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The Best (and worst) Maserati cars of the past 100 years

To the delight of classic-car aficionados and tow-truck drivers alike, Maserati turns 100 in 2014. The company was founded on December 1, 1914 in Bologna by brothers Alfieri, Ettore, and Ernesto Maserati (other brothers would join later on). 

Since then, Maserati has made its trident symbol one of the most revered in automobiledom. From racecars to road cars, GTs to supercars, it’s made some real stunners.

Since no birthday would be complete without a few embarrassing stories, we’ve also included a couple of dishonorable mentions that are nonetheless integral parts of the Maserati story.

Tipo 26 (1926)

Maserati had been making cars for quite a few years by the time Alfieri conjured up the Tipo 26, but as the company’s first racecar, it really put the brothers on the map. It was also the first car to wear the Maserati trident badge.

The Tipo 26 won its class in first race, the 1926 Targa Florio, with Alfieri Maserati at the wheel. Providing the motivation was a 1.5-liter straight-eight that produced 120 horsepower. That was enough to get the flyweight car to a top speed of 118 mph.

250F (1954-1958)

Despite the interruption of World War II and the departure of the Maserati brothers, the company grew into a racing powerhouse. Its success culminated in the 250F grand prix car.

Powered by a 2.5-liter, 270 hp straight-six and weighing just 1,433 pounds, the 250F could reach a top speed of 180 mph. That’s with a spinning propshaft between the driver’s legs.

In the hands of legendary drivers like Stirling Moss and Juan Manuel Fangio, the 250F racked up 55 wins, and the 1957 Formula One World Championship.

3500 GT (1957-1964)

By the mid-1950s, Maserati was winning on the racetrack, and losing all of its money. So the company decided to build a road car. While a production run of 2,210 might seem paltry, the 3500 GT was a significant step for Maserati as a carmaker.

It was also one of the classic Grand Touring cars of the period. 

Maserati didn’t have the expertise to manufacture many of its own components, so it sourced them from top international suppliers, combined them with a version of the 250F’s straight-six, and wrapped them in beautiful sheetmetal.

Tipo 61 “Birdcage” (1959-1961)

Is it a racecar, or a sculpture? The Birdcage got its name from its tubular chassis, which consisted of over 200 pieces. The goal was to create a rigid yet lightweight chassis for endurance racing.

Indeed, the car weighed just 1,322 pounds. It was powered by a 2.9-liter four-cylinder engine with 250 hp, enough for a top speed of over 186 mph.

With those figures, the Birdcage won the Nurburgring 1,000-kilometer race twice. One of those race-winning cars recently sold for $2,090,000 at auction.

Ghibli (1966-1973)

What is there to say about the Maserati Ghibli? Not much, after you get a look at that body.

Unveiled at the 1966 Turin Motor Show, the Ghibli is one of the most beautiful cars of all time. Under that svelte skin was a 4.7-liter, 330 hp V8, which propelled the Ghibli to 62 mph in 6.8 seconds, and on to a top speed of 165 mph.

The Ghibli’s chassis was actually derived from the older 3500 GT’s, but the car still stayed in production for seven years. Just 1,274 were sold, and the name was revived for a new sedan.

Bora (1971-1979)

By the dawn of the 1970s, GT cars were out of vogue and mid-engined supercars were in. Changes were also happening at Maserati, which was taken over by Citroen in 1968.

Out of this upheaval came the Bora, which applied Maserati’s signature style and refinement to the relatively new supercar segment. While the contemporary Lamborghini Miura abused its passengers, the Bora was known for being as comfortable as a luxury car.

It was also fast. Powered by a 330 hp, 4.7-liter V8, it reach a top speed of around 174 mph.

Merak (1972-1982)

First came the supercars, then came the “budget” supercars. Maserati’s answer to the Lamborghini Urraco and Ferrari Dino was essentially a cut-down Bora.

The Merak was almost the same as the Bora, until you looked under the hood. Instead of a V8, the Merak had the 2.9-liter V6 Maserati had developed for the Citroen SM, with 182 hp.

That may not seem too spectacular, but the Merak’s Bora bones made it vastly superior to it rivals, and the only entry-level supercar from the period to not be an embarrassment to its name.

MC12 (2004)

This was Maserati’s last real supercar. After Ferrari was given stewardship of the brand by Fiat, it decided to kill two birds with one stone by building an all-conquering FIA GT racer that could also used for the road.

The MC12 was basically a Ferrari Enzo modified for racing, then converted back into a road car. Even compared to its sibling from Maranello, or any of the other supercars from the early 2000s, it was insane.

Its body was designed for downforce, not beauty or practicality. The result was a car that looked completely alien on the road. It was powered by the Enzo 6.0-liter V12, which produced 630 hp. The MC12 could do 0-60 mph in around 3.0 seconds and reach a top speed in excess of 200 mph.

Quattroporte (2004-2013)

The MC12 certainly got people’s attention, but it wasn’t going to make Maserati relevant again. Ford that, Maserati needed another kind of car.

The Quattroporte that debuted in 2004 was actually the fifth generation of Maserati’s sedan (the name means “four-door” in Italian). It featured styling from someone who obviously didn’t know they were designing a sedan. It was the perfect car to make Maserati relevant again, with a powerful V8 engines.

The car was improved over the year and developed into quite the volume seller. Maserati’s big four-door was redesigned for the 2014 model year, featuring the same potent combination of style and practicality.

GranTurismo (2007-)

Throughout its history, Maserati’s best road cars have tended to be Grand Touring cars. The current GranTurismo (Italian for Grand Touring) continues that tradition.

In a world of cushy luxury cars and hardcore supercars, the GranTurismo tries to split the difference by being both fast and comfortable.

It’s a big car, but the top MC Stradale model has a 4.7-liter V8 with 460 hp. It can do 0-62 mph in 4.5 seconds and reach a top speed of 188 mph.

Dishonorable mentions

Biturbo (1981-1994)

The Biturbo was a compact sports sedan with a turbocharged engine, which would have been fine for Saab, BMW, or any number of other carmakers, but not Maserati.

The Biturbo looked like it was designed on an Etch-A-Sketch, it’s various turbo V6s weren’t very powerful and it was catastrophically unreliable. 

Honestly, most Maseratis are pretty darn unreliable, but this one was just too pathetic to make it all worthwhile.

Chrysler TC by Maserati (1989-1991)

When is a Chrysler LeBaron not a Chrysler LeBaron? When someone tries to pass it off as a Maserati, of course! 

Auburn Hills gained control of Maserati in the 1980s, and decided that gluing a trident badge onto the decidedly un-sporty LeBaron was a good idea. Does that sound like a good idea to you?

Stephen Edelstein
Stephen is a freelance automotive journalist covering all things cars. He likes anything with four wheels, from classic cars…
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