A unicorn Maserati goes under the hammer
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Back in the 1960s, an exotic Italian sports car was regarded as an essential piece of operational equipment for any self-respecting playboy. And if a Ferrari seemed too flash and an Alfa Romeo too pedestrian, there was really only one way to go — Maserati.
From its founding in 1914, Maserati had been so occupied by its racing commitments that it built scarcely any road cars, but in 1957 the focus shifted to grand tourers with the launch of the 3500GT, its first series production model. With an elegant, two-door body penned by Carrozzeria Touring and a 3.5-litre, six-cylinder engine originally designed for endurance racing, the four-seat 3500GT was a true, continent-devouring express that won the hearts of numerous celebrity owners, from Tony Curtis to Elizabeth Taylor and Stewart Granger to Dean Martin.
More than 2,000 examples of the model were built during its seven-year production run, and most Maserati enthusiasts would recognise its silhouette from 100 yards. But the 3500GT pictured here would likely have them stumped. Currently on offer at a ballpark figure of £1mn with online auctioneer Car and Classic, the 1964 car hails from the last year of 3500GT production and was shipped new to its first owner in Cape Town, South Africa, dressed in standard Touring bodywork.
Who that owner was has yet to be irrefutably confirmed, but the most likely candidate is one Count Lippe, an Austrian nobleman who so inspired Ian Fleming that a character of the same name appears in his 1961 James Bond novel Thunderball. He only owned it a year before commissioning local coachbuilder Pierino Scalco to give it a nose-to-tail makeover. It was done using a selection of bespoke components imported from Scaglietti in Italy, which Scalco grafted on to the car to create a Maserati like no other.
Depending on where it’s seen from, it could be mistaken for a Ferrari, an Aston Martin or even a Jaguar. The front end, with its faired-in headlamps, air scoop and wing-mounted vents, certainly evokes the former, while the roof line and kicked-up tail are reminiscent of the Aston.
The details are extraordinary, from the beautifully knurled, inset door handles to the perfectly fitted chrome trims that embellish the car’s gutters — each were handcrafted by Scalco during a build that took almost a year. The standard 3500GT interior is retained, with the comprehensive instrument cluster dominated by the all-important rev counter, and the various warning lights topped with moulded glass covers.
The count, if it was he, ran the car in its new guise for around five years before moving it on to a fellow collector who locked it away, un-driven, for the next three decades. On his death it was advertised for sale, with the current owner acquiring it sight unseen and shipping it to the UK, where he has used it to compete in numerous events such as the Goodwood Revival, the Brighton Speed Trials and the Silverstone Historic.
Although it has now been returned to its standard road specification (save for the aluminium, quick-fill fuel cap), its competition roots are immediately obvious once behind the wheel. Edging out of the workshops of Autofficina in Epsom, Surrey, where the car is kept and maintained, the six-cylinder, race-tuned engine is inevitably unhappy in slow-moving commuter traffic. But on the more open roads of the downs and with the rev counter’s needle surging towards the red line and the gearbox being worked hard through the almost impossibly delicate-looking shifter, the symphony of sounds lends meaning to the makeshift notice taped to the dashboard: “Italian opera only to be played loud in this car.” Because with a symphony of mechanical sound like that — who needs a radio?