The V8 Maserati

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It must have been during the summer of 1956 that I first saw the drawings of the V8 Maserati engine, and later that year that I saw the first cylinder-block casting come out of the Maserati foundry. At that time I was very closely associated with the Maserati racing department for in the spring of that year I was with Stirling Moss in the Mille Miglia in an experimental 3 1/2-litre Maserati that was something of a special made from the first chassis, suspension and gearbox for the 4.5-litre V8 but with a prototype 3 1/2-litre six-cylinder engine installed, this engine being the forerunner of a production engine. The V8 engine was not started at that time and it was not until 1957 that the 450S Maserati came into being. When the latest Maserati Indy was offered for test, in 4.7-litre form, I realised that the engine was an old friend and turned up some entries in my notebooks for 1957. They read as follows:—

May 3rd.—”In evening saw 4.5-litre V8 engine on test-bed giving 400 b.h.p. at 6,700 r.p.m. Noticed a 4CLT/48 gearbox being used as a stop for the test-house door!”
May 4th.—”Went up Futa Pass with Moss in prototype 450S.”
May 9th.—”5 a.m., went up Futa Pass again in brand-new 450S.”
May 11th.—”Had 450S on Autostrada, 7,000 r.p.m. in all five gears and 6,500 r.p.m. in special sixth gear. Wow!” (180 m.p.h.)
May 12th.—”Retired in Mille Miglia after 12 kilometres when brake pedal broke off.”

Those were the days when the Maserati racing team was at the height of its glory and the 450S sports car was on high test priority and I spent quite a lot of time in Modena. It was a regular thing to be woken up at 3 a.m. or 4 a.m. by the sound of a 4 1/2-litre V8 on full song on the test bed, and at 7,000 r.p.m. on open exhaust it was quite a song in the middle of Modena. The end of the 1957 season was a disastrous one for the 450S with two cars being destroyed in crashes and the factory team was disbanded. Work continued on the V8 engine and since that day it has been developed and redesigned until today it is a very smooth, sophisticated production engine, still with four overhead camshafts, inclined valves in a hemispherical combustion chamber and fed by a row of Weber carburetters. It has been in full production for some 10 years now and powers a whole range of Maserati cars today, either in 4.2-litre or 4.7-litre form. The three production models are the Mexico, the Indy and the Ghibli, the first two being close-coupled four-seaters in coupé form and the last named a two-seater in coupé or spyder form. All are available with ZF five-speed manual gearbox or Borg-Warner automatic three-speed transmission and power steering, if required, and by the time you have had your choice embellished with a few extras, like radio, mirrors, lamps and so on, you would not get much small change out of £10,000, especially if you include tax and insurance and a tankful of petrol to start you off right.

The three models vary slightly in track and wheelbase dimensions, but it is so minimal that I wonder why Maserati waste time making the changes. For example, the Mexico has a wheelbase of 103.5 inches and the Indy a wheelbase of 102.3 inches; the Indy has a rear track of 53.5 inches, the Ghibli a rear track of 55.9 inches. A few months ago an Indy was road-tested and the price quoted as £8,320, but the latest one which I borrowed, with the larger engine, power steering, air conditioning, radio, etc., was valued at £9,580. If you are thinking of buying a modern Maserati it is worth starting with a cheque for £10,000 and see what you get back.

What do you get for that sum of money? You certainly get a lot of motor car, some pretty sophisticated engineering, the latest in Italian body styling, Vignale bodywork on the Indy and Ghia bodywork on the Ghibli, four seats and a large luggage compartment, the lure of owning a Maserati, which makes you just that bit different from a Ferrari owner, a race-bred engine, and a high-speed, effortless touring car with some excellent sporting qualities, but not a sports car, at least as far as the Indy is concerned. The slightly smaller but wider Ghibli I was unable to try as it was so new that it had to be driven on trade plates in order to have its photograph taken alongside the Indy that I was loaned for a week. Since the coming together of Citroën and Maserati, to produce the revolutionary V6 Maserati-engined Citroën SM, which must be the car of the seventies, the Citroën people in England have been given the task of selling Maseratis as well from their base at Slough, to the west of London, and threading my way from there to Hampshire on minor roads the white Indy seemed enormous and rather dull, the Borg-Warner “automatic” transmission, with its three ratios, torque-converter and “kick-down” change for the middle ratio being one abomination that I would happily have had left in America, along with “plastic shrimps” and Coco Cola.

It was not until I got the Maserati Indy out on to a major trunk road that it became enjoyable, and a run to Yorkshire up the dual carriageway A1 and back down the M18 and M1 Motorways began to show the Maserati in its true light. The big V8 engine is never fussed and once over 3,500 r.p.m. it really produces some power and wafts the large car from 70 m.p.h.-100 m.p.h., 110 m.p.h. or 120 m.p.h. as you wish, in a very impressive manner. It was showing 4,400 r.p.m. at 100 m.p.h. and the tachometer is marked in red from 5,500 r.p.m. onwards, while maximum power on the 4.7 litre version is quoted as 290 b.h.p. at 5,000 r.p.m. With no trouble at all it pulled 6,000 r.p.m. in the high ratio, which is 135-140 m.p.h., but if the quoted maximum of 156 m.p.h. is to be achieved it would mean reaching nearly 7,000 r.p.m. in top, which is as unlikely as the price of the car.

The wheels on the Indy, with Michelin X Radial 205 (VR) 14-in. tyres on them, are well out at the corners of the car, so much so that it is easy to rub kerbs or grass banks with them in narrow roads, but the car sits down fairly and squarely and has a surprisingly high cornering power. The suspension is dull in the extreme for this day and age, having a double wishbone and coil-spring front layout and long semi-elliptic leaf springs at the back, the rigid axle being held down by a fore-and-aft rod and an anti-roll bar. For a car of the luxury category the Maserati is firmly sprung and a lot of bumps and bangs from the road surface are transmitted into the car, but it rides well and corners solidly giving overall a very pleasant and trustworthy handling. This feeling is encouraged by the power steering, which is excellent and everything that power steering should be, retaining the right amount of “feel” and “feed-back” right up to the maximum speed.

Cruising all day at 100 m.p.h. the engine consumed petrol at the rate of 14 1/2 miles per gallon and the 20-gallon tankage was not really adequate. Petrol is carried in two 10-gallon tanks, one on each side of the car, behind the rear wheels, an admirable arrangement which provides a very deep luggage compartment, with the spare wheel, the battery and the tools under the floor of the luggage space. A red warning light, one for each tank, comes on when there is about 14 gallons left in the tank, so that 130 miles on each tank full was comfortable. The selection of the right- or left-hand tank is by a switch on the instrument panel and the petrol gauge serves for both tanks. At night, when running with one tank empty the red warning light is tiresome and the only way to make it go out is to fill the offending tank. On the subject of night driving the side-lamps switch also brings the four headlights (in pairs) up out of their resting place, and a stalk on the right of the steering column is raised to put the headlamps on, the midway position giving dipped lights and the upper position giving full beam. In the lower position the stalk turns the headlights off, but leaves them raised, like frog’s eyes, and pulling the stalk towards you flashes the dipped beams. The main beams were reasonable for night motoring but the dipped beams were lethal for a car of this performance and any aspiring Maserati owner would do well to carry out some adjustments after taking delivery. When the side lamps are on (and the vast tail lamps) there is a green warning light in the tachometer that probably looks very nice in a well-lit showroom when demonstrated by a smooth salesman, but is blinding at night and had to be covered up with a stamp to make the car usable in the dark. Either nobody at Modena or Slough ever drives on unlit roads at night or they wear dark glasses. The instrument lighting is a gentle green and can be dimmed by a rheostat control, which makes the side-lamps warning light all the more brilliant.

Using the car for a week of normal motoring and covering 1,000 miles, I failed to find a light in the luggage compartment or an interior light to illuminate the driving seat and ignition lock, but there were lights for the rear seats. It seemed I was searching in vain, for there aren’t any, which makes me think that Maserati designers do not go out after dark.

The instrumentation is very full and complete, there being five small matched dials in the centre of the layout, all nicely angled towards the driver and reading from left to right (right-hand steering car) ammeter, clock, fuel gauge, water temperature, oil temperature, and in front of the driver matching speedometer and tachometer, with a smaller oil pressure gauge between them. The speedo, with main mileage and trip, reads to a laughable 200 m.p.h. (why do they do these things?) and the tacho reads to 8,000 r.p.m. Oil pressure was surprisingly low for such an engine, showing 50 lb./sq. in. at cruising speeds and zero on tick-over! The steering wheel can be adjusted in or out and up and down, an excellent arrangement, and the individual front seats have good fore-and-aft movement and fully-reclining backs. While they hold you well they are not over-comfortable and I found 200 miles began to give me a pain in the backside, which made me very appreciative of the Jaguar E-type seats on which I frequently do a continuous 500 or 600 miles with no aches or pains whatsoever. The rear seats in the Maserati are properly shaped individual bucket-type seats and justify the four-seater label rather than a 2 + 2 label.

An outstanding feature for such a large car is the steering angle and turning circle for it is quite remarkable and at first you find it hard to believe, but with the light power steering you soon begin to exploit it rather than shuffling the Borg-Warner transmission about, for it is controlled by a lever moving fore and aft in a quadrant. If you are manoeuvring about in L or D1, which is right forward, you have to come through D2 and N to reach R and you can sense the gremlins down below getting confused and rushing their work instead of doing it smoothly. Having returned to the automatic transmission I must have another gripe and that is about the “kick-down” control from High to Middle, for overtaking. It is operated by pressing the accelerator pedal right down to the floor, so that Middle comes in with the throttles wide open, whether you wanted that much power or not. Now if you have ever played with a Weber carburetter on the bench you will know about the powerful squirt of petrol that the accelerator pumps give, which is why you do not jiggle the accelerator pedal when starting an engine on a Weber carburetter. The Maserati V8 has four twin-choke Webers so when you stamp the to the floor to operate the “kick-down” switch to get Middle ratio a fair old bucketful of petrol goes down into the works, which I find very unpalatable when I merely wanted a little more acceleration and not maximum acceleration. The Citroën people made a mistake lending me a Maserati with automatic transmission; if I had had the manual five-speed box I would have been much happier. (What D.S.J. doesn’t know about he doesn’t worry about.).

With its old-fashioned layout of front engine, cart springs and one-piece rear axle and four seats the Maserati Indy, and others like it, are not my sort of car, but fortunately for manufacturers I am in a minority who are looking forward to the Maserati Bora, which has the delectable four-cam V8 in the middle, but that is still in the prototype stage. The Maserati Indy, and the Ghibli and Mexico variants, are cars that have a following as witness the latest Jensen and the V8 Aston Martin, and for people who motor in that fashion the Maserati is pretty exceptional. A regular traveller from Milan to Rome, or Edinburgh to London, or Paris to Marseilles would really make the Maserati come into its own. You could do Inter-City travel at any speed from 80 m.p.h. to 120 m.p.h. without the slightest fuss and a feeling that it would go on for ever, but in the automatic transmission form that I borrowed the Indy was rather characterless and only the blue Trident of Bologna in the centre of the steering wheel told me I was in a Maserati, even the four-cam V8 engine being unobtrusive. The present-day production Maserati V8 engine has come a long way since those days in 1957 when it was far from unobtrusive to anyone living within two miles of the Maserati factory.—D. S. J.

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