Monday, February 24, 2020
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Maserati 3500 GT Spyder Touring prototype

One of three

When casually glancing at this Maserati 3500 GT, it is easy to mistake it for a regular production Spyder. With Touring logos on the front fenders and Superleggera badges on both sides of the bonnet, something seems off though. This particular car having been built in 1958 makes it even more confusing, because the first 3500 GT Spyder officially left the factory in 1959. A significant detail in this case, is the fact that the production cars were not built by Carrozzeria Touring in Milan, but by Carrozzeria Alfredo Vignale in Turin. Vignale built 242 Spyders between 1959 and 1964, based on the 3500 GT coupé platform that was shortened 100 millimeters to 2,500 millimeters.

he 3500 GT Coupé was an important car for Maserati, as it was one of the reasons why the Italian manufacturer managed to keep its head above water in the fifties. Maserati began building road cars after the Second World War with the A6 1500. Before 1940 they relied solely on race cars, next to other activities such as the production of spark plugs. After political unrest, financial problems, internal struggles, the Maserati brothers leaving their company and the son of majority shareholder Adolfo Orsi taking control of both management and design, everything seemed to have cooled down in the early fifties. As the first Maserati road car, the 6C 1500 never became very successful due to limited production numbers. Maserati needed a new model to reach a broader audience and bring in much needed profit. In March 1957, an elegant 2+2 sports coupé made its debut in Geneva under the name 3500 GT, based on a chassis with a wheelbase of 2,600 millimeters.

Superleggera

The 3500 GT had to be designed and built on a relatively tight budget, as Maserati was still dealing with limited development resources. Lots of parts were sourced from external partners or ‘borrowed’ from existing models. Such as the 3.5 liter straight six, that was a tamed down wet-sump variant of the engine in the 350 S race car. The rear axle came from Salisbury, the drum brakes from Girling and the suspension from Alford & Alder. The body was a different matter, as it was designed and built by Touring and they used their famous lightweight but labor-intensive Superleggera construction with aluminium body parts formed over a steel tube frame.

About a year later, Carrozzeria Touring showed a 3500 GT Spyder, after Frua had already released their design for an open variant the year before. Maserati chose a design from Giovanni Michelotti, a designer with close ties to Vignale. In the end, it was Vignale, not Touring, who received the contract to build the 3500 GT Spyder. Legend has it though, that a fallout between Maserati and Touring based on the expensive Superleggera construction methods, led to Vignale receiving the contract for series production. Touring built only three prototypes, chassis number 101.010 followed by 101.124 with 101.126 – featured here – being the last one. All three cars were based on the standard 2,600 millimeter chassis. The Touring design is very close to that of the coupé, including the straight line from front to rear lights, compared to the Vignale Spyder with the dropping line behind the doors and the raised rear fenders.

The history of 101.126 is very interesting, and every detail is documented in an exhaustive archive folder, offering prove that this exact same car played a significant role in the 1963 movie Love is a Ball, with Hollywood stars Glenn Ford, Hope Lange and Charles Boyer. This is all very exciting for future owners and investors, but I came to drive 101.126.

The straight six with its three big Weber 42 DCOE carburetors is plenty powerful offering 220 horsepower

It is fair to say that the driving experience is not very spectacular or unique, for those who are used to fifties GTs and sports cars. As I have experienced with other cars built by Touring, like the Aston Martin DB4 and Lamborghini 400 GT, the chassis is remarkably solid and nicely balanced. The straight six with its three big Weber 42 DCOE carburetors is plenty powerful offering 220 horsepower, but needs to be revved to get all these galloping horses on the road. Even with only four speeds, there is always enough torque to accelerate smoothly, but only beyond 4,000 rpm the engine wakes up and shows its racing pedigree.

The four exhaust pipes emit a scream that would not be out of place on a race track and the engine and gear box form a wonderful duo when aided by heel-and-toe shifts. The gear lever feels smooth and precise like a high-quality bolt action rifle, all while the paddles and steering wheel offer the perfect amount of resistance. Even though this Spyder is developed as a Gran Turismo, it definitely enjoys being pushed and thrown around and the only factor keeping us from pushing any further is the price tag. I turn it down a couple of steps and on the way back I enjoy this unique 3500 GT as is was actually intended. This shows the broad spectrum that his car offers, with a very involving and enjoyable driving experience, regardless of the speed that is driven. From that perspective, and without trying to offend any brand enthusiasts, this Touring prototype is not much different from the actual production cars.

Museum

As one of the three prototypes built by Touring, this unique 3500 GT Spyder is defined by its exclusivity and the fact that it is a significant part of the Maserati history. People who do not understand that or those who are only interested in the driving experience, are better of buying a Vignale Spyder for about one third of the price. Those who want to add a significant piece of the Maserati history to their collection or museum, will probably have no issues with the much higher price, as cars like these are very like to retain their value. The problem in this case however, is the fact that the car is already sold…

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