"I have never driven that quickly before in my life and I don't think I will ever be able to do it again" – Juan Manuel Fangio, after he won perhaps his finest race, the 1957 German Grand Prix, in a Maserati 250F.
That year, the great Argentinean was victorious in four of the eight qualifying rounds of the World Championship of Drivers and became Champion for the fifth and final time. It was a triumph for Maserati, and provided the perfect backdrop for the introduction of its first large-scale production Gran Turismo, the 3500 GT.
It was the architect of Maserati’s racing success, Giulio Alfieri, who was responsible for the 3500 GT. The elegant coupé’s lines were the work of Carrozzeria Touring, and the aluminium bodywork was mounted on its tubular frame using the Milanese company’s superleggera technique of small-diameter steel tubing.
Under the bonnet sat a 3485cc straight-six, an all-alloy twin-cam related to the racing engine used in the short-lived 1956 350 S sports-racer. While early cars had drum brakes, triple Weber carburettors and a ZF four-speed gearbox, as years went by the popular coupé benefited from British Girling discs and Lucas fuel injection, and five-speed transmission, again by Zahnradfabrik of Friedrichshafen.
The 3500 GT and later 3500 GTi were successful models for Maserati, selling to an established client list of wealthy industrialists and showbiz stars. An impressive total of 448 cars were recorded as sold in 1961. Yet the market wanted more, and buyers in the United States in particular desired expensive and exclusive cars from Europe, with a premium paid for convertibles. So Maserati created a Spyder based on the 3500 GT and launched it at the 1960 Geneva Motor Show.
The Maserati 3500 GT Vignale Spyder
By taking 100mm out of the wheelbase of the coupé, Maserati created a more sporting look for its most glamorous car. Alfieri turned to Vignale – after Touring built two convertible prototypes adapted from its own coupé – for the execution of the design, who entrusted the task to their star Giovanni Michelotti. The shorter wheelbase made the car effectively a two-seater, with rear space for passengers on short trips or luggage. The fabric hood folded away neatly and unobtrusively out of sight, whilst a steel hardtop was an option.
For strength and rigidity it was decided to make the new Spyder’s body in steel, with aluminium bonnet and bootlid. Other than that, the luxuriously appointed car was identical to the bigger GT, and mirrored its mechanical developments. So, from 1961 235bhp iniezione, fuel-injected engines were available, and also that year a more long-legged five-speed ZF 'box was introduced. Finally, in 1962, the rear drums made way for discs. All Spyders had front discs.
Wheels were either traditional Borrani alloy-rimmed wires, or the company’s attractive perforated steel discs with alloy rims. All were 16 inch, mounted with 185x16 tyres.
Only 242 Vignale Spyders were ever built (vs. 1975 coupés) – perhaps not surprising considering a price of $12,000 in North America. Owners included the singer Dean Martin and the King of Morocco.
The certificate issued by Maserati Classiche records AM101*1375*delivered on 13 April 1962 to the Swiss Maserati agent in Chiasso, just over the Italian border. Official concessionaire Martinello & Sonvico had specified the car in a stylish and very period combination of Biancospino (white) with Pelle Blu Connolly interior. As delivered, it had a blue hardtop (no longer present).
The certificate confirms not only the desirable ‘matching numbers’, but also the correct type S5.17 ZF five-speed gearbox and Borrani steel/alloy disc wheels.
The first owner was E Kendrick of 64 Century House, London, who chose to have the expensive and exotic car registered in Geneva – not unusual in the days of currency controls and punitive UK taxes. Records accompanying ‘1375’ show it to have been sold for 50,000 French francs by A Mezzo of St Vaast, Normandy to Yannick Le Prevost of St Omer – both French citizens – on 18 March 1982.
On 27 April 2002 another Frenchman, Gérard Fasseux, purchased the Maserati from Le Prevost, now living in Arques. Monsieur Fasseux sold it to the current Italian owner some 18 months later.
With his new acquisition now in Milan, he entrusted Modenese Maserati expert Franco Tralli with a 65,000-euro programme of thorough, but mild and sympathetic recommissioning. All bodywork matters were left to another recognised marque and model specialist, Mario Galbiati.
The intention was always to maintain the wonderful originality of ‘1375’, resisting the recent obsession of retrimming in new, out-of-character leathers and repainting non-original black or grey. The interior is still the original, almost impossible to replicate Connolly blue hide and even the luggage compartment is in period condition.
All necessary mechanical work has been completed to such a level of detail that when the engine was stripped down it was found that the original pistons were in excellent order, so were retained, modern replacements being of an inferior standard. Various stickers (on the wheels, for example) are as applied in 1962.
In excellent mechanical and cosmetic condition, this car is one of the last ‘unmolested’ Vignale Spyders. As an example of early 1960s La Dolce Vita, as appropriate in Monaco as it is on Mulholland Drive, there can be few equals.
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