Obsessions #8 – Maserati Quattroporte

| 23 Oct 2012

It's been a while since I (self) indulged in some of this soul-baring, but I have recently been knocked giddy by a car that was an obsession for most of my adult life, but which somehow became dormant.

The reason it dozed off, I guess, was that I drove a bad one. Now I have driven a brilliant one again and it is right back at the top of my wishlist.

That's the problem with what we at C&SC do, of course: no two classics are precisely the same and if your first experience is in the wrong one then it could forever tarnish your opinion of that model or even the entire marque.

This has happened to me in a big way a couple of times, realising that my initial impression was approximately 180 degrees out with a lengthy delay before coming to my senses.

The most notable was the De Tomaso Pantera. The first one I drove was owned by a lovely chap with a similar lack of wealth to myself. He therefore bought at the top of his budget and the bottom of the market.

The result was OK, but not very nice to drive or be in and I spent the next decade or so dismissing them out of hand. Then I drove an absolute peach of a Pantera and rued all the missed time and opportunities as their prices had spiralled.

Now, joining the De Tomaso in the Premier League of regret, there is the Maserati Quattroporte.

Long-term readers and friends will know I have been banging on about these forever, and may not even have noticed that I have been curiously quiet on the matter for a few years now, but I'm afraid that silence is about to be broken.

Oddly, the Quattroporte - and naturally we are talking square-rigged 1960s efforts - is a car that I didn't develop my obsession for until well into my 20s.

It was never a teenage poster car for me, but then why would it be? Like whisky, a Quattroporte is the sort of thing that you can only appreciate when you are old enough to understand depth and, frankly, the beauty of lunacy.

And what could be more beautiful (in a lunatic kind of way) than a pumped up mating of cubes, like an Alfa Giulia has rear-ended a Mexico that had a bad reaction to Botox and is wearing a pair of trendy specs.

Then you slide a silky 4.2-litre (initially, 4.7 available from 1968) V8 into it, allow it to gorge via a generous menu of Webers (four of the buggers), offer a manual five-speed or auto transmission - depending on just how plutocratic the owner wants to be - and make it fly.

In its day the fastest four-door saloon in the world with a sub-9 secs 0-60mph time and over 140mph top speed, this blunderbuss Maserati never lost sight of its purpose and made sure everyone sat nice and high, had plenty of space, a door apiece, and some lovely period detailing to look at.

Despite having this slither of the market pretty much to itself for most of the 1960s, this quirky battleship sold just 750-odd units in the first iteration's eight-year career.

In that time, apart from the additional engine option, the only major changes were air-con and a live rear axle replacing the de Dion.

It cost a mighty £6000 new and a whole generation later didn't seem to raise much above that for the first decade or so that I was involved with the classic car world. Then a few years back it started moving, with uncharacteristic stealth at first as it edged to £15,000 and then £20k, then with a more natural bravado as prices doubled from there in the past 18 months.

Seriously, if you want a decent one now, you'll be shelling out a minimum of £35,000.

Doesn't matter though because I don't want one. Or at least I didn't.

I won't mention which specific cars of the six Quattroportes I had driven put me off them, but there were two memorable occasions when I drove them back to back with my own cars (the Jensen Interceptor and the Triumph 2.5PI respectively) and these two Maseratis signally failed to shine in comparison. I was cured.

Then Maserati invited me to a launch in Mantova. Not a car launch, mind, but something completely different, though that didn't stop the Modena company assembling a sextet of cars and lobbing the keys at me. One of the cars was the Quattroporte I Series 2 (that's axle-related nomenclature that is).

For ages I resisted its allure, drove the others and had a barrel of fun, until I found myself irresistibly inching closer, eventually clambering in and, for a good 10 minutes or so, just enjoying my surroundings.

It's very like a Mk1 Interceptor in some ways: identical toggle switches, even the Voxson 8 Track player. Even some of the chrome fillets on the doors look identical. Strange though that the Italian car should have Smiths dials when the English car has Jaeger.

Eventually I turned the key.

This car didn't sound like the last one. The engine was urgent and taut and willing.

This car didn't steer like the last one. Instead of being heavy and cumbersome, the power-assisted worm and sector was smooth, light (but not too light) and beautiful, the feedback through the Hellebore wheel sensationally right. The brakes were razor sharp, the handling neutral, all signs of roll gone.

And that engine. Rather than gurgle and blurt, it purred and responded instantly as I shifted through that ZF five-speeder, one of my top 10 'boxes of all time. There is a phenomenal, churning surge from that V8.

Like some massive flashback, I remembered every reason, every sinew of performance that made me adore the Quattroporte.

"It's for sale," joked the man from Modena, so I made a joke offer. "You know what, 10 years ago you probably could have had it for that," he replied.

And therein lies the problem.