Collection in action – Q

An alphabetical series of short driving impressions of some of the museum’s car collection. This month we reach Q –no, not Mr Bond’s sidekick – with a car that is part of the Rupert family’s personal collection.

Calling a three-box saloon a four-door is unimaginative but if you are an Italian manufacturer of premium-priced cars with a racing pedigree, then chances are that you will get away with it. Maserati have done just that with its luxury sports saloon – the Quattroporte. The first generation appeared in 1963 but Citroën’s brief takeover of Maserati all but brought an end to the concept. Fortunately, fortunes changed for the Italian brand and the super saloon managed to survive.

Turin-based coachbuilder Pietro Frua designed the first Quattroporte, which was revealed at the 1963 Turin Motor Show and manufacture began the following year. It was a large car powered by a double-overhead-cam 4 136 cm3 32-valve 90-degree V8 engine, a production car first for Maserati. It was offered with either a ZF five-speed manual or a three-speed Borg-Warner automatic transmission: a limited-slip differential was optional. Top speed was 230 km/h. The car was exported to America where legislation necessitated the car’s rectangular headlamps being replaced with twin circular units. Production ceased in 1966 after just 230 examples had been sold.

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A Series II version was introduced in 1966 that featured the dual headlamps as standard, a completely redesigned interior with a fashionable-at-the-time full-width wooden facia and, revised suspension layout. In 1968 a 4 719 cm3 engine became available, and top speed was raised to 255 km/h. Around 546 Series IIs were built before production ended in 1969.

There was a lull in the model’s life line following Citroën’s takeover of Maserati in 1968. The concept car appeared at the 1974 Paris Motor Show. Designed by Marcello Gandini at Bertone, the car was built on a stretched Citroën SM chassis, which meant front-wheel drive and hydropneumatic suspension. Under the bonnet was a 3,0-litre V6, which helped realise a 200 km/h top speed. However, in the aftermath of the 1973 global oil crisis, the car was not granted EEC approval and, to make matters worse, Citroën was declared bankrupt, which led to a company takeover in 1975. All this adversity rendered the car as a non-starter and a mere (unlucky) 13 examples were built.

From 1976 the new corporation began introducing new models, including a third-generation Quattroporte that was launched in 1979. Styled by Italdesign’s Giorgetto Giugiaro, a pre-production prototype made its public debut at the 1976 Turin Motor Show but production only commenced three years later. At first it was badged ‘4porte’ but this was changed to Quattroporte in 1981.

It is a clear and positive evolution of the first-generation car, with exterior joints and seams on the bodywork filled to create a seamless appearance. Two V8 engine sizes were offered, a 4 136 cm3 unit with initially 177 kW that in 1981 was increased to 188 kW at 6 000 r/min and 350 N.m at 3 200, and a 4 930 cm3 version with 206 kW at 5 600 r/min and 390 N.m at 3 000. A five-speed ZF manual and a Borg-Warner three-speed auto were the transmission options, but the B-W ’box was quickly replaced with a three-speed Chrysler A727 Torqueflite auto. Depending on the chosen transmission, top speeds varied between 220 and 240 km/h.

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Front suspension consisted of dual wishbones, coil springs and an anti-roll bar while at the rear a Jaguar-like set-up was employed consisting of cast aluminium hub carriers linked to the chassis by lower wishbones, the half-shafts doubling as upper control arms. The calipers of the inboard-mounted rear brakes were bolted directly to the diff housing, the entire assembly supported by a bushing-insulated cross beam. Initially, a Salisbury-type limited-slip differential was used, which was replaced in 1984 by a more advanced Torsen diff, which Maserati dubbed ‘Sensitork’.

The Quattroporte’s slightly offbeat charm caught the attention of Anthonij Rupert, son of South African billionaire businessman, philanthropist and conservationist Anton Rupert. In 1985, he imported a 4,2 model and for some time it was his personal transport. Sadly, in 2001, 49-year-old Anthonij died in a motor accident while in another car, but the Maserati stayed in the family and it now resides in his memory at FMM.

The left-hand drive car has not been refurbished since new and surprisingly, the maroon paintwork is still in good condition. Quad headlamps and an evolution of the traditional Maserati grille complement the Quattroporte’s overall square lines. It remains an imposing vehicle and never fails to attract onlookers. By today’s standards, the car looks a little under-wheeled on its silver 15-inch Campagnolo alloys, but 30 years ago they were de rigueur for sporty cars.

Inside the cabin, trim materials include fashionable light beige leather and briar wood. A plethora of individual switches electrically activate pretty much everything and the instrument cluster offers no less than eight gauges and stacks of warning lights. It is easy to get comfortable behind the wheel and the seats are sumptuous and supportive. Despite the car’s width, the rear seat is styled for two; the actual seats near identical in shape to the fronts. A padded armrest separates both sets of seats.

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On the move, the engine exhibits a slightly gruff tone while the autobox performed its duties with typical period American autobox slur. Designed to whisk four occupants in style and comfort along endless autostrada, the Quattroporte does not disappoint. The spring and damper rates have been tuned to provide a firm but supple ride, the emphasis being on grand touring rather than outright sportiness. Given such weight and size, the car’s handling traits are what you would expect, a degree of roll and slight understeer, but in context nothing to complain about.

During the Quattroporte III’s 11-year life cycle, which ended in 1990, an impressive total of 2 155 units were sold. Three more generations have been built, all of which have offered an air of exclusivity to go with Italian style and performance. Quattroporte – the queen of super saloons? MM (A more comprehensive version of this story will appear in the June/July issue of Classic Car Africa magazine.)