One of six brothers, Alfieri Maserati founded the now famous marque in the mid 1920’s at Bologna. As the symbol for his new car he chose Neptune’s Trident, the ancient symbol of Bologna and the location of his works factory.
Until the outbreak of war in 1939 the vast majority of Maserati’s were single-seater race cars, while the company did manufacture a handful of two-seater sports-cars (again with the intention of racing them).
The first Maserati, the “Tipo 26” was produced on the 14th April, 1926. But the first notable car to leave the factory was the 8C-1100 of 1929; sitting upon an 8ft 2in wheelbase the car featured a supercharged 1087cc twin-overhead camshaft engine good for 100bhp at 5500rpm and giving the car a top speed of more than 80mph.
While the 8C-1100 was successful in some minor Italian races, Alfieri developed an even more powerful version that used a 1492cc engine good for 120bhp. Both versions used square-rig bodies with raked-back radiators, while their fuel tanks were housed in a tapering tail.
In 1930 the 4CTR-1100 appeared, featuring a 1088cc twin-overhead-cam engine fitted with a Rootes-type supercharger blowing through a Weber carburettor. Performance was ensured by keeping the weight of the car down, the 4CTR tipping the scales at a relatively low 1360lb.
The first Maserati road car to be built in considerable numbers was the 3500GT. Launched in 1957; it would not be officially on sale until 1958. The 3.5 litre twin-cam six cylinder engine was derived from their race cars, had an 8.5:1 compression ratio, triple twin-choke Weber carburettors and good for 230bhp at 5500rpm and a top speed over 140mph.
The chassis was a complex affair, partly tubular, partly stiffened by pressed steel members, with coil spring independent front suspension, but the rigid rear axle was suspended on half-elliptic leaf springs, with extra radius arm location.
There were drum brakes at first, but a Girling disc setup followed in 1960. Carrozzeria Touring and Allemano built the first batch of bodies, and some 100 were completed in 1959, the first complete production year. Coupe and drop head styles were both available.
In 1962, Maserati broke new ground, by offering a revised version of the car, the 3500GTI, which was fitted with “Lucal” fuel injection. Although this only produced another 5bhp in peak performance, it made the car both more flexible and more fuel efficient.
An even more exciting Maserati road car was first shown at Turin in 1959, the very limited-production (only 32 produced) 5000GT. Using the same chassis and suspension layout as the 3500GT, the 5000GT had a 4935cc version of the racing V8, detuned a little for road use, but still producing a very healthy 330bhp at 5700rpm. Needless to say the 5000 was extremely expensive!
A revised six-cylinder road car, the “Sebring”, was introduced in 1963. Developed directly from the 3500GTI rolling chassis, it had a “Vignale” 2+2 coupe body, and was shorter, by four inches, than the previous model. Good for 235bhp at 5800rpm, it could reach 137mph, and achieved 16.4 seconds for the 1/4-mile.
In the same year Maserati also launched their stylish “Mistrale”, again using 3500GTI/Sebring mechanical components, but with a neat fixed head, or convertible, style by “Frua”.
Initially the car had a 3.5 1itre engine, but later there was a 3692cc/245bhp six, and eventually a 4012cc/255bhp option, this being the final stretch of the long-serving twin-cam unit, descended from the early 1950s single-seater racing unit. This last iteration made the Mistrale good for a top speed of 155mph.