17 October 2005

Maserati 3500 GT

As the first volume-built production Maseratis and marketed from 1957 to 1964, the extremely handsome Maserati 3500 Grand Touring coupes became the company’s financial saviors during a particularly difficult period. Like Ferrari, Maserati tended to focus on its racing cars rather than road cars and the resulting irregular cash flow had put the company on a shaky financial footing by the end of the 1950s.

The production and sale of nearly 2,000 3500 GT coupes – the U.S. list price some $12,300 –  likely saved the company and encouraged Maserati’s owner Orsi to re-enter the competition arena with the famous “Birdcage” series of sports racing cars (1959 to 1965). Many improvements were incorporated during its rather lengthy six-year production period. Disc brakes became standard in 1960, and a ZF five-speed transmission replaced the former four-speed unit. Borrani’s alloy-rimmed wire wheels are rarely seen as they were an expensive option for most production years.

The 1961 example shown here, chassis number AM101-1818, is an unusual find because it is believed to be totally original, even down to its faded and imperfect red paint and black interior. The odometer shows approximately 70,000 km (42,000 miles) and is thought to be correct. Although this Maserati has been in storage for a decade or two, the engine was recently coaxed to life and now runs very well, considering its long hibernation. The brakes, however, are another story, as they require a total service.

Every old car has to have a program or concept of usage. The present owner’s original plan has a lot of merit and may be of interest to this Maserati’s next caretaker. He was going to service the car mechanically to run well – a practical plan, as it would not be expensive, likely only requiring a tune-up, change of fluids and a major service, in addition to the aforementioned brake refurbishment. Not a fan of trailer queens, he planned to leave the original exterior (which seems to be absolutely rust-free) and interior exactly as they are now. Like he says, “I wanted it to look like a guy driving an original Maserati 3500 GT in say, 1975, when it was just a used car.” Note that this vehicle is titled as a 1962.

The SCM analysis:This car sold for $37,400, including buyer’s premium, at the RM Monterey Sports and Classic Car auction, August 20, 2005.  

The history of the Italian car industry is filled with last-minute reprieves from the brink – and Maserati’s bacon was saved by the successful launch of the 3500 GT in 1957. It also changed the nature of Maserati’s business, much in the same way the 1900 and Giulietta changed Alfa and the 250 GT changed Ferrari. Maserati went from a company that had built 137 road cars from 1946 to 1956 to a volume producer practically overnight.

Carrozzeria Touring designed an elegant body, which recalled in basic form the earlier Allemano-bodied A6G54 coupe, but in a more modern late-’50s idiom and with just enough bright trim to cater to trans-Atlantic tastes.   

Its 3.5-liter DOHC inline six-cylinder engine, with triple sidedraft two-barrel Weber carbs, was related to that of the rather unsuccessful 350 S race car. It boasted 240 hp at 5500 rpm and was a superbly flexible motor with a good deal of useful power and torque throughout the rev range. It’s important, though, to make sure that the oil and water are sufficiently warmed before pushing the engine too hard, or dire results could occur.  

Front disc brakes were standard from 1960 onwards and four-wheel discs from 1961, allowing the 3500 GT to stop as well as it went. Another “development” was the adoption of Lucas fuel injection in 1962. This gave the 3500 GTi an additional 15 hp, a slightly higher top speed, and its owners fairly endless adventures in keeping it properly adjusted, until most finally ripped it out and retrofitted Webers.   

The car on offer at RM presents an interesting situation. Like all bottom-feeders and wannabees, I looked at the car with great interest as a possible purchase. After all, the low estimate was a reasonable $19,000 and it was selling at no reserve. Surely I could buy it for $12,000 and do what the seller had planned: sort it out mechanically and have a superb “beater” vintage GT car. But of course, reality is a bit different. First, getting it back into shape mechanically will certainly take the better part of $30k. Then, although the upper body was remarkably rust-free and the shut lines were excellent, could I even count on the floors being strong enough to anchor seat belts? At that point, assuming that I could actually live with an interior that, while original, was also basically in shreds, I would have $45k in the car. As a very nice example can be had in the $35k-$50k range (our SCM range of $27k-35k is being updated), there’s no way then to paint an interior and not end up spectacularly upside down. 

This car could still have made a better buy for someone looking to build a vintage racer. While it’s still necessary to ensure the strength of the floorpan and suspension mounting points, it’s much less expensive to do the work for durability rather than aesthetic correctness. Much of the interior could also be jettisoned for the track, eliminating another costly step, and the paint and plating required for a nice looking track car could likewise be accomplished at a lower cost. Nevertheless, when all was done you would most probably not be able to recover your expenses.  

At the $37,400 where it sold, this transaction is representative of a trend we have observed the past few years. Wretched, unrestored cars can bring over-the-top money. Examples include the barn-find 300SL (S/N 198040-4500167) that brought $240,500at the recent Christie’s auction in Greenwich, CT, and the truly nasty Maserati 5000 GT (S/N 64) that Bonhams sold in Monaco in 2000 for the still magnificent sum of $333,063. That’s often because the new owner gets the personal satisfaction of taking a heap and turning it into a jewel. It’s certainly not an undertaking for the financially faint of heart.  

(Historical and descriptive information in this profile courtesy of the auction company.)

– Sports Car Market magazine

www.sportscarmarket.com

 

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