Text: Martin Aguilar / Photos: Newspress UK, Maserati, Autoindustriya.com | posted December 03, 2014 10:45
One hundred years of Maserati
The story of Maserati can be simplified into three aspects: family, racing and innovation. Like most Italian automakers, Maserati was a family business driven by passion for cars. Through the years, Maserati withstood the test of time and continues to be one of the notable automaker around the world. With this, the brand with the trident logo has a great story to tell about their beginnings and triumphs.
Rodolfo Maserati and Carolina Losi had seven children. The oldest, Carlo, was born in 1818 while the youngest, Ettore, in 1849. The Maserati brothers developed a passion for cars and engineering except Mario who preferred to love art specifically painting.
Carlo was the first of the Maserati brothers to work with engines. At age 17, he designed his first single cylinder engine naming it 'Carcano'. Then, Carlo had an idea to mount the engine on a bicycle that enabled him to win the 1900 Brescia-Cremona-Mantua-Verona-Brescia rally. Later on, his single cylinder engine was produced in the motorcycle plant of Marchese Carcano di Anzano de Parco which powered racing bicycles during that time.
When Marchese Carcano di Anzano de Parco closed in 1901, Carlo was hired by Fiat as a test driver. While working for Fiat, Carlo designed a new single cylinder engine during his spare time. He then placed the engine into a wooden car chassis which most people consider to be the birth of the first Maserati vehicle.
In 1903, Carlo left Fiat to work as a test driver and a mechanic for Isotta Fraschini. Carlo made some arrangements with the company into hiring his sixteen year-old brother, Alfieri. After five years, Carlo left Isotta Fraschini while Alfieri chose to stay. With this, Cesare Isotta saw the potential of Alfieri as a mechanic as well as a driver. In 1908, onboard an Isotta Fraschini number 41 car, Alfieri participated in the Gran Premio delle Voiturette di Dieppe where he finished fourteenth.
After leaving Isotta Fraschini, Carlo raced for the Bianchi team and competed in a prestigious German race Kaiserpreis wherein he finished ninth. It was also during this year when Carlo became the managing director of the Junior car company of Milan. Then, in 1909, he opened his own company with the goal of building an airplane engine. However, his dreams didn’t take flight as he passed away a year later due to a lung illness.
In 1913, Alfieri moved to Bologna where he started a service center for Isotta Fraschini. Following the footsteps of his elder brother, Alfieri decided to start his own company using his knowledge, creativity and talent along with his brothers. He ventured into a new car garage business and established it as 'Società Anonima Officine Alfieri Maserati'. The said garage was officially called an individual enterprise on December 1, 1914. Five months later, war broke out in Italy wherein Alfieri and Ettore were drafted for national service. Ernesto, who was only 17 at that time, was left behind working at the garage during the day and going to school at the Aldini Technical Institute of Bologna in the evenings.
After the war, Alfieri, Ernesto and Ettore worked hard to build the first Maserati vehicle. While busy conceptualizing, Alfieri sought help and involved another brother in the business. In 1920, Mario, who was the only Maserati not fascinated by engines, was commissioned by Alfieri to design the company’s logo. With this, Mario chose one of the most characteristic symbol of Bologna – the trident from the statue of Neptune in Piazza Maggiore which symbolizes strength and vigor.
Six years after, the first Maserati vehicle came into life — the Tipo 26. The Tipo 26 had a positive racing debut by finishing eighth place overall and victorious in the 1,500 cc class. In June 13, 1926, Maserati tasted its first victory at the “speed kilometer” of Bologna. The youngest Maserati, Ernesto, was behind the wheel and drove above the 167 km/h mark. With this, Maserati managed to have a good image as they started to increase their production and began to sell the Tipo 26.
The brand’s success continued, but on May 8, 1927 Alfieri Maserati had a terrible accident in which he lost a kidney during a race in Sicily. Despite this incident, Alfieri’s passion for motorsport didn’t fade. In September 28, 1929, Maserati achieved its first world record in Cremona. Driving a V4 equipped with a 16-cylinder engine, Maserati finished the ten kilometer Italian Grand Prix by posting an average speed of 249 km/h. The said record further enhanced Maserati’s image and their production also began to expand. In 1930, Maserati had its first international victory during the Tripoli Grand Prix. This year also marked the Maserati and Enzo Ferrari rivalry at the Italian Grand Prix in Monza.
With the series of success, the Maserati brand were about to face the inevitable. In 1932, Alfieri died during surgery at the age of 44. The racing world mourned Alfieri’s death and was a major setback for the Maserati family as well as to the company. The 8C 2500 and the 4CTR were the last cars to be designed by Alfieri.
After Alfieri’s death, the remaining brothers were inspired to continue the family business and make it a success. Bindo Maserati left Isotta Fraschini and returned to Bologna where he, Ernesto and Ettore focused on developing a 3-liter and 8-cylinder engines. Furthermore, Maserati’s program in motorsports continued.
In 1933, Tazio Nuvolari arrived at Maserati. He drove the 8CM car for the Maserati racing team and won numerous races that include the Belgian GP, the Ciano Cup, the Nice GP and the Tourist Trophy. During this year, the Auto Union and Mercedes-Benz entered the racing scene which made the competition tougher. With this, Maserati started to lose and their number of wins declined.
Despite having lesser wins in racing, people continued to cater Maserati’s 8CM, but the company was under pressure from competing with German automakers namely, Auto Union and Mercedes-Benz. Cash-strapped and looking for options to save the company, Ernesto, Ettore and Bindo sold Maserati to industrialist Adolfo Orsi in 1937. The Maserati brothers continued to work at the company as engineers with a ten-year contract. Moreover, Maserati has once again dominated the racing scene despite the tough competition brought upon by Mercedes-Benz. The brand with the trident logo won the Indianapolis 500 in 1939 and 1940 with the 8CTF car.
In March 1946, the company unveiled the A6 at the Geneva Motor Show, the first Maserati designed for daily use and not for racing; it was designed by Ernesto Maserati. Tired of continuing discussions with the unions and industrial mentality, the Maserati brothers decided to leave the company for good after their contracts ended in 1947. The following year in 1948, Maserati revealed the A6 1500 at the Turin Motor Show. The A6 1500 was the masterpiece of the renowned designer Pininfarina.
Orsi faced trouble in 1949, the company momentarily closed as his other companies faced trouble as well which ended in a split of the family empire in 1953. However Adolfo managed to keep the Maserati car manufacturing business. He hired Gioacchino Colombo as Maserati’s chief engineer who modified the AC GCM car.
The Maserati racing team also improved with a roster of drivers ranging from Felice Bonetto, Juan Manuel Fangio and Jose Froilan Gonzalez. One year after, the racing scene would change with the birth of the Formula 1 Championship. In 1956, Modena was a divided city because of the Maserati-Ferrari rivalry. Based on the stories, the cars square off on the track on Sundays and the winning fans enjoy the bragging rights the following day.
After a successful run in Formula 1, Maserati faced a series of financial difficulties in 1957. As a result, Maserati was forced to retire from the racing scene. However, Maserati continued to produce racecars for the private race teams and supplied engines for Formula 1.
In 1960, a new era for Maserati has begun. With motorsports not a priority, the company veered their focus in production and sales. Come 1961, Maserati introduced the “White Dame” which was the first prototype of the 3500 GT. In 1962, the Sebring was revealed by Maserati followed by the Quattroporte and the Mistral in 1963.
After a series of production cars, Maserati showed no sign of slowing down. In 1966, the Ghibli made its world debut at the Turin Auto Show. The Ghibli was the first project of a well-known Italian designer named Giorgetto Giugiaro. Initially, Maserati planned to produce a hundred Ghibli, but through its high demand it was increased to 400.
Despite Ghibli's success, Citroen bought 100-percent of Maserati's shares from the Orsi family in 1970 and Adolfo Orsi was appointed as the honary chairman. A year after, Maserati introduced the Bora, another design masterpiece from Giorgetto Guigiaro.
Fast forward to 1993, Maserati was then acquired by the Fiat Group. Four years after, the Ferrari took full control of its perpetual arch-rival making it its luxury division. Upon acquisition, the first project of the Ferrari management was to finished the ongoing Maserati 3200 GT coupe designed by Giugiaro that debut at the 1998 Paris Motor Show. In 1999, the Spyder made its debut at the Frankfurt Motor Show and it was during this time that Maserati announced their comeback to the North American market. Ferrari also decided that it was time to say goodbye to all the old tooling in the Modena factory and install modern equipment, making it one of the most advanced factories in the world.
With their comeback in the North American market, Maserati was bound to make a good impression and in doing so they produced luxury and notable vehicles. One of which was the GranTurismo that was conceptualized by famous designer Pininfarina. In 2005, Fiat decided to give Maserati its own identity again splitting it off Ferrari and pairing it with Alfa Romeo.
The Maserati GranTurismo made its world debut at the 2007 Geneva Motor Show and was well received by the automotive industry. The company also finally made profit the same year for the first time in 17 years under Fiat ownership.
In 2010, Fiat Chairman Sergio Marchionne decided to make a new division headed by Harald Wester for Alfa Romeo, Maserati and Abarth; the three marques were known for their sporting heritage and performance.
Drawing momentum from their success, Maserati introduced the new Quattroporte and the revival of the Ghibli nameplate in 2013. At the 2014 Geneva Motor Show, the company revealed the Maserati Alfieri concept as homage to the genius that started it all. The concept car will also preview of the future DNA for the trident brand for its next century.
Today, Maserati is a brand known for luxury and quality. Looking at the brand's history, one can't wonder why Maserati has withstood the test of time. With sheer passion and dedication, the Maserati brothers achieved something great. Their story only proves that if we are committed to our passion there will always be an infinite possibility of achieving success.