Four Door Forerunner, and One I Can’t Buy (but Maybe You Can)

Some random browsing on the web yielded another star find — the original Maserati Quattroporte, believed to be one of, if not the earliest surviving example, and in factory RHD format. I’ve always been an admirer of the Quattroporte I, even the name itself rolls off the tongue so elegantly, despite being the literal translation of “four-door” in Italian.

The original QP was the first of a new breed. Debuting in 1963 at Turin, alongside Lamborghini’s 350GTV, the predecessor of their first production road car, and the Bizzarrini-developed Iso Grifo A3C GT, which borrowed Chevrolet’s small-block V8; it was a full-sized sports limo with the race-derived mechanicals to provide the performance that few other saloons at the time could hope to match.

The 5000GT Frua [above] certainly inspired the design of the Quattroporte [below], the frontal treatment appears rather similar; the side on the former has a more coke-bottle profile compared with the flatter, more upright lines of the latter. Frua successfully resolved the formal saloon proportions into a well-tailored shape that suggested power and restraint in equal measure.

Styled by Carrozzeria Frua, the long and low-slung body drew inspiration from their previous 5000GT design, the slightly protruding snout hinting at the racing pedigree, while the slender pillars defined an airy glasshouse with excellent visibility. Its spacious interior could easily accommodate five in comfort, while the 4.5L V8 engine on the 450S racecar was downsized to 4.2L, tuned for road use to deliver 260hp, and coupled to either a five-speed ZF manual or a three-speed Borg-Warner automatic gearbox. Such was sufficient in propelling the 1700kg sports limo to hit 60mph in 8s, cruise effortlessly at 120+mph, while topping out at 140+mph.

The race-derived 4.2L V8 in the car as offered, abutting the firewall and creating a more balanced weight distribution, a layout that had probably been pioneered by Bugatti in the 1910s, and has since appeared on numerous performance cars.

The very early example offered here is of course a Series 1 car, sporting a de Dion rear axle for tighter handling, the original rectilinear headlights before US compliance regulations dictated four round units, and the optional air conditioning system that was only offered in-house by one other carmaker back then — Rolls Royce.

This sports limo emerged more than half a century ago with the QP, and by the end of the decade Sir William Lyons gave us the first Jaguar XJ — not as exotic as the Italian, but attractive nonetheless and far more affordable; as the less-known prestige marques such as Bristol, Jensen, Iso, and Monteverdi, to name a few, continued on their own artisanal (and sometimes idiosyncratic) ways, only converging on trusted American powerplants from Chevrolet, Chrysler, and Ford. Still, one could detect different approaches in response to the same challenge — to create a desirable, long-legged grand tourer that could seat four or five, with the performance to cross continents in style.

Three Brits and a Swiss, plus plenty of American hearts. [Top Left] The first generation XJ (1968) was true to Jaguar’s maxim of “grace, space, and pace”, and was relatively affordable compared with its contemporaries; [Top Right] The Bristol 410 (1968) was a long line of evolving grand tourers from a manufacturer that was so proud of their aviation heritage and famously wouldn’t sell to customers they disliked; [Bottom Left] The Jensen Interceptor (1966) quickly gained fame by introducing four wheel drive on a production car with the FF (Ferguson Formula) model; [Bottom Right] while perhaps a bit obscure, the Monteverdi 375/4 (1970) boasted exaggerated proportions that immediately suggested opulence — that is, if you ever manage to see one in person.

It is only during recent years that other manufacturers considered similar offerings on their lineups, the German Big Three each had high-performance versions of their respective luxo-barges, but had neither the poise nor the pedigree of the Trident brand; Porsche’s Panamera closely resembled a hippo with an overly bulbous posterior, only slightly improved on its second generation debuting last year; Ferrari’s 612 and FF / GTC4 Lusso had the correct dash-to-axle ratio, were suitably styled to complement the glorious V12, but were strictly 2+2 GTs; while Aston Martin’s Rapide with its Bond allure was also rather cramped inside, and wore a price tag twice that of its German contemporaries.

Meanwhile, the Quattroporte name stagnated through three generations until the fifth iteration in 2004 regained the splendor somewhat, featuring Pininfarina styling and a Ferrari-derived 4.7L V8 engine mounted front-midships, with the power and soundtrack to match, true to the spirit of the original. Personally the facelifted version in 2007 is a better pick, with the conventional automatic transmission replacing the infamous automated manual that plagued the earlier cars; while the current QP VI’s extra length and heft has deviated too far from the sporting image of a true QP, and has more in common with a high-spec Mercedes S Class.

[Top Left] The ill-fated Gandini-styled QP II under the Citroen ownership sported a joint-developed V6 and front wheel drive and rode on Citroen’s hydropneumatic suspension; [Top Centre] The QP III was styled by Giugiaro reverted to a classical V8 FR layout; [Top Right] The fourth generation came again from Gandini but has lost the road presence of a QP as the platform sharing with smaller cars on the lineup dictated the proportions; [Bottom Left] The fifth generation was perhaps closest to the original QP in terms of combining racing heritage with luxury; [Bottom Right] The current car has grown considerably due to the introduction of the smaller Ghibli in the line-up.

Coming back to the original, if memory serves, this particular UK car is truly rare as hen’s teeth, as less than 1000 copies of the QP I were ever made, of which only around 220 were Series I cars; on top of that, not more than 5 QP Is left the factory with the steering wheel on the right side, let alone survive to date.

Shots provided by the seller of the Quattroporte I as offered, with some trim and brightwork removed, primed for a repaint. What colour do you think will suit it best? Spotted the Lancia Flavia Sport Zagato and the Porsche tractor in the background too.

The description speaks of a well-researched and -documented full mechanical restoration, progressing through the final stages with minimal further work required. The asking price of £50k is certainly substantial but not without sound justifications, considering its scarcity and historical significance, and if I had the means to secure the funds and resources I wouldn’t hesitate to take up the project — unfortunately I don’t, but perhaps some of you do?

I just want too many cars. I know.

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