The Carchive: The '98 Maserati Quattroporte Evoluzione

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Welcome to another opportunity to run a metal detector over the sands of time to seek whatever nuggets of automotive history have been buried by the tides of progress. It’s time for a visit to The Carchive.

It’s my Birthday, and to console myself for having racked up yet another year, today’s offering from the vault is one of my favourite brochures for one of my favourite cars. Pure self-indulgence.

It’s the ’99 Maserati Quattroporte Evoluzione.

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“The heart of a racing car, the comfort of a prestigious saloon, the style of a car with distinctive lines. Maserati Quattroporte Evoluzione”

The Italians are lucky. The majority of words in their language sound exotic however mundane the translation. Still, the four-door moniker was actually quite a clever name, inasmuch as it defined not just a particular model but a whole category of Maserati.

Of course, when the non-Evo Quattroporte was launched in the early ’90s the range was littered with Duoporte models, Karif, Shamal etc which the QP was very obviously related to in style. By the late ’90s, after the 3200GT arrived, there was a lot more separation between the sports cars and the Sedans. Quattroporte began to mean something for the first time since the ’70s.

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“A 335 CV heart. A heart beating acceleration. A heart so strong and generous full of enthusiasm in any conditions and at any speed”

One gets the feeling that this brochure has been translated directly from Italian without any recourse to seeing if it still made sense. You get the gist, though.

When the MK4 Quattroporte was first released it was with a 2.8 litre Biturbo V6 engine, which was fine in a gets-the-job-done kind of a way. But the car and engine combination left the motoring population thoroughly unmoved. Nobody in the press hailed it with any degree of praise; indeed many were very derisory; there was a degree of pointing and laughing. Maserati had released yet another rubbish car.

In 1997, Ferrari took over. Things, very rapidly, started to get serious.

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“Get behind the wheel and discover the new quality of the driving position”

That’s exactly what Ferrari did.

Of course, with the Quattroporte they had to work with a body which had been around for a few years, but they went through it and gave it a thorough going over until it passed muster according to The Management. 400 parts were changed, some little, some big. The V6 was continued but the infinitely superior V8 from the Shamal was made available. The previous gynaecologically inspired gold clock in the dashboard was replaced with a low-key LED digital unit.

What was only barely fiddled with was the styling. It received new wheels and mirrors and the badging was altered, but the shape remained largely the same. And it’s the shape that’s my favourite part of the whole shooting match.

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It’s the work of one Marcello Gandini, and I absolutely love it. The nose retains the formal, bluff look of a generic saloon car (the typical signature of most Maseratis through the 80’s and 90’s) and the side profile retains that wedge profile which was becoming quickly outmoded.

But the view from the rear three-quarters is like a role call of all the greatest Gandini supercars, most notably the Lamborghini Diablo for the shape of the wheelarches and the corresponding upsweep towards the tail-lamps; and those lamps themselves recall the Cizeta Moroder V16T.

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When viewed in the flesh the sparkle of the Maserati trident sends an additional prickle down my spine, heightened should anybody happen to crack open the throttle within earshot. That noise. Less cultured than the astonishing formula-one howl of later Quattroportes, but equally appealing. It’s a hard edged metallic wail; a rasping soprano most at odds with any luxury-limo pretences that the car was trying to portray.

The Quattroporte Evoluzione is in my top three of all-time vehicles I want to own. It doesn’t even matter that I know that, by any properly measured comparison the Quattroporte would end up a massive disappointment. As a practical machine it would be an ownership liability for myriad reasons; there would probably be something wrong with it in some small (or large) way on any day with a “y” in it, and as a driver’s car it would disappoint for another, big, German reason:

The BMW M5. The E39 that bore that hallowed badge was released in ’98 to triumphant fanfare, boasting a 400hp naturally aspirated V8. It offered spectacular performance which was made spectacularly accessible thanks to the familiarity of the 5-Series and the innate chassis control that that car naturally had. It was, immediately, the “super-sedan” to beat. The more frail, more expensive Maserati made do with just 335hp despite the turbos, and therefore never quite received the recognition it deserved. It was a case of being neither fish nor fowl, too practical to be a supercar, too exclusive to be a creditable M5 rival . A four-door Ferrari would probably have suffered in a similar way.

And I don’t give even the very shallowest of damns. I’d much rather have the QP. I’ve driven M5’s and I know just how good they are, but good doesn’t always mean interesting. Compared to the Maserati, the Bavarian perfection of the E39 M5 just can’t eclipse the Modenese exhuberance and sheer charisma of the Italian, even if it does turn out to be terrible.

I own a Rover 800, and I love that, so I accept that I’m not the best judge of character.

The next Quattroporte to come along was a different matter entirely; it somehow had a much broader appeal and actually made the world take notice. I’ll deal with that in a future session but for now, we can end with a video gleaned from youtube of that 3200 Biturbo V8 starting up.

[youtube] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3ewIIpf_jO0[/youtube]

(Thanks to satsen100)

(Disclaimer: all images are of original manufacturer publicity materials, photographed by me in the back garden using a ‘phone, with far too much sun and white balance all to hell. Copyright remains property of Maserati SPA)

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