Friday, January 10, 2014

It's 2014 and time to celebrate 100 years of Maserati, the legendary Italian marque which made its first car in, er, 1926... Ok, maybe it's not really a century since the first Trident-badged car turned a wheel - but it was in December 1914 that the Societa Anonima Officine Alfieri Maserati was established in Bologna, adopting the town's trident of Neptune insignia as its badge.Initially, Alfieri and brothers Bindo and Ettore prepared Isottas for racing, then tuned and raced for Diatto until it stopped production in 1926 - leaving the Maseratis to make the first car bearing their own name, an eight-cylinder, Diatto-based racer in which Alfieri scored a class win in that year's Targa Florio to lay the foundations of the trident legend. Further victories impressed industrialist Adolfo Orsi, who bought the firm and took it to victory at the 1939 Indianapolis 500 before car-making was temporarily abandoned. Production resumed post-War with a series of beautiful road cars with bodywork by Pinin Farina, Zagato and Frua atop the A6 chassis. The early 1950s also saw Fangio score the first of a string of race victories for the marque, culminating in his fifth and final World Championship win in 1957 driving the legendary 250F - the model that also gave Stirling Moss his big break in F1.Despite Fangio's glorious victory, '57 was a black year for Maserati which lost several drivers in a string of unrelated accidents. This led the firm to axe its 'works' team, although it continued to build cars for other people to race, notably the legendary, tubular-framed 'Birdcage' models of the early 1960s. And it was during those Swinging 60s and into the 70s that some of the most evocative Maserati road cars were developed, including the Bora, Mistral and Ghibli. Their stunning looks and slightly naughty image attracted the likes of celebrities ranging from the Shah of Iran to Peter Sellers, and from the astronaut Wally Schirra to singer Sandy Shaw. Peter Ustinov had one, too, along with Alain Delon, Luciano Pavarotti and Kirk Douglas. It was in the same era that ownership of Maserati passed to Citroën, a partnership which led to the development of the mongrel Citroën SM (Citroën body and hydraulics, Maserati engine - what could possibly go wrong?) as well as the Merak SS, the Khamsin and the Quattroporte II. But then Citroën went bankrupt, leaving Maserati to be saved by the Italian government.