First shown at the 1960 Geneva Salon, the Maserati 3500 GT Vignale Spyder was Maserati’s luxuriously appointed answer to demand from the sunnier climes of North America for an ultra-expensive European roadster. It was to share showroom space with Aston Martin’s DB4 Convertible and that apogee of the genre, the Ferrari 250 GT Pininfarina Cabriolet.
At that time, like Aston Martin and Ferrari, Maserati was at the forefront of long-distance racing, first with its 300S and mighty 450S, then the outrageous Tip 60/61 ‘Birdcage’. The Trident’s chief engineer, Giulio Alfieri, was responsible for not only the racing cars but also the company’s first large-scale production Gran Turismo, the 3500 GT.
The Carrozzeria Touring-designed 3500 GT was launched in 1957, the year that Juan Manuel Fangio became World Champion for the fifth and final time, at the wheel of a Maserati 250F.
Riding high on sales success of the coupé (448 cars were recorded as sold in 1961 alone), Maserati bowed to pressure from its American distributors for a convertible. After Touring offered two versions of its existing car, the decision was taken to use a design by Giovanni Michelotti for Carrozzeria Vignale.
The Maserati 3500 GT Vignale Spyder
Although the main structure of the Spyder’s body was now steel rather than aluminium, the mechanical underpinnings of the new car were almost identical to the coupé’s. It, too, had an all-alloy, 3485cc straight-six with Weber carburettors and twin-plug cylinder head. This was mated to a four-speed gearbox by German engineering giant ZF. As the coupé was improved, so too was the Spyder: first came all-round British Girling disc brakes, then Lucas fuel injection and finally a five-speed transmission, again by ZF.
Alfieri had experimented with fuel injection for racing in the 1950s, and in 1961 introduced a British Lucas system to the 3500 GT coupé and Spyder. It was similar to the type first seen on works Jaguar D-types. With injection, the iniezione-badged GTis gained an extra 15bhp and additional benefits in smoothness, flexibility and fuel economy.
The well-appointed Vignale Spyder was based on a shortened 3500 GT chassis, so interior space was more intimate for the driver and passenger. The fabric hood stowed neatly behind the rear seats and some cars came with an optional steel hardtop. Customers could choose from elegant perforated steel disc wheels with alloy rims, or classic alloy-rimmed wires. Both were by the great Milanese maker Ruote Borrani S.p.A.
Priced at $12,000 in the US, the Vignale Spyder soon found favour among Maserati’s traditional client list of European and American tycoons, the stars of stage and screen, royalty and fast-living playboys. Dean Martin owned one, so did the King of Morocco – an unlikely combination.
After four years of production, just 242 3500 GT/GTi Spyders were built – compared with 1975 coupés – and the order book closed in 1964.
Delivered new to Señor Domingo Gotarta of Barcelona, via agent Auto-Paris S.A in May 1964, this Vignale Spyder is one of the final ten cars built and has a Tipo 101/9 Sebring chassis, with different door panels and seats compared with earlier cars.
To have ordered such an expensive car as a convertible Maserati in Franco’s Spain signifies that Señor Gotarta was a man of wealth and influence. According to copies of factory records that accompany the car, it was completed in October 1963 and finished in an elegant combination of Azzurro Vincennes, a subtle metallic mid-blue, with Rosso Connolly leather. Extras included seat belts and a radio. It was fuel-injected, with the desirable and long-legged S5.17 ZF five-speed gearbox and ruote a raggi Borrani wheels: the ultimate specification.
Still riding today on those polished alloy-rim Borrani wire wheels, the car oozes European sophistication mixed with a hint of race-bred menace, just what was required for the fast set of the early 1960s, whether in East or West Coast America or the sun spots of southern Europe.
For the first 25 years of its life chassis ‘2769’ remained in Spain. Copies of a service invoice from the Maserati factory dated 26th May 1969 show the car to have covered 40,282km by that time. It was still registered in Barcelona as ‘B 378804’, with the bill made out to Jose Mogas Bassas. The final Spanish owner was Juan Alberto Jepús Fabrés, whose letterheading declared himself to be the Mayor of Sarriá, a municipality in the province of Lugo, north-western Spain.
Fabrés kept the car until 1989 when he sold it to British ex-Special Forces racing driver and eccentric Malcolm Clube, who had discovered it in an underground Spanish car park and left a note on the windscreen. After repeated efforts to entreat with Señor Fabrés, it was finally bought in October that year and imported to the UK, where it stood in storage for 14 years before purchase by Kidston S.A. (still bearing the ‘B 378804’ plate) for a Swiss resident client of longstanding who commissioned a total ‘bare metal’ restoration of the car maintaining its original specification.
Supervised closely by our Geneva office, over a period of two years Modenese marque specialists Carrozzeria AutoSport (owned by partners Bachelli and Villa) and ex-Maserati race team mechanic Giuseppe Candini revived ‘AM101*2769*’ to the condition in which it was delivered over 40 years previously. All paint was removed and any necessary panelwork repairs completed before spraying in a fresh coat of lustrous metallic blue. The wheels were refurbished, and all brightwork re-chromed or repolished and set in all-new rubber trim.
In invoices totalling excess of €110,000, every mechanical component was overhauled, serviced or replaced. The list includes: new brake calipers, an overhauled servo and new brake lines; a new clutch and master cylinder; overhauled and balanced propshaft; new water pump; overhauled fuel pump; new inlet and exhaust valves, a reconditioned cylinder head, new cylinder liners and timing chains; all suspension serviced and parts replaced where necessary; overhauled steering box.
The bill for overhauling the electrics came to €9,000 alone.
Great care was taken to retain the impossible-to-source Rosso Connolly leather interior, with just careful cleaning and polishing maintaining the patina of the original hide. In addition to the painstaking work carried out to keep the interior as-delivered, the steering wheel was also sympathetically restored.
Since 2006 the car has been with its current German collector owner who has used it sparingly, but with relish. Rarer than a Mercedes-Benz 300 SL Roadster, more elegant and better to drive than a Series 2 Ferrari 250 GT Pininfarina Cabriolet and easily the equal of heavier Aston Martin DB4 and DB5 Convertibles, the Maserati 3500 GTi Vignale Spyder can be viewed as one of the remaining ‘undiscovered’ convertibles from Les Grandes Marques. How long that will last remains to be seen. This is one of the finest.
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