It began as a family business, as many Italian companies do. A group of brothers, four enthralled with automotives and one artistically gifted, combined their passions to launch a company. On December 1, 1914, the Officine Alfieri Maserati was born in the town of Bologna, Italy.
The company’s first major product sold were spark plugs, but the brothers’ held fast to their grand vision of designing and producing race cars. A few years later, the company grew to the point of needing a logo. While Alfieri, Ettore, and Ernesto knew the ins and outs of cars, graphic design was a world beyond their capabilities.
In the true Italian family business way, they commissioned their brother Mario to design the logo. Growing up, Mario had always been more interested in art than mechanics. He drew upon inspiration from Bologna, particularly the Fountain of Neptune in the Piazza Maggiore. There was a beautifully designed trident, symbolizing strength. He also incorporated the red and blue colors found on the city’s flag.
The company operated under this new branding, launching its first Maserati race car in 1926 called Tipo 26. The first car to proudly display the trident logo, it offered a supercharged displacement of 120 bhp at 5300 rpm.
While this car was a solid first creation, the brothers did not stop there. They continued designing, improving, and innovating different designs. The company gained some fame when their V4 set a record at the Italian Grand Prix, not to be beaten until eight years later. The car boasted 16 cylinders and the capacity to reach 154 miles per hour. The car helped Maserati really make a name for itself and it continued growing.
A few years later, tragedy struck the Maserati family when Alfieri died in 1932. The younger brother Bindo joined the company.
The following years, Italian driver Tazio Nuvolari won races for Maserati helping to build up the company’s fame and prestige. In 1937, the brothers sold Maserati to Adolfo Orsi and the company relocated to Modena. The brothers remained connected with the business though. The company continued producing race cars, with American racer Wilbur shaw winning the Indianapolis 500 in 1939 and 1940.
During World War Two, the market for racing cars grinded to a halt. Priorities shifted in countries around the world and manufacturing companies scrambled to adapt.
Maserati began producing valuable machinery components to help keep the company afloat. This of course included manufacturing the spark plugs that the company got its start with.
When the war ended, the company shifted its focus back to designing and producing cars. But in a daring move, it decided to look beyond the world of racing. Maserati expanded to create sports cars and gran turismos, instead of focusing so heavily on just race cars. The first car launched after the war was the GT car known as the A6 500. It was also the first road car designed by the company.
But racing was the true love of the brothers and Maserati continued creating race cars and their racers continued competing. In 1957, Argentinian driver Juan Manuel Fangio won the Formula One Grand Prix world championship.
Later that same year, Maserati announced to the world it would retire from the racing circuit. The retirement was not a complete departure from this world, however, as the company still built racing cars for private teams and supplied engines for other builders. Racing was too deep in the Maserati culture for a full and final departure from that world. But a business needs to make money to survive and a shift was called for.
The company shifted its focus from racing events to company expansion and sales. The focus now was creating a high performance car that would be a smooth and quiet ride.
In the 1970s, the company was purchased by an Argentinian industrialist Alejandro de Tomaso. His goal was to use the brand name recognition of Maserati to help sell a more affordable sports car.
Under his leadership, the company created its best selling line of cars known as the Biturbo. These were luxury sports cars and grand tourers created between 1981 and 1994. The design relied on the formula used to create original Biturbo cars, with some changes and Maserati influence of course.
In the 1980s, the Chrysler Corporation purchased a stake in the company. It created a joint venture with Maserati called the Chrysler TC. It sprang out of a friendship between the heads of both companies. They hoped to use the popularity of the Maserati and the engineering power of the Chrysler. A two year delay in production and marketing missteps led to an unsuccessful car and the termination of the partnership.
In 1993, Fiat acquired control of Maserati for $51 million dollars. At the time, Fiat was the top carmaker in Italy. Around half of the production was cars sold in Italy and the other half cars sold around the world. A few years later, Fiat handed over the company to Ferrari (which Fiat controlled).
In 2002, the company entered the American market again by offering a convertible known as the Spyder. Fiat later shifted ownership from Ferrari to Alfa Romeo (which it also owned) in 2005. Alfa Romeo was also involved in the racing world since the early 1900s and also produces sport vehicles. In 2007, Fiat led Maserati to its first profitable quarter in 17 years.
Today, Maserati boasts its claim to fame as one of the largest luxury car manufacturers worldwide. It tailors its products to high class wealthy individuals, even building an exclusive car for the Shah of Persia Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. It is the only Italian car brand to ever claim first place at the Indy 500, which remains one of the best accomplishments of the company.
Over the years, Maserati went through many changes. It relocated from Bologna to Modena. It shifted from selling spark plugs to race cars back to spark plugs back to race cars. It left the world of racing to enter the world of sports cars. Several companies took ownership and made partnerships. But throughout all this time Maserati never lost its commitment to excellence and its unique design, which is still strong in the Maserati style we know and love today. To learn more about Maserati or other luxury car brands contact Autosprint.