looking like a 2+2 sportster but being capable of taking four people, clobber and all, on a long journey in supreme comfort. In styling terms it is the true descendant of the early Maserati ethos. I want one.
The Quattroporte, which the linguists amongst you will realise is just a sexy way of saying four doors, is the luxury hotel suite on wheels that is the marque’s executive saloon model. Although just as elegantly styled as the Ghibli, its size tells you this is a saloon in which you could get temporarily lost crossing from one side of the rear cabin to the other. Which is why when you watch a sleek black QP drawing up outside La Scala Opera House in Milan (its natural habitat) for a gala performance it takes several minutes before the occupants step out of the vehicle.
Unfortunately my comments on the last model in the present range, the Levante, are restricted to interpretations of press releases and photographs. The entry of Maserati into the luxury SUV market is so recent that at the time of writing JCT 600 had yet to take delivery of one. Much to the chagrin of Sue Leadbeater who gave me the impression that she would not sleep much until this suave beast of a machine is sitting in her Brooklands showroom. This is muscle, power and capability in a Brioni dinner jacket; a workhorse with impeccable manners and the educated drawl of an aristocrat. At least, that’s what I shall expect when I finally meet a Levante face to face.
Maseratis are not for everyone. Perish the thought. They are quirky, idiosyncratic, slaveringly gorgeous and mark out their owners as people of taste and discretion. They do not need to shout but can howl at the moon with the best of them given a clear stretch of road and a few tunnels off which to bounce that glorious engine song. If you have not done so before, take a look. Better still, take a drive.