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- Maserati BiTurbo

How de Tomaso Saved Maserati

Maserati has been a huge name in the automotive world since the start of the 20th century. That’s longer than both Porsche and Ferrari! The Maserati brothers began by assembling and upgrading race cars but it wasn’t for another decade or so that they began producing their -own- race cars under their surname (1926). That same year Maserati began to be accompanied by the famous Trident for which the brothers drew inspiration from the Fountain of Neptune in Bologna. The Italian brand started in Motorsports and by 1934 had become the biggest single-seater race car manufacturer in the world. The first Maserati road car wasn’t produced until after the war when the founding brothers’ shares of the company were sold to the Orsi family. Although, at the time the road cars didn’t do well on the market, the racing cars were continuing the brand’s legacy with Juan-Manuel Fangio and Sir Sterling Moss winning some historic races. During the first 9 years -up until 1955- of production, the brand had managed to sell only 139 cars with just one authorized dealership in Rome. It was then when the Orsi family decided to withdraw from Motorsports and focus solely on making world-class luxury sports cars and they did just that. The mesmerizing 3500 GT was announced in 1957 and for the first time in the brand’s history, it had -a more than- satisfying number of orders and subsequently offered financial security. Through 9 years of production, it had managed to sell 2,200 examples which in combination with its price, 12,000 USD -3 times the price of a 190 SL, shows just how good it did on the market. Just 4 years after that Maserati was at the blink of bankruptcy, again. Bought by Citroen the two brands benefited from each other for a short period but when the oil crisis hit, Citroen had a lot of problems of their own and couldn’t afford to absorb Maserati’s losses as well. Then de Tomaso came.

Alejandro de Tomaso, a successful businessman in the automotive industry became Maserati’s principal owner and CEO. He introduced a ten-year plan to save Maserati from disappearing -as many other sports cars manufacturers did at that time-. The key was mechanization and a small workforce. The Argentinian businessman decided to change the brand’s direction, which was synonymous with expensive luxury cars and release it to the masses. The model that fulfilled de Tomaso’s vision was the Maserati Bi-Turbo. The Bi-Turbo was nothing like previous Maserati models like the Bora or the iconic Ghibli, no, it was more like a BMW 3-series. It was a series production car with pressed steel rather than hand-crafted panels and it was intended to sell widely to make money something that the brand had been unsuccessful at doing in the past. On December 14th the Bi-Turbo was announced and on paper, it looked like the best deal in the premium market at the time. Its design wasn’t revolutionary but it was within the 80s trends. Thousands of people were putting down deposits on the car when its price wasn’t even finalized. It combined the comfort of a BMW and didn’t charge for extras like the German manufacturer did, with the speed of a sports car (its 0-100 time was on par with the sports cars of the time). It was also a favourite among the younger audience of car market who were not concerned about heritage and history a car might carry but were looking for a fast comfortable car that they could drive daily. While time passed and the Bi-Turbo showed its flaws as a daily driver, de Tomaso had achieved the impossible, to save Maserati with a model that was nothing like Maserati used to build. Since 1981 there were 40,000 examples built of the Bi-Turbo and all its ‘’byproducts’’ (Ghibli II and the Shamal), a record in sales figures the manufacturer has yet to surpass. After the Bi-Turbo’s fall in the 90s Maserati was bought by Fiat -and is still part of the Fiat group- and with the help of Ferrari, Maserati has been back on its feet ever since.

Throughout its history, the brand has survived bankruptcy 4 times. It remains as one of the most iconic car brands in the world while its name is up there with Ferrari and Lamborghini. Many people give credit for Maserati’s reputation to de Tomaso when he saved it in the 70s and he has frequently been referred to as the Savior of Maserati while a lot of people support the exact opposite, that the Bi-Turbo ruined Maserati’s reputation as a sports luxury car. Did he help the brand survive or did he ruin its reputation with the Bi-Turbo? I believe he saved them, what do you think?

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