When they were new
An original road test taken from the Motor Sport archives, November 1971 | By Denis Jenkinson
During the summer of 1956 I saw drawings of the V8 Maserati engine, and later that year I saw the first cylinder block 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 Maserati made from the first chassis, suspension and gearbox for the 4.5-litre V8, but with a 3½-litre six-cylinder engine installed. 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. Some entries in my notebooks for 1957 read as follows.
May 3: Saw 4.5-litre V8 engine on test-bed giving 400bhp. May 4: Went up Futa Pass with Moss in prototype 450S. May 11: Had 450S on autostrada, 7000 in all five gears and 6500 in special sixth gear. Wow! (180mph.) May 12: Retired in Mille Miglia after 12km when brake pedal broke off.
Those were the days when the Maserati racing team was at the height of its glory, and I spent a lot of time in Modena. It was a regular thing to be woken at 3am by the sound of a 4½-litre V8 on full song on the test bed, or on open exhaust in the middle of Modena. The end of the 1957 season was disastrous for the 450S, with two cars being destroyed in crashes and the factory team disbanded.
Work continued on the V8 engine until today it is a very smooth, sophisticated production engine, still with four overhead camshafts and fed by a row of Weber carburettors. It powers a whole range of Maserati cars today, either in 4.2- or 4.7-litre form, the Mexico and Indy close-coupled four-seaters and the Ghibli in coupé or spyder form. All are available with ZF five-speed manual gearbox or Borg-Warner automatic three-speed transmission and power steering, and by the time you have added a few extras, like radio, mirrors, lamps and so on, you would not get much small change out of £10,000.
For that you certainly get a lot of car, some pretty sophisticated engineering, the latest in Italian body styling, four seats, the lure of owning a Maserati, just that bit different from a Ferrari, a race-bred engine and an effortless touring car, but not a sports car.
Threading my way to Hampshire on minor roads, the white Indy seemed enormous and rather dull, the Borg-Warner automatic transmission with its three ratios and ‘kick-down’ change being one abomination that I would happily have had left in America, along with ‘plastic shrimps’ and Coca-Cola. It was not until I got the Indy on to a major trunk road that it became enjoyable, and a run to Yorkshire up the A1 and back down the M18 and M1 began to show the Maserati in its true light. The big V8 engine is never fussed and once over 3500rpm it wafts the car from 70mph to 120mph in a very impressive manner. Maximum power on the 4.7-litre version is quoted as 290bhp at 5000rpm, and with no trouble it pulled 6000rpm in the high ratio, which is 135-140mph, but the quoted maximum of 156mph is as unlikely as the price of the car.
It has surprisingly high cornering power, though the suspension is dull in the extreme for this day and age, having a double wishbone and coil-spring front layout and rigid axle, leaf springs and fore-and-aft rod at the back. For a luxury car the Maserati is firmly sprung, but it rides well and corners solidly, giving very pleasant and trustworthy handling, with excellent power steering. Cruising all day at 100mph the two 10-gallon tanks, one on each side of the car, are not really adequate.
The main beams of the pop-up headlamps were reasonable for night motoring, but the dipped beams were lethal for a car of this performance. When the side lamps are on (and the vast tail lamps) there is a green warning light in the tachometer that 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 ever drives on unlit roads at night or they wear dark glasses. Using the car for a week of normal motoring and covering 1000 miles, I failed to find an interior light to illuminate the driving seat and ignition lock. 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, all nicely angled towards the driver. The speedo reads to a laughable 200mph (why do they do these things?) and the tacho to 8000rpm. The steering wheel can be adjusted and the front seats have good fore-and-aft movement and fully reclining backs, but are not over-comfortable. 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 Maserati’s rear seats are properly shaped and justify the four-seater label.
I must have another gripe about the ‘kick-down’ control for overtaking. It is operated by pressing the accelerator pedal to the floor, so that middle ratio comes in with the throttles wide open. The Maserati V8 has four twin-choke Webers so when you stamp the pedal to operate the kick-down switch a fair old bucketful of petrol goes down into the works, which I find very unpalatable when I merely wanted a little more acceleration, not maximum acceleration. If I’d had the manual five-speed box I would have been much happier.
With its old-fashioned layout of front engine, cart springs and four seats the Maserati Indy is not my sort of car, but fortunately for manufacturers I am in a minority who are looking forward to the Maserati Bora, with the delectable four-cam V8 in the middle. For people who motor in a certain fashion the Maserati is pretty exceptional. A regular traveller from Milan to Rome, or Edinburgh to London, would really make the Maserati come into its own. You could travel at 80-120mph without the slightest fuss, but in automatic transmission form the Indy was rather characterless. Only the blue Trident in the centre of the steering wheel told me I was in a Maserati, even the four-cam V8 engine being unobtrusive.
The 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.
Max speed: 156mph
Striking Michelotti lines for four people, if not a stunner. Initially 260bhp 4.2, with 4.7 arriving in 1970; 4.9 came in ’72 with larger wheels and third bonnet grille, some with Citroën brake system.
Perfect spec: 4.9 with normal brakes
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