The 5000 GT was a custom ordered high speed touring car with a 450 S race engine from the 1957 season, slightly modified for street use. The car is known for its remarkable acceleration and was highly coveted by the most influential people of 1960's society, including The Shah of Iran and the President of Mexico. There were 34 cars built, the first two by Touring. The body styles were designed by the best coach designers of the era, such as Touring, Pininfarina, Michelotti, Allemano, and Frua. This car is one of the last representing an era when Italian car makers built road cars with de-tuned racing engines.
The first Maserati 5000 GT, Tipo 103, was commissioned by the Shah of Iran in 1959. Maserati's chief engineer Giulio Alfieri designed it around the 3500 GT, with a strengthened chassis and suspension to cope with the massive power of the larger 5-liter engine developed form the 450S racing cars. It had a stylish Superleggera body by Touring and when completed, the Maserati 5000 GT was something very special indeed. With a top speed of over 175 mph and classic Italian styling, it quickly became the supercar of the day.
Touring built this identical car on chassis 103.004 for South African businessman and owner of the Kyalami Circuit, Basic Read. This car has since passed through collectors such as Arturo Brenner and Oscar Davis, and is now in the collection of Lawrence Auriana who has owned it since April 2005.
There were 5000 GTs built for men such as Ggiovanni Agnelli, Briggs Cunningham, Stewart Granger, and Ferdinando Innocenti. After the first two were built by Touring, the following 32 were custom built by seven different Italian carrozzeria: Allemano, Frua, Monterosa, Pininfarina, Ghia, Michelotti and Bertone.
The Shah of Persia, now Iran, visited Maserati in 1958 in search of an exclusive supercar. He was a Maserati enthusiast and greatly enjoyed their offerings. A test drive in a Maserati 3500 GT amplified his determination to have the Maserati, but it was not exclusive as he would like. Information pertaining to the Maserati 450S caught his eye.
The story with the Maserati 450S models goes back a year, to 1957. 1957 was a good year for Maserati racing, but one that left them in financial difficulty and in the shadows of the World Sportscar Championship. Though they had won the Formula One World Championship they were not able to secure a World Sportscar Championship. They were in the lead going into the final race at the Caracas, Venezuelan Grand Prix but due to accidents, were not able to capture the overall victory. Three of their entrants crashed with two of those being the 450S models. Both of the 450S's had been promised to buyers. The loss of the cars and the championship was devastating. Along with losing the championship, they lost bonuses.
The Maserati 450S sports racers were powered by 5-liter V8 engines. Rules changes in 1958 by the FIA reduced the maximum engine size for the World Sportscar Championship to three-liters, which immediately made the 5-liter engine obsolete. Additional rule changes to the fuel regulations meant that Maserati would need to invest heavily in new technology and testing to produce a competitive solution. Maserati was left with V8 engines that could not be used in racing, large amount of debt, and staggering development and research costs. They decided to withdraw from racing.
The Maserati 3500 GT was an immediate success and the sales helped Maserati regain its financial stability. The car had impressed the Shah of Persia but the exclusivity was an issue. The solution was to create the limited production, custom made, 5000 GT (factory designation of Tipo 103) with engines that had been intended for the 450S. The engines were nearly identical to the 450S racers; the only difference was a larger bore and a decrease in the compression ratio. Though the engine was now larger in size, 4935 cc compared with 4479 cc, the vehicles produced less horsepower. The racers produced 400 horsepower while the 5000 GT with its four twin-choke 45 IDM Weber carburetors produced 340. The decrease in power was to make the cars more comfortable and suitable for road-driving. The chassis of the car was from the 3500 GT with minor modifications, mostly to increase its strength to better combat the powerful V8 engine. The wheelbase and track dimensions are identical. The 450S's chassis had been considered, but since it would have required a lot of modifications and it had not undergone the testing that the 3500 GT had endured, the design was not used. The front suspension is comprised of A-arms with coil springs. In the rear is a solid axle with semi-elliptic leaf springs. Disc brakes were used in the front and drums in the rear. Power was sent to the rear wheels through a ZP four-speed manual gearbox with a hydraulically operated clutch.
The first few Maserati 5000 GT's constructed were given the 340 horsepower engine. Later models were given less powerful engine with a slightly decreased bore, increased stroke, and a Lucas indirect fuel injection system. The result was a 4941 cc engine that produced 325 horsepower.
The Maserati 5000 GT's were very exclusive with only 34 produced and each receiving custom coachwork by some of the greatest coachbuilders of all time. Frua, Pinin farina, Ghia, Bertone, Touring, Monterosa, Allemano, and Michelotti were some of the names who outfitted the cars. The first two cars produced were bodied by Touring. Briggs Cunningham, the famous American millionaire sportsman who put on impressive showings at LeMans during the 1950's, purchased one. Aga Khan, Giovanni Agnelli, Ferdinando Innocenti were some of the other names of individuals who purchased a 5000 GT. The Shah was given chassis number 103.002. Chassis number 103.004 was shown at the 1959 Turin Show before being sold to South African native Basil Read, the owner of the Kyalami race circuit. It was reported to have a top speed of over 170 mph. Chassis number 103.006 was the first 5000 GT to be fitted with fuel injection.
Thanks to the considerably good taste in automobiles by the Shah, the 5000 GT had been created. The luxury, performance, style, and ambiance that came with the car had created a following that was so elite, only 34 owners were given a chance to own one. The 5000 GT is considered by many as one of the greatest postwar gran turismo cars.
Production lasted from 1959 through 1965. By Daniel Vaughan | Aug 2006