Maserati: The History

1927 Maserati Tipo 26B
1927 Maserati Tipo 26B

Founded on December 1st 1914

Press Release

Founded on December 1st 1914

Officine Alfieri Maserati was founded on December 1, 1914 in Bologna, Italy. Since then, Maserati has played a consistently important role in the history of sports car culture and its development.

Nearly a century of activity has brought with it moments of glory on the road and the track as well as more difficult times, which have helped forge the company’s character and personality.

This includes the 246.029 km/h world speed record set by Borzacchini in 1929, the World Championship won by Fangio with the 250F in 1957, and the more recent launch of the new 390-bhp Coupé Cambiocorsa in Detroit in January 2002, which marked Maserati’s return to the US market.

However, Maserati’s history involves more than its glorious sporting achievements and the launch of great road cars; the company has also developed industrially over the years. Its relocation from Bologna to the current site in Viale Ciro Menotti, Modena in 1940 and its acquisition by Ferrari, completed in 1997, are but two examples of the many major events which have hailed important developments in Maserati’s expansion strategies and the launch of its new cars.

Maserati is a marque that began life in a local context but then went on to become a major international concern, with representatives in 43 countries. In this section, you can relive this enthralling history and get to know the people, achievements, and cars which have made the marque famous.

The first Maserati era: 1914 to 1937

After the war, the company moved from Via dé Pepoli to new offices in the suburbs of Bologna. The Maserati brothers' main activity was still tuning Isotta Fraschini cars, but they also worked on other makes.

Alfieri began his career as a racing driver and soon proved his worth, winning on the Susa-Moncenisio, the Mugello Circuit and the Aosta-Great Saint Bernard. Diatto offered him a chance to design cars for the company and even to race with them. Unfortunately, in 1924, having dominated the San Sebastiano GP, he was disqualified for five years, even though he had retired, for having replaced the 2-litre engine in his car with a 3-litre unit. The penalty was lifted a few months later.

Away from the racing world, Alfieri dedicated himself entirely to the workshop and in 1926, after leaving Diatto, he produced the Tipo 26, the first all-Maserati car, and the first to sport the trident trademark. The Tipo 26 won its class in its debut race, the Targa Florio, driven by Alfieri Maserati himself.

In 1927 Alfieri had a serious accident in the Messina Cup with the Tipo 26B, after taking third place at the Targa Florio. But even with him sidelined, Maserati still won the Italian Constructors' Championship. In 1929 the V4 appeared, with a 16-cylinder engine, making its debut at the Italian Grand Prix and setting the world Class C speed record over 10 km at 246.069 km/h in Cremona, with Baconin Borzacchini.

The record set by the V4 helped to enhance the company’s image and guaranteed a considerable influx of funds, allowing the company and its activities to expand. In 1930 the V4 driven by Borzacchini won Maserati’s first outright victory in a Grand Prix, in Tripoli.

In 1931 came the 4CTR and the front-wheel-drive 8C 2500, the last car to be designed by Alfieri Maserati, who died on 3 March, 1932. An enormous crowd attended his funeral in Bologna, including workers from the plant, famous drivers, and ordinary people, who wanted to show their affection for the great man.

Alfieri's death did not discourage the Maserati brothers; Bindo left Isotta Fraschini and returned to Bologna to continue the great venture began by Alfieri, with Ernesto and Ettore. Maserati's racing activities continued to be intense and successful; an 8-cylinder, 3-litre engine also appeared.

In 1933 Tazio Nuvolari joined the team, making a significant technical contribution, particularly in the fine tuning of the chassis, adapting it to the characteristics of the new engine; Nuvolari won the Belgian Grand Prix, and those of Montenero and Nice. That was when Mercedes-Benz and Auto Union began a sustained assault the racing scene, making life difficult for Maserati in the more important races.

In spite of this, the company continued to notch up victories in more minor, national races, and this led the brothers to direct output toward this area. In 1936 they found a patron in Gino Rovere who invested a great deal in the company and appointed Nino Farina, his "protégé", as Chairman. The 6CM appeared, which gave Maserati the competitive edge in the voiturette class.

The golden years: 1937 to 1967

In 1937 the Maserati brothers sold their shares in the company to the Orsi family from Modena, even though they were not in financial difficulties, and the company moved from Bologna to the now historical headquarters on Viale Ciro Menotti in Modena.

Ernesto had already designed the 4CL and 8CL engines, which powered the cars of the same name in the late 1930s. The Maserati brothers stayed on in Modena as chief engineers until 1948.

The company dominated the racing scene again, despite strong competition from Mercedes. On 30 May. 1939 it scored an important victory at the Indianapolis 500 with Wilbur Shaw in the 8CTF, a feat it repeated the following year.

During the Second World War, Maserati adapted its production accordingly, turning out machine tools, electrical components, spark plugs and electric vehicles, but returned to its original activities after the war, with a new GT car, the A6 1500.

The A6G CS debuted successfully on the Modena circuit with Alberto Ascari; and in those years its racing rivals were the Alfettas, Ferraris, and Talbots.

After several wins, life became less easy for Maserati in the 1950s as Alfa Romeo and Ferrari were extremely competitive. In 1953 Gioacchino Colombo was appointed Chief Engineer and modified the A6GCM. The team was also strengthened by the arrival of drivers of the calibre of Fangio, Gonzalez, Marimon, Bonetto and de Graffenried, and brought home some important victories in the 1953 season; in fact, Fangio won that year's Italian Grand Prix from Ascari and Farina in Ferraris.

Colombo also laid the foundation for the Maserati 250F, which was later developed by Alfieri. 1954 saw the debut of the 250F, with which Fangio won the Argentine Grand Prix on its debut.

In 1955 and 1956, Maserati won other important victories; in 1957 Fangio returned to Maserati and won the World title for the fifth time – the first time for Maserati - with the 250F.

Although the company announced its official retirement from racing that same year, it never withdrew from the scene completely because Maserati continued to build racing cars like the Birdcage and other prototypes for private teams, and to supply engines for the Formula 1 cars of other constructors, such as Cooper, for which it developed a 12-cylinder, three-valve engine with triple ignition in 1965.

Production of the 3500 GT, which was launched in 1958, began at the start of an important new era for Maserati, and the plant had to be expanded. Production cars and sales became the main goals and Maserati’s racing activities became marginal.

The Sebring was presented in 1962 and the Quattroporte in 1963, the first Maserati 4-door saloon with a 90° V8 engine and a displacement of 4,136 cc.

Alternating fortunes: 1968 to the present

Maserati’s output continued to grow, and its models to boast a constant stream of new features. However, the real big news came in 1968, when Citroën bought out the Orsi family's shares, although Adolfo Orsi remained Honorary Chairman of the company.

The Giugiaro-designed Bora, the first mass-produced mid-engined Maserati, was presented at the 1971 Geneva Motor Show; Maserati also built the occasional racing car engine, and that same year, a Citroën SM with a Maserati engine won the Morocco Rally. With the launch of the Merak and Khamsin, Maserati’s production continued apace. But in 1973 the Yom Kippur War sparked the Oil Crisis, making life increasingly uncertain for the company, although it still had enough vitality to introduce both the Quattroporte II prototype, bodied by Bertone, and the Merak SS.

The situation worsened, and on 23 May, Citroën announced that Maserati was had gone into liquidation (the French car maker had signed an agreement with Peugeot but had lost interest in the Modena company). Pressure from the industrialists’ association and the local and provincial councils succeeded in persuading the government to intervene, and Maserati avoided closure by handing over control to GEPI (a government agency that financed companies in difficulty in order to save jobs).

In an agreement signed on August 8, 1975, most of the company's share capital was acquired by the Benelli company, and Alejandro De Tomaso, an Argentinean former racing driver who had also competed for Maserati, became Managing Director. De Tomaso managed to get the company off the ground again, albeit with difficulty, and by 1976 he had launched a new model, the Kyalami, presenting the Quattroporte III, designed by Giugiaro, soon after at the Turin Motor Show. By the end of the year, output had picked up significantly.

The 1980s saw the production of a new type of car, with a relatively low purchase price but impressive performance: the Biturbo, of which over 30 different versions appeared, in coupé, 4-door saloon and spider forms.

The turnaround for Maserati came in 1993, when the company's entire share capital was acquired by Fiat Auto. A year later the first new arrival under the Turin company’s ownership appeared in the form of the Quattroporte. Designed by Marcello Gandini, it boasted all of the enormous refinement, luxury and sportiness for which the marque was renowned. On 1 July, 1997 Fiat sold Maserati to Ferrari, and a new era began for the company. That year the historical plant in Viale Ciro Menotti, Modena closed temporarily while an ultra-modern assembly line was installed, to produce a new car, the 3200 GT.

This was presented to the public at the 1998 Paris Motor Show, and proved to be a thoroughbred, front-engined GT in the best Maserati tradition. It was joined that same year by the Quattroporte Evoluzione, and output soon exceeded 2,000 cars a year.

The complete reorganisation of the marketing network and the expansion of the plant, where new management offices were built, gave further momentum to the renewal process in 2000. The following year, the new Spyder appeared, and was unveiled for the first time at the Frankfurt Motor Show, during which Maserati also announced its intention to return to the North American market. This decision was confirmed in January 2002, when the Coupé made its world debut at the Detroit Motor Show. Like the Spyder, it introduced a number of important innovations, from a new 4,200 cc 390-bhp V8 engine, to its suspension, chassis and F1-type gearbox.

Source: Source: Maserati S.p.A.
Published Nov 6th, 2006 9:38am By Text & Photos edited by Frank

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