It was on December 1, 1914, in Bologna that the Maserati brothers founded Maserati, a marque destined for greatness in motoring history. From the start, the Maserati business was a workshop, operating in Bologna, at No. 1 Via de’ Pepoli. Here the Maserati brothers began working on their own car designs from the outbreak of the First World War.
During the 1920s and ’30s, the Maserati garage continued to turn out racing cars for sale all over the world, while also producing road cars with all the marque’s distinctive elegance combined with formidable performance achieved on the racing circuit. In 1937, when the Orsi family took over management of the company, Maserati moved from its original headquarters in Bologna to a location in Modena, on Viale Ciro Menotti, where some of the marque’s key sports and GT cars are still designed and built today.
Once World War I was over, Alfieri was determined to get his dream back on the road. He found a vacant bottle factory in the Pontevecchio district, at number 179, Frazione Alemanni, Bologna. The new premises were large enough for the Maserati brothers to move there with their families, and it was here that the business acquired the name of Officine Alfieri Maserati SA. In the meantime, during the war, Alfieri Maserati had also opened a spark plug factory in Milan under the name Fabbrica Candele Maserati; this also moved to Bologna in 1919.
The Maserati story began during Italy’s period as a monarchy, with railroad worker Rodolfo Maserati, his wife, Carolina Losi, and their seven children. Rodolfo was, in a certain sense, a man of the future, and from him the Maserati brothers would inherit their passion for speed. By the turn of the new century, the family was complete. Youngest son Ettore was born in 1894, while eldest son Carlo, born in 1881, had already begun his career.
Eldest son Carlo Maserati designed his first single-cylinder engine at the age of 17, and before the end of the year was hired by Fiat as a test driver. While in Turin, he designed a new single-cylinder engine in his spare time, which he put into a wooden car chassis. This could be considered, in some respects, the birth of the first Maserati.
Carlo Maserati left Fiat in 1903 and was hired by Isotta Fraschini as a test driver and assistant in the test center. While he was there, he brought in his brother Alfieri, who was only 16 at the time. When Carlo finally left Isotta Fraschini in 1908, Alfieri remained. In 1908, in his Isotta Fraschini number 41, Carlo participated in the Gran Prix des Voiturette in Dieppe. He finished in 14th place, first among the four-cylinder cars.
In 1909, Carlo Maserati founded his own company. He had not lost his passion for cars, of course, but the goal of this new business was the design and production of a superior airplane. Carlo immediately began working on this project, but in 1910, a lung illness put an end to his life and his dreams. The loss was devastating for his brothers, but Carlo remained a shining example who would never be forgotten. At this point, responsibility fell on the shoulders of Alfieri.
On December 1, 1913, Alfieri moved to Bologna, where he started a service center for Isotta Fraschini. But soon, following in the footsteps of Carlo, he decided to go it alone, involving his brothers in his new business. The result was the founding of Società Anonima Officine Alfieri Maserati, a car garage with an attached workshop at No. 1 Via de’ Pepoli. Five months later, Italy was at war. Alfieri and Ettore were enlisted for military service.
When the war ended, Alfieri sought to kick-start activities. He found a bottle factory in July 1914 and moved the production of spark plugs there, having begun producing them in Milan during the Great War. At last, a sign above the three large windows now officially declared that the Officine Alfieri Maserati SA was in business.
When Italy entered the war, the Maserati brothers were conscripted but remained well behind the battle lines. In fact, by designing and producing special spark plugs for aircraft engines, the army benefited from their technical expertise.
Spark plugs patented by Alfieri with mica insulation were used on the SVA planes. On August 9, 1918, poet Gabriele d’Annunzio flew one of these planes when he famously attacked Vienna, a feat that greatly contributed to his legendary status.
At the beginning of the 20th century, engines were not at all reliable and a large proportion of malfunctions were caused by their electrical systems. In 1907, Carlo Maserati changed the voltage of his Bianchi electrics, thereby solving ignition failure inside the combustion chamber. This improved reliability considerably, giving better performance and more continuous power output.
Alfieri went on to discover that some of the problems with the spark plugs were due to their poor insulation, so he developed a new model using mica insulation, a special mineral that allowed engines to perform much better, improving their reliability considerably.
Alfieri, Ernesto and Ettore worked intensely on the creation of the first Maserati. However, their brother Mario, an artist who knew nothing about engines, was called in to design the logo. Mario chose to use one of the most iconic symbols of Bologna: the trident from the statue of Neptune in Piazza Maggiore, a symbol of strength and vigor. He also adopted the red and blue from the banner of the city of Bologna, which to this day remain the colors of Maserati.
After completely redesigning its engine, Alfieri won the Susa-Moncenisio race in a Diatto at the extraordinary average speed of 69 km/h. Teamed with Ernesto, he repeated the feat shortly afterward in the Aosta-Gran San Bernardo run.
Alfieri Maserati went back to racing in 1920, first in a SCAT model and then later in a four-cylinder Nesseldorf. The results were not exceptional, but they made him all the more determined to create the first real Maserati.
In 1932, Alfieri died during surgery at just 44 years of age. Following a serious accident in 1927, his only remaining kidney had been weakened. In an effort to save it, doctors attempted a drastic operation, but unfortunately to no avail. Bologna came to a standstill. Those present at the funeral procession included the most notable drivers of the era, from Nuvolari and Nazzaro to Minoia, Borzacchini, Campari and the Marquis de Sterlich. The huge loss was widely felt, particularly by the Maserati family and the company. Bindo Maserati left Isotta Fraschini to rejoin his brothers, who appointed him company chairman. The young but talented Ernesto would undertake technical responsibilities. The new Tipo V5 made its successful debut and the brand continued to prosper despite a difficult economic situation.
In 1933, Tazio Nuvolari arrived at Maserati. Having fallen out with Enzo Ferrari, who did not want him as an equal partner, the legendary driver decided to race for Maserati. Driving the 8CM, he won the Belgian GP, the Ciano Cup, the Nice GP and the Tourist Trophy. The 8CM was the evolution of its predecessor, the 8C, with suspension redesigned by Ernesto Maserati. The front chassis was made more rigid on the suggestion of the driver. They kept on working together until 1934, although Nuvolari never became part of the official team. He bought a car instead, and with Ernesto supplying technical assistance, continued to race as a private driver.
Maserati was under sustained pressure from the new German entries, Mercedes and Auto Union, strongly supported by the government of the Third Reich. Ernesto, Ettore and Bindo understood that the company needed a decisive change of direction, and they welcomed the collaboration of famous Italian entrepreneur Adolfo Orsi. In 1937, Ernesto, Ettore and Bindo sold the entire company to him. However, they continued to assume various management responsibilities in the two separate companies.
The first product of the Orsi-Maserati era was unveiled in March 1938. This was the 8CTF (8 Cylinder Fixed Head). Maserati saw its first American victory in 1939 with their 8CTF model, renaming it “The Boyle Special.” Maserati was the first Italian manufacturer to win the prestigious title, and they succeeded in repeating the feat the following year.
Maserati has always focused on developing innovative engineering solutions. One fundamental factor behind its race victories has been research into ultra-light alloys. Since the beginning, Maserati has constantly been on the lookout for stiffer, lighter materials to improve the dynamic performance of its cars, first on the track and then on the road, giving customers unrivalled sports handling and sheer enjoyment.
By the outbreak of the Second World War, Maserati had left Bologna for Modena. However, for the duration of the war they had to forgo race-car production and concentrate on producing spark plugs and other items critical to the war effort. In this period, Maserati Spark Plugs and Batteries continued to supply Maserati Auto with the batteries it needed for its electric vehicles produced between 1940 and 1945.
At the beginning of March 1946, the prototype of what can be considered the first GranTurismo, the first Maserati destined for daily use and not for racing, was unveiled at the Geneva Car Show. It was christened simply A6 in honor of Alfieri and 6, denoting the number of cylinders. Its design and originality were immediately appreciated by the public and production began in earnest. In 1948, at the Turin Motor Show, Maserati exhibited the first A6 1500 model, with incredible styling by the renowned designer Battista Farina.
The Maserati victory at the Grand Prix in Nice in 1946 carried a huge symbolic value, as World War II was finally over. The civilian world was working again. Ernesto, Ettore and Bindo Maserati left the company and returned to Bologna. They opened a new company, O.S.C.A. (Officine Specializzate Costruzione Automobili—Fratelli Maserati S.p.A.), where they dedicated themselves exclusively to the design, development and construction of racing cars.
1950 marked the start of what, four years later, would become Formula 1. Maserati was there from the very first race, though based upon the rules of the series’ first phase, Maserati’s cars were still classed as F2.
Juan Manuel Fangio won both the Argentinean and Belgian Grand Prix races in 1954. Following this, the Argentine driver, already racing for Mercedes, returned to Stuttgart and then to Ferrari. But the crowning achievement of his career was yet to arrive, and it would be behind the wheel of a Maserati. In 1954, the World Championship rules changed, and Maserati was once again out in the lead with the 250F. Its debut saw an immediate victory.
In 1956, Formula 1 became a family duel between the rivals from Modena: Ferrari and Maserati. Modena was a city divided, half rooting for one team and half rooting for the other. On Sundays the cars squared off on the track. On Monday mornings, the winning fans enjoyed bragging rights in the bars and under the colonnades in the city center.
After Maserati’s huge win in 1957, a series of financial challenges forced Adolfo Orsi to close down certain parts of his industrial empire, including the sports division. It was an enormous sacrifice, but heralded the beginning of a turnaround which would focus exclusively on the automobile sector.
The famous Juan Manuel Fangio came back to Maserati in 1957. He won four of the eight Grands Prix needed to win the world title: Argentina, Monaco, France and, most importantly, Germany. It was in fact on the Nürburgring circuit that, on Sunday, August 4, the extraordinary Argentinean pilot recorded the biggest victory of his career to become world champion for the fifth and final time.
The Dama Bianca, or White Lady, as the first prototype of the 3500 GT was known, was Maserati’s answer to the luxury sports-car market during the economic boom years. Maserati soon launched the GTi, a fuel-injected version of the GT, in 1961. The Shah of Persia was impressed by the White Lady, but he wanted something even more exclusive. The famous engineer Giulio Alfieri took up the challenge by putting the V8 engine of the 450 S into a GranTurismo. The “Shah of Persia” is still considered to be one of the most desirable cars of its era by collectors and car historians. With its gold and precious wood finishes, it was the most exclusive and luxurious car in the world.
Even though Maserati had abandoned the race track, the desire for racing remained in its blood. It was at this time that engineer Giulio Alfieri created the legendary Tipo 60. Known by its nickname “Birdcage,” it did not appear in official races under the Maserati name, though it was used by the most prestigious racing teams and won important races, with two consecutive wins in 1960 and 1961 at the Nürburgring 1000 km, as well as other, even more important victories in the USA.
Maserati’s chief engineer Giulio Alfieri developed an absolutely revolutionary chassis, designed to be lightweight but extremely rigid, delivering outstanding performance and superb handling. Called the Birdcage chassis, it was an ingenious structure that made the new Maserati race cars extremely competitive. This chassis provided the basis for five different cars, the Maserati Tipo 60, Tipo 61, Tipo 63, Tipo 64 and the modern Birdcage 75th.
The idea of mounting a Maserati race engine into a luxury sedan was suggested to Commendatore Orsi by journalist Gino Rancati. At the Turin Motor Show in 1963, Maserati stunned the auto world with the introduction of the Quattroporte, the fastest sedan in the world. In the same year, the lightweight, sporty and powerful Mistral was unveiled at the Turin Motor Show. It was the first Maserati to be identified with the name of a famous wind.
The Sebring evolved from the 3500 GT. Fresh from his latest success at Covent Garden in London, Luciano Pavarotti, the young tenor from Modena, treated himself to a Sebring. It was the beginning of a lasting relationship between Maserati and the great Maestro.
From the mid-1960s, Maserati would become famous for its association with well-known Italian designer Giorgetto Giugiaro. His first project, the V8-powered Ghibli, was launched at the Turin Motor Show in 1966 and was an instant success. Maserati originally planned to produce only 100 cars but production was immediately increased to 400. In fact, it remained in production until the end of 1972, and a total of 1,295 examples were made, both in Coupé and Spyder and versions.
The Orsi family decided to invigorate their company by taking on a new partner, Citroën. The company was reorganized and became more structured under the influence and corporate example of the French carmaker. Many other changes occurred during the 1970s. The Orsi family finally withdrew and Citroën sold their stake to Gepi, an Italian state-owned company directed by the Italo-Argentinean entrepreneur Alejandro de Tomaso.
Renowned designer Giorgetto Giugiaro created his new masterpiece, the Bora, in 1971. Similarly unforgettable was the Merak, described by Adolfo Orsi Jr. as the “little sister” of the Bora. At the Geneva Motor Show in 1972, Giugiaro presented a futuristic looking coupé called the Boomerang. Although never put into production, it is still considered one of his most celebrated and “irreverent” concept cars in Maserati’s history. The Boomerang was an extremely futuristic design, conceived to look far into the future, launching a wedge-shaped form which would later be used on several other cars. It featured daring lines and a body that was very low, wide and aerodynamic. It was a real racing car conceived for the road.
In 1978, Sandro Pertini, the Italian wartime resistance fighter who had become Head of State, chose the Quattroporte Royale as his official car. It was in use until 1985. President Pertini always rode in this car, even during a notable visit to Maranello when Enzo Ferrari refused to meet the presidential Maserati upon its arrival, in acknowledgment of the long rivalry between the two famous companies in Modena.
The Maserati Quattroporte was considered to be synonymous with elegance and style, so much so that it appeared in many films in the 1980s. Sylvester Stallone chose it as boxer Rocky Balboa’s car in Rocky III (1982) while it was used by David Cronenberg in two films, The Fly (1982) and The Dead Zone (1983).
The Biturbo was the most symbolic car of the 1980s, and would end up being the most widely produced Maserati of all time. In its multiple versions and evolutions between 1982 and 1993, approximately 37,000 were built.
For Maserati, the future began in 1993 when the company was acquired by the Fiat Group. Giovanni Agnelli, with incredible foresight, understood the enormous potential of this still-small Italian icon of excellence. The company was headed by Luca di Montezemolo, president and CEO of Ferrari. The partnership between the two most famous car manufacturers in Modena was destined to become even more famous than their old rivalry.
The first achievement of the Ferrari management was to push for the completion of an ongoing project. The 3200 GT was a coupé designed by Giorgetto Giugiaro that had originally been launched at the Paris Motor Show of 1998. However, it was immediately decided that the coupé would be upgraded with an engine produced in Maranello. From this revolutionary concept, the Spyder was born, the car which marked the return of Maserati to the United States.
After a 12-year absence from the American market, Maserati returned to the United States in 2001. A car manufacturer able to pass the quality and safety tests in the USA was ready for any challenge, and it is no coincidence that this return was celebrated in great style during the gala evening at the Italian American Cancer Foundation. The Maserati Spyder, the first real Maserati with an engine from Maranello, was the star of the charity auction. The winning bid of $130,000 was made by an Italian banker based in Milan and New York.
After the release of the first GranTurismo model almost half a century earlier, famous Italian designer Pininfarina returned to create a new Maserati Quattroporte. The arrival of the Quattroporte completed the Maserati range and significantly increased sales. The Quattroporte boasted a further claim to fame when a second Italian president, Carlo Azeglio Ciampi, chose it as his official state car.
In 2004 Maserati returned to winning on the track with its extraordinary racer, the MC12, which amassed an impressive haul of trophies. Maserati’s participation in the FIA GT from 2005 to 2010 was crowned with 14 titles and 19 victories. These included two Manufacturers Cups (2005 and 2007), five Driver Championships (Bartels-Bertolini in 2006, Thomas Biagi in 2007, and Bartels-Bertolini in 2008, 2009 and 2010); six Team Championships (uninterrupted since 2005, by the Vitaphone Racing Team); one Citation Cup in 2007 by gentleman driver Ben Aucott, JMB Racing; in addition to three absolute victories in the Spa 24 Hours (2005, 2006 and 2008).
This concept car was created in 2005 to celebrate the 75th birthday of Sergio Pininfarina, using the name and imitating the innovative character of the iconic Maserati Birdcage cars that played such a starring role in 1960s motorsport. A dream car, it showcased futuristic technical features including a dome to protect the occupants, which gave an extremely streamlined look and a design that immediately earned a place in the history books.
Following the Quattroporte, famous designer Pininfarina created a new coupé which would have a profound impact on the history of Maserati. Incredibly beautiful, the GranTurismo won acclaim at the Geneva Motor Show in 2007.
A perfect combination of design, sports performance and comfort, the Ghibli sedan featured simple, elegant lines, enhanced by the use of exquisite materials. Defined by sculpted lines, its form generated a sense of motion. A grand-tourer with unmistakable refinement and unrivaled performance, the Ghibli was quick, responsive and luxurious, drawing on all of Maserati’s experience and history.
The sixth-series Maserati Quattroporte came from the great Quattroporte tradition, maintaining an unmistakable, timeless silhouette in a larger, even more capable design. Conceived from a fresh, modern perspective, it combined the luxurious soul of a limousine and the spirit of a grand-touring sports car.
The Alfieri Concept Car, debuted at the 2014 Geneva Auto Show, presented more than just a concept. It was a statement; further proof of Maserati as a sporting marque to its very core, and paving the way for the continuation of Maserati’s racing legacy.