The Trident is Raised By: Jeremy McMullen
One of Italy's most famous marks, and perhaps most troubled, the trident-bearing automaker continues to provoke passion through its search of excellence.
Five brothers would come together in December of 1914 to found a motor company bearing their name—Maserati. Alfieri, Bindo, Carlo, Ettore and Ernesto had all demonstrated a passion for automobiles, particularly racing, during those early years at the turn of the 20th century.
The foundations of the company would actually begin some time earlier with the eldest Maserati brother, Carlo. By 17, Carlo would design his very first single-cylinder engine that would not only help to earn him a victory in the 1900 Brescia-Cremona-Verona-Brescia rally, it would help him to be noticed by none other than Fiat.
With the help of Carlo, who had moved on from Fiat, Alfieri takes his place in automotive lore being hired to Isotta Fraschini. Though just 16 when he starts with the company Alfieri would soon rise up the ranks. Beginning as a mechanic, Alfieri soon becomes a driver where he proves himself in such races as the Gran Premio delle Voiturette di Dieppe.
Alfieri and Carlo would continually demonstrate their abilities on the track and on the drawing board. Of course, by that time, aviation was just getting off the ground and Carlo could not avoid looking up. Recognizing the design and engineering of the airplane, Carlo would found his own company with the intention being to design and build a far superior aircraft to those available at the time. Sadly, and in a theme that would be recurring throughout, the eldest brother would contract an illness that would take his life. Financial backing and support had already been gained for the project, but it was now Alfieri that had to decide the course.
Alfieri would have his wits about him and would have ideas of his own. By 1913, he would be established in Bologna owning his own service station. Still linked with Isotta Fraschini, Alfieri is nothing short of an ambassador for the brand, but like Carlo, he believes he could do better. Aided by fellow brothers Ettore and Ernesto, Societa Anonima Officine Alfieri Maserati would be founded. However, just a few months later, World War I would engulf Europe and Alfieri and Ettore would be gone to serve their nation.
Even during the war the Maserati brothers would be greatly sought out by industry. Alfieri would be based in Milan working where aircraft engines are produced. Not surprisingly, he would come up with a design for a more effective spark plug. Working with an old acquaintance from Isotta, Alfieri would begin producing these special spark plugs and would make this the first step in Maserati's future following the conclusion of the war.
By 1920, the Maserati brothers, Alfieri, Ettore and Ernesto, would be in the beginning stages of producing their first automobile. The company still needed a logo however. Mario, the only one of the brothers that doesn't find any real interest in automobiles, is an artist and the perfect sibling to turn to for the job. Inspired by the statue of Neptune in the Piazza Maggiore in Bolonga, Mario designs a trident adorned in red and blue, the colors of the Bologna banner. In a moment, Mario would design a truly iconic creation full of passion and vigor.
Maserati begins life by building cars made of parts of different companies. It would begin in 1920 when Alfieri returns to racing using an Isotta Fraschini chassis, a four-cylinder engine from Hispano Suiza and a transmission from SCAT. Tweaked by himself and Ernesto, Alfieri wins the Susa-Moncenisio race, the first of many triumphs, and the name 'Maserati' truly begins to come into its own.
About the same time, Alfieri would help to get Diatto off the ground using his remade Isotta-Fraschini as a rebadged Diatto. Diatto would be short-lived but the result would be that, with the help of Diego de Sterlich, Alfieri would be able to secure ten of the Diatto 30 Sport chassis. These would be rebadged with the new trident logo.
The first to actually sport the Maserati name would come with the Tipo 26. Though an evolution of the Diatto GP 8C, the Tipo 26 would be based upon changes Alfieri noted as needed to be made to the Diatto. Victory would soon follow and production would increase to fulfill the customer demand. This success would lead to the Maserati V4. Powered by a sixteen-cylinder engine, the V4 would be a performer in every respect and would soon go on to set a record for finishing the race with an average speed of over 246 km/h. The record would remain intact until the end of the 1930s.
The following year, Maserati would make its mark in international competition. Racing in the 1930 Tripoli Grand Prix, Maserati would take victory. This would be followed by the Italian Grand Prix at Monza. The race would feature Maserati and a certain Enzo Ferrari. The day would belong to Maserati however as the top three would all be Maseratis. In recognition of the success the Italian government would confer upon Alfieri the title of Cavaliere. It would be the best of times and meant the worst of times were coming.
In 1932, just two years after Maserati's first international successes, Alfieri would die. His funeral would be attended by some of the most important names of the time. Nuvolari, Nazzaro, Minoia, Compari and the Marquis de Sterlich would all be in attendance. Bindo then leaves Isotta Fraschini and would be appointed chairman of the company. Despite the loss of the beloved brother and the economic conditions Maserati continue to enjoy some success. This success and reputation would only be enhanced when a certain Tazio Nuvolari walks through the door. Having had a disagreement with Ferrari, Nuvolari would depart and come to Bologna looking for a competitive drive. He would find exactly that scoring wins in the Belgian Grand Prix, Nice Grand Prix, the Ciano Cup and the Tourist Trophy. His mount for such a string of success would be the famous 8CM.
Maserati continues to enjoy success but the small manufacturer from Bologna would be hard-pressed to compete against the nationally-supported German entries of Mercedes-Benz and Auto-Union. The only hope Maserati would have would be to gain more financial support from industry. One of those that would step forward to support the sibling effort would be Adolfo Orsi. Involved in steel, machine tools and other services, Orsi would seemingly be the perfect collaborator for Maserati. In fact, in 1937, Ernesto, Ettore and Bindo sell the whole of the company to Orsi. Orsi now owned Officine Alfieri Maserati and Fabbrica Candele Maserati. Therefore, Orsi now had an interest in the production of race cars and the production of spark plugs. It would be a good partnership in the beginning. The loss of Alfieri meant the Maserati brothers had lost their best businessman in the family. Orsi also had no idea when it came to technical aspects of the car industry. As a result, Orsi would take care of the business and would leave the brothers alone to focus on what they did best.
During this period in which Orsi became the owner of the company, Maserati carried on with its success on the race track. In 1939, Maserati heads to the United States with one of its 8CTFs. Driven by Wilbur Shaw, the Maserati would go on to secure victory at Indy becoming the first Italian manufacturer to win the 500 mile race. The same result would come the following year.
While success in Indy would only add to the prestigious Maserati name, success would continue to come in Europe despite the presence of Mercedes-Benz and Auto-Union. However, the ownership of Orsi would bring some changes. The Second World War would be looming on the horizon and Orsi would be concerned with concentrating all of his businesses within a certainl geographical area. As a result, a remarkable change would take place causing two of the biggest names in Italian motor racing to be concentrated within one city.
Though established in Bologna, Orsi would move Maserati to Modena, the very city in which Enzo Ferrari had been born in 1898. Suddenly, Modena would become the center of motor racing in post-war Italy.
While Italian industry would survive much more intact than industry in Germany, the war would leave the Italian peninsula in dire-straights. Motor racing would be coming back progressively, but, the economic conditions made things terribly difficult for automakers that only focused on building race cars. Still, Maserati would look to every opportunity to return to the race track, and, at the Nice Grand Prix, Maserati would enjoy one last symbolic victory while the Maserati brothers were still a part of the company bearing their name.
Maserati would have a difficult situation in which to face. The brothers, when they had sold the company to Adolfo, had a ten year contract and it was coming to an end in 1947. Ettore, Ernesto and Bindo were interested in launching another company of their own, which would become O.S.C.A. The brothers' passion would be for designing and building racing cars and for being a small intimate company instead of a large industrial center.
Things were changing. The need for customer support to fund racing projects was of unavoidable. The Maserati brothers would not necessarily be convinced of this fact and they would make their plans for OSCA.
However, Ernesto would be invested in one last project before departing the company. Realizing the need for customers to offset the costs of building race cars, Ernesto would set his eyes toward designing the company's very first gran turismo. Unveiled at the Geneva Auto Show, the six-cylinder Maserati A6 would be a prototype gran tourismo that would be instantly popular with the public. Two years later, Maserati would unveil its A6 1500 model sporting a body designed by Pininfarina. The era of Maserati as a maker of gran tourismo automobiles had begun, and nearly as successfully as its efforts on the track.
The departure of the Maserati brothers would leave the company in a bit of a way. The development of race cars, for which the name had become famous, would now lag behind the efforts of others, such as Ferrari. Nonetheless, cars like the 4CL and the 4CLT would continue to provide success on the track. However, with the birth of Formula One in 1950, Maserati would not be the strongest Italian mark to take part in a grand prix.
Prior to the Second World War, Maserati was perhaps Italy's greatest threat to the German juggernaut. The advent of Formula One in 1950 would see Maserati very much an also ran in the early years of the premier series. Alfa Romeo and Ferrari would dominant the early scene in Formula One. This would begin to change in 1953 with the A6GCM and its truly iconic evolution—the 250F.
The Maserati name would regain its place within motor racing legend with the 250F and such famous drivers as Juan Manuel Fangio, Stirling Moss and Alberto Ascari behind the wheel. Though the 250F would outnumber any other make in any single grand prix, it would fail to secure a championship as honors would continue to pass to Ferrari and the returning Mercedes-Benz factory effort. However, as a result of a falling-out with Enzo Ferrari, Fangio would come to drive for the factory Maserati team in 1957. It would be the final year of Maserati in Formula One and motorsports in general, and it would begin with Fangio securing victory in the 12 Hours of Sebring early in the year and would be followed by an utterly dominant performance by Fangio over the course of the Formula One season. Scoring some impressive wins, Fangio and Maserati would have its greatest, and most impressive, moment during the German Grand Prix when the Argentine would command his 250F to a come-from-behind victory.
The period of the 250F in Formula One would be an important one as it would fuel a city-wide duel. Modena would be the birthplace of Ferrari, but it had become the new home of Maserati. Therefore, during the mid-1950s, the city would be deeply divided and the big fight with Ferrari would not only help fuel success on the track, it would help the company, on a whole, turnaround after a period in which it did not know its way forward. Nonetheless, the costs of the duel would be more than Orsi and the company could bear, but it presented an opportunity.
Following the success in sportscars and Formula One in 1957, Orsi would be forced to deal with some financial difficulties that threatened the very existence of the company. It would be a difficult decision but the sports division of the company would cease operations and all efforts would shift towards the production of automobiles for the road. This decision to focus on production automobiles was not about matching such giants as Fiat and Alfa Romeo, but instead, Ferrari and other such companies combining elements from the track with the luxury and comforts of a refined tourer. This would be best exemplified with the creation of what was called the 'White Dame', or the first prototype of the 3500 GT.
Combining performance and luxury, the 3500GT would be the object of affection of many affluent clients. The interest in the car would help Maserati make the move from being a company known especially for its cars for the track to being a producer of fine automobiles for the road as well.
Still, the race track was in the blood, the DNA, of the company, and therefore, would be relatively unavoidable. Project engineer by the name of Giulio Alfieri would recognize the Maserati name needed to remain a presence at the racetrack, especially if the customer automobiles were to benefit from its on-track innovations. He would, therefore, set about designing a car known simply as Tipo 60. It would be a rather unobtrusive designation, but it would become something else entirely when it took on the nickname 'Birdcage'.
Aided by victories on tracks throughout the world, and especially the famous victory in the 1,000 Kilometers of the Nurburgring in 1960 and '61, the Birdcage demonstrated Maserati was still, very much, a racing car manufacturer that hadn't lost the touch, the principles, engrained by the Maserati brothers nearly 50 years earlier.
Capitalizing on its success on the track, and the period, Maserati would continue to design and build sportscars, but for the road. Presented at the Turin Motor Show in 1963, Maserati would build up to its 50th anniversary with a lightweight and sporty coupe named after a famous wind. Called the Mistral, Maserati would build a coupe branded as 'fast as the wind'.
Coupled to the Mistral would be the company's Quattroporte. Simply a sedan with a Maserati race engine placed inside, the Quattroporte would be the fastest sedan in the world and would further help Maserati begin its next 50 years of its existence from a position of strength, just as its trident would convey.
While the Maserati legend would be born on the racetrack, the company would continue to build an equally impressive reputation on the street. Giorgetto Giugiaro, the well-known Italian designer, would do his part to make sure of that when he began a highly-successful collaborative effort with Maserati that would begin with an eight-cylinder concept that would become known as the Ghibli.
Making its debut in 1966 in Turin, the Ghibli would be a popular model for Maserati with both a coupe and a spyder version being built until 1972. Originally planned at just 400 examples, the Ghibli would be so popular that nearly 1300 examples would be produced for production came to an end.
The 1970s would see a number of changes take place with the Modena-based company. The Orsi family would leave and the Argentinean Alejandro de Tomaso would come to direct the company following its sell out to Gepi from Citroen.
All of the changes would not affect the design genius of Giugiaro, who would do it again when he penned the Bora. Harkening back to the Mistral, the Bora would be another that would draw its name from a famous wind. However, unlike the Ghibli, Giugiaro would design a model that was much more sporty utilizing the disappearing front headlights to give the car design clean and aggressive lines.
The Bora would be just the beginning of a period in which Maserati would seemingly teem with innovative and futuristic designs. Following the Bora would be its 'little sister', the Merak. Then, at the 1972 Geneva Motor Show, Maserati would unveil one of the most futuristic and innovative concept cars to ever appear in a show.
Called the Boomerang, the concept Maserati was the epitome of aerodynamic design of the period and of interpretation for the future. Wedge-shaped, the Boomerang featured numerous sharp angles, except from the leading-edge of the nose to the rear of the car, which would be nearly one continuous line front to back. The Boomerang would always be intended as a one-off show car but its influence would be unavoidable in many other production designs that would come in the years following.
Maserati's reputation as a designer of influential road cars would be affirmed when a Quattroporte Royale would deliver Sandro Pertini to the Ferrari factory in Maranello. Such was the ire of the official car that it would cause Enzo to stubbornly refuse to meet the car upon its arrival at the factory.
The 1980s would see the Biturbo make its appearance. The most widely produced Maserati of all time, more than 30,000 examples of the Biturbo would be produced between 1982 and 1993. However, the company could be described as something of a third-wheel given Chrysler's close association with de Tomaso. Chrysler would purchase a part of Maserati to use the famous brand for its own purposes. Unfortunately, the seeming loss of identity would cause the company to slip from the consciousness of the worldwide public. Maserati no longer seemed that affluent mark.
This would begin to change in 1993 when Fiat acquired the company. The acquisition also meant two rivals now became joined. Both Ferrari and Maserati were now under the Fiat umbrella.
The purchase by Fiat would help Maserati to survive and would give those within the company time to design and launch the 3200 GT. There would be some other models launched by Maserati during this period but it certainly seemed as though the great trident-bearing company had lost its vigor and passion. Its very identity seemed lost.
An old rival would help the trident to rise again. In 1999, Ferrari would take over full control of Maserati. When Maserati first began the 3500GT project during the 1940s it was a big step for the company that had firmly built its reputation for greatness on the track. However, when Ferrari came to assume full control of the company the Maserati brand had become so closely associated with refinement and luxury that Ferrari helped to save the company to turn it into its own luxury division.
The decision was something of a gamble but it would soon prove genius. A new future at Maserati had begun and the company would turn to Giugiaro to help set the course. The 3200GT would be the basis, the foundation upon which the company would begin its new future and this would result in a return to the United States after 12 years absence.
The new future of the company would also feature the return of a familiar name—Pininfarina. Commissioned to design the new Quattroporte, Pininfarina would help Maserati to increase its sales and regain some of its allure within the luxury car market. Maserati would also return to the racetrack with its radial MC12. Participating in the FIA GT series, the Maserati would earn no less than fourteen titles. The Vitaphone Racing Team would compete with an MC12 beginning in 2005 and would record six team championships, all in a row.
The trident was rising once again. The standard would be firmly reestablished in 2007 when the company decided to return to its roots. Nearly 60 years after Maserati unveiled its very first GranTourismo model, Pininfarina would design another that would be unveiled at the Geneva Motor Show in 2007. The new coupe would be an immediate and resounding success. The press would fawn all over the car and it would come away victorious from Geneva. Maserati was back and triumphant.
Maserati had returned to its roots after more than 60 years. Examples like the GranTourismo and the Quattroporte would all be luxury coupes and sedans beating with the heart of a racer. Streamlined, and yet elegant, Maserati has recaptured its famous blend of street and track. Facing extinction more than once, the Trident certainly has been raised again. The Maserati legend continues into its next 100 years.
'History: Timeline', (http://www.maserati100.com/history/timeline.html). Maserati100.com. http://www.maserati100.com/history/timeline.html. Retrieved 30 June 2014.
Wikipedia contributors, 'Maserati', Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 22 June 2014, 16:46 UTC, http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Maserati&oldid=613971597 accessed 30 June 2014
Breeze, Joe. 'Classic Concepts: 1972 Maserati Boomerang by Italdesign', (http://www.classicdriver.com/en/article/cars/classic-concepts-1972-maserati-boomerang-italdesign). Classic Driver. http://www.classicdriver.com/en/article/cars/classic-concepts-1972-maserati-boomerang-italdesign. Retrieved 30 June 2014.
Wikipedia contributors, 'O.S.C.A.', Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 7 December 2013, 14:28 UTC, http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=O.S.C.A.&oldid=584994619 accessed 30 June 2014