The beauty of the Italian language has always spared that country’s automotive marketing departments from working too hard. When even the most mundane words sound great, minimal effort is required to name new models. Fiat alone has given us the One, the Pen, the Point and the Good if you choose to directly translate Uno, Stilo, Punto and Bravo.
But Maserati also went through a literal-minded Ronseal period with the Quattroporte – as in ‘four door’ – when it launched its first saloon in 1963. There have been six iterations in total, although with gaps between some of them. This week’s Pill is the squarest member of the club, one of the fourth-generation versions sold between 1994 and 2001.
Maserati is hardly a corporate behemoth by the standards of the car industry’s big boys, having produced only just over 24,000 cars last year. But in the 1990s it was producing volumes that were closer to cottage industry than conglomerate, with the famous brand sinking perilously close to outright extinction. The nadir came in 1998 when Maserati sold just 518 cars globally, but even two years later – when our Pill rolled off what must have been a very slow-moving production line – the company managed just under 2,000 units. Ferrari built twice as many cars that year.
The reluctance of late 20th century buyers to give Maserati a chance was entirely understandable. Many Italian brands have triggered jokes about their indifferent quality, from ‘Fix It Again Tony’ to riffs on the Alfasud’s ability to dissolve overnight, but Maserati’s reputation for terrible reliability in the 1980s was well deserved. Much of this was earned by the Biturbo, developed when the company was still under the ownership of Alejandro De Tomaso – a link to last week’s Pill – and intended to offer a more accessible ownership experience. The Biturbo was quick, oversteery and enjoyed several years of good sales, but it was woefully under-developed and was assembled by a revolutionary workforce that struck so often it made British Leyland look like a beacon of exemplary industrial relations. Quality was abysmal, with the Biturbo’s rust-prone bodywork and grenade spec engines seemingly racing each other to destroy the car.
This fourth-gen Quattroporte was mostly developed before Fiat took control in 1994, and sits on an extended version of the Biturbo’s platform, although one that was still shorter and tighter fitting than a contemporary 5-Series or E-Class. Power came from the twin-turbocharged V6 engine that was already offered in the Ghibli, with a brawnier turbo V8 following soon afterwards. (In another piece of stylish Italian literalism these were badged ‘Seicilindri’ and ‘Ottocilindri’ respectively.) The wedgy, wind-cheating body was designed by Marcello Gandini and bore an obvious resemblance to his earlier AM336 Ghibli, with early reviews positive about both the bigger car’s crisper lines, upmarket cabin trim and rapid performance. The 330hp V8 was claimed to deliver a 168mph top speed, making it only slightly slower than the Lotus Carlton which held fastest saloon bragging rights at the time.
Quality had been improved compared to the 80s, but there were still plenty of bugs left to hunt, with early buyers suffering from mechanical and electrical issues. When Fiat passed control of Maserati to Ferrari in 1997, work began almost immediately on an extensive improvement programme. Introduced at the Geneva Motor Show in 1998, the Quattroporte Evoluzione was claimed to have had more than half its main components changed – with one of the more disappointing alterations the removal of the earlier car’s oval clock. Engines and power outputs continued as before.
The Evoluzione was sold alongside the far curvier 3200GT for the last years of its life, the two cars obviously coming from very different eras. Volumes soon faded, despite the quality improvements – by the time Quattroporte IV production finished in 2001 Maserati had built just over 700 Evoluziones, less than half the number it managed for the pre-facelift car.
Few of these reached Britain, where all versions of the fourth-gen Quattroporte were lesser spotted. The dealer selling our Pill reckons that it is one of just 25 right-hand drive V8 Evoluziones to have been built with a six-speed manual gearbox rather than the optional four-speed auto, with fewer than 10 of these reaching the UK. These days all versions are vanishingly rare; How Many Left reckons that just seven of the QPs originally registered here in the year 2000 are still taxed, with 20 more on SORN.
Early buyers suffered from a residual hoofing. In 2009 I wrote a story about what was then a lightly used early Evoluzione that was being offered by a sports car dealer who was clearly regretting the decision to take it into stock. It was a V8 auto and, prior to my call asking to come and take pictures of it, the phone hadn’t rung once during several months on sale for what should have been an enticing £7,000. The vendor’s despondency suggested he would probably have taken half of that just to get rid.
The limited number out there means that valuing a Quattroporte IV is always going to be a finger-in-the-air exercise. Our Pill is the only example currently in the Classifieds, and even broadening the search to the wider interweb only turned up one other car currently for sale in the UK – another V8 manual, although in blue. That one is being listed for a punchy £27,995 ‘offers invited’ by a private seller, making our Pill’s £18,995 seem like a bit of a bargain. But while the dealer selling it makes the excellent point that it is less than half the price of a decent example of the closely related Shamal, the relative abundance of fifth-generation Quattroportes also means it is more than twice the current kick-off for the later car.
This one certainly looks appealing, if not immaculate. Our Pill’s driver’s side front foglight seems to be cracked and discoloured, and the fit of the front bumper seems a little saggy beneath the headlights – although that might just be Italian craftsmanship. Yet the silver paint suits the bold shape well and the blue interior looks lightly worn for the car’s 89,000 miles. There are a few pink flags in the online MOT history, with 2017 featuring an alarming fail for excessive rust in the rear subframe mounting area, plus the advisory “vehicle structure has slight corrosion,” an admonition to set alarm bells jingling with any middle-aged Italian car. Yet despite plenty more red in the earlier online record, the most recent test was passed with nothing more than advisories for corroded fuel and brake pipes. It did expire in July, though – so the advert’s promise of a fresh MOT will need one to be screwed on. The dealer is also promising plenty of history with a cambelt change as recently as June this year.
Interest levels in the Quattroporte IV likely increased slightly when a blue car made a cameo in 007’s most recent trip to t’cinema, conveying some of No Time To Die’s bad guys to the Italian piazzo where – spoiler alert – the minigun-equipped DB5 disproved the film’s title by killing all of them. Presuming they used all of the Maser’s seats on their way to the fatal assignation that would make it quattro morte for the Quattroporte.
Here all week, try the veal.
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