This magnificent Maserati 5000 GT was sold at
RM’s Amelia Island auction on Saturday March 8, 2003 for $495,000 including the
buyer’s commission, a hammer bid of $450,000, equivalent to its high estimate.
Graphic representations of the catalog pages are © by and used with the
permission of RM Auctions, Inc.
Maserati 5000 GT Coupé
Coachwork by Touring
Chassis No. 103.004
340hp 4,938cc dual overhead camshaft V8 engine with four Weber IDM45 carburetors, four-speed manual transmission, front disc, rear drum brakes. Wheelbase 2,600mm.
Some would propose that the Maserati 5000 GT is the greatest postwar gran turismo. Even those who would dispute that conclusion would acknowledge the 5000 GT’s serious consideration for the title. It has all the attributes of greatness –direct racing heritage, immense power, excellent road manners, exclusivity and luxury. Beyond these qualifications, however, the Maserati 5000 GT adds a diversity of coachwork which other great gran turismos cannot claim. Its clientele was unexcelled.
The Maserati 5000 GT rose from a unique combination of triumph and tragedy, the 1957 racing season. Juan Manuel Fangio achieved his fifth World Championship at the wheel of Maserati’s brilliant 250F Grand Prix car, but the Maserati 450S sports-racers lost the sports car manufacturers’ championship when all four team cars were eliminated in accidents during the final round at Caracas, Venezuela.
The 450S had been a major departure for Maserati from its successful 4- and 6-cylinder powered racing cars, yet it also was a thoughtful response to competition in the top sports-racing category established by the FIA’s Commission Sportif International which permitted engines of up to 4.5 liters
displacement. Maserati’s 3-liter 6-cylinder 300S was frequently successful against larger competition but only due to its excellent balance, handling and
reliability. It was out-powered by competitors with larger engines and Maserati’s response was to create the 450S, quickly dubbed the Quattr’e mezzo or
four and a half. Designed by and built under the supervision of engineer Giulio Alfieri, the 450S engine was a masterpiece that formed the basis for a
generation of Maseratis.
This lusty powerplant featured dual overhead camshafts on each bank driven by a train of gears for precise timing. The valves were operated by rocker arms with roller followers interposed between the cam lobes and valve stems. Dual ignition from a pair of magnetos was utilized to achieve optimum combustion in the hemispherical combustion chambers. The highly oversquare engine (93.8mm bore and 81mm stroke) produced 400 brake horsepower at 7,000 rpm and 364 lb-ft of torque at 5,500 rpm with 9.5:1 compression. Induction was through a quartet of Weber IDM45 dual-choke carburetors.
Financial exigency and time constraints, however, compelled Maserati to install this powerful engine in a chassis updated from the 300S. The basic 300S design with twin parallel tube side members was stretched by 90mm and strengthened with gussets and braces to accept the 43% greater power and even more torque of the 450S engine. The same Colotti 5-speed transaxle with transverse leaf spring de Dion rear suspension was pressed into service and drum brakes were utilized on all four wheels.
The chassis and particularly the drivetrain proved to be the Achilles heel of the 450S which was brutally fast and more than competitive until some chassis or drivetrain component broke, which it frequently did. Despite limited development and preparation resources at Maserati – which was stretched to the limit
supporting both Grand Prix and sports car racing – Maserati entered the final race of the sports car season at Caracas with a slim, but not negligible, chance
of winning the manufacturers’ championship, a championship that would have brought it financial success from clients, sponsors and suppliers.
The 450S of Moss and Fangio easily led in the championship’s first race at Argentina until the clutch mechanism failed leading to retirement due to gearbox failure but Moss then jumped into the third place Behra/Menditeguy 300S and brought it home second. Two months later Fangio and Jean Behra brought the 450S its first victory, winning the demanding Sebring 12 Hours by two laps over Moss and Harry Schell in a 300S. In the Mille Miglia the Moss/Jenkinson 450S (with overdrive on all four gears) dropped out 12 kilometers from the start when the brake pedal broke. Giorgio Scarlatti’s 300S, however, managed a 4th place finish behind the Ferraris of Taruffi, von Trips and Gendebien/Washer. In the Nürburgring 1000 km on May 26 a broken wheel and a split oil tank put the two factory 450S’s out but the privately-entered 300S of Francisco Godia and Horace Gould, supplemented by Stirling Moss driving in his third Maserati of the day, took fifth for more valuable championship points. Le Mans saw the famous Jaguar D-type sweep of the first four places. The two 450S’s qualified first and second but both retired early with driveline failures, at least one caused by an untimely encounter with a Le Mans sandbank.
The next championship race was the 6-Hour Swedish Grand Prix at Christianstad, a fast circuit on public roads, its long straights ideally suited to the 450S’s power but with acute turns which challenged its drum brakes. Ferrari led the championship and the final race, Venezuela in November, was only tentative. Only by a dominant team finish denying meaningful points to Ferrari could Maserati take the points lead. Jean Behra and Stirling Moss did the best they could, winning by a lap, but the other 450S suffered a gearbox failure and Phil Hill/Peter Collins came second in a Ferrari 335S ahead of a Maserati 300S. Maserati still trailed Ferrari in the championship.
The Caracas finale eventually overcame its organizational and political obstacles, taking place on November 3, 1957. Three 450S’s were entered, two by the
factory and one by Temple Buell, along with a factory 300S. What followed was one of the legendary racing disasters. Masten Gregory crashed the Buell 450S on
the first lap. Moss smote Hap Dressel’s spinning A.C. Ace amidships, rendering the Ace asunder and taking out the 450S. Behra’s 450S caught fire during a pit
stop and Moss took over only to discover that the seat stuffing was still smoldering. Harry Schell quickly replaced the toasted Stirling and took off in
pursuit of Jo Bonnier’s 300S which was lying third behind the two Ferrari 335S’s of Collins/Hill and Hawthorn/Musso. Schell’s 450S passed Bonnier just as a
tire blew on the 300S which spun into the 450S, eliminating both remaining Maseratis.
Ferraris took the first five spots at the finish, convincingly capturing the Marques’ Championship title. The devastated Maserati factory was forced to withdraw from racing.
When the Shah of Iran came to Maserati in 1958 looking for a unique and distinctive gran turismo Maserati included a two-page 450S description in the information he received. The 3500 GT, then entering production, was not exclusive enough for Shah Reza Pahlavi whose garages housed some of the world’s finest cars (including the spectacular Bugatti Type 57C VanVooren Sport Roadster sold by RM here at Amelia Island two years ago), but the 450S caught his attention and Maserati bravely undertook the creation of the most powerful, exclusive and unique gran turismo ever contemplated, the 450S-based Tipo 103 Maserati 5000 GT.
The Shah’s Maserati was conceived and executed as a one-off, unique automobile but the allure of its style, luxury and performance was such that word of its creation leaked out and a steady stream of clients came to Maserati seeking its combination of power and exclusivity. Eventually, thirty-four 5000 GTs were built, each to individual order and specification, over a period of six years. Coachwork was created by the cream of Italian coachbuilders: Touring, Frua, Allemano, Ghia, Pininfarina, Bertone, Michelotti and Monterosa. Its buyers set it apart as the car of kings, princes and captains of industry including Briggs Cunningham, Stewart Granger, Giovanni Agnelli, Ferdinando Innocenti, President Alfredo Lopez Mateos of Mexico, Karim Aga Khan, Col. Johnny Simone and King Saud.
Of the thirty-four 5000 GTs built, two stand out from the rest, the first two cars built for the Shah of Persia and for Basil Read, a South African businessman and owner of the race track at Kyalami, home of the South African Grand Prix. While later cars had Lucas fuel injection and chain driven camshafts, only these first two in the series were powered by mildly-modified 450S engines with Weber carburetors, gear drive to the cams, roller cam followers and hairpin valve springs. They were bodied by Touring with distinctive coupé coachwork, the purest and most elemental of all these fantastic, legendary gran turismos.
It is the second of these carbureted, Touring-bodied Maserati 5000 GTs, Basil Read’s chassis 103.004, which is offered here. Created by Maserati and Touring in 1959, it was displayed at the 1959 Turin show, then tested by Hans Tanner with factory test and development driver Guerino Bertocchi. Tanner’s stopwatch captured the 5000 GT swallowing up the autostrada at 172.4 miles per hour and he observed, “If anything can be said against this fabulous car, it is only that these speeds are too easy, everything is smooth and quiet. At 170 mph the car seems to be doing 90 mph and I feel that without a skillful driver at the wheel this effect can be disastrous.”
The 5000 GT is built on a massively-strengthened 3500 GT chassis frame with the same wheelbase and track dimensions as the 3500 GT. Front suspension is by A-arms with coil springs while the rear is a solid axle with semi-elliptical leaf springs. Unlike its forebear the 450S, the 5000 GT has disc brakes at the front and drums at the rear and the transmission, a 4-speed built by ZF in Germany, is in unit with the engine and hydraulically-operated clutch. Maserati insulated the chassis and body from the racing engine’s noise with four rubber mountings but there is never any doubt that this massive powerplant is there, waiting for its power to be unleashed.
To adapt the 450S engine to road use Alfieri gave it slightly more displacement by increasing the bore from 93.8 to 98.5 mm giving these first two 5000 GTs capacity of 4,938 cubic centimeters. The compression ratio was reduced from 9.6:1 to 8.5:1 for better low rpm performance and less sensitivity to fuel
octane ratings and the engine’s lubrication was changed from dry sump to a simpler wet sump system although with an external oil cooler fed by a separate
belt-driven circulating pump. Increased displacement nearly overcame the 5000 GT’s milder tune with 340 horsepower compared with the full-race 450S’s 400 hp. The thirty-two later 5000 GTs had chain-driven camshafts, cup-type tappets, coil valve springs, Lucas fuel injection and 4,941 cc displacement and were rated at a still-impressive 325 hp.
Several coachbuilders submitted proposals to the Shah for the first 5000 GT with the venerable Carrozzeria Touring of Milan being chosen for this prestigious commission. The design and execution of this body again showed Touring’s mastery of the luxurious gran turismo, a mastery which was established in the Thirties on legendary chassis such as the Alfa Romeo 8C 2300 and 8C 2900. It also demonstrated Touring’s successful evolution into the clean, fastidiously-detailed forms of the new generation of chassis and engines. The roof, supported by the thinnest of pillars, seems to float above the body which itself is nearly devoid of embellishments, with large wheel wells and graceful bumpers. The greenhouse itself is almost delicate, an intimate retreat for only two occupants that Touring carefully and successfully integrated with the 5000 GT’s overall size and form.
Touring’s 5000 GT, with its distinctive grille topped by a reduced-scale version of the air intake of the World Championship 250F enclosing the Maserati trident, has unmistakable presence. Yet its impression of size and substance is another triumph of Carlo Felice Bianchi Anderloni’s design: the 5000 GT is actually some four inches shorter than the Touring-bodied Maserati 3500 GT. Its combination of restraint, proportion and the vivid countenance of its imposing grille unmistakably signals that it is an automobile of uncommon character, performance and importance.
Read’s car is essentially identical with the first 5000 GT built for the Shah but is instantly identifiably by the thin chrome side spear which extends back to the rear wheel arch where 103.002’s stops at mid-door. The interior has the same 18k gold-plated trim accented by rich chrome, an understated elegance and luxury that adds to its sumptuous and harmonious design. Like the Shah’s car, Basil Read’s 5000 GT shares one other distinctive feature, the artistic steering wheel with three spokes in a stylized inverted Maserati trident balanced by a single, partial vertical spoke, one of the most intriguing, attractive and innovative steering wheel designs ever created.
This car’s history following its delivery to Basil Read is unknown until it was discovered in an Ohio museum and acquired by the present owner in 1997 in good cosmetic condition but needing mechanical attention to its sophisticated and intricate gear camshaft drive engine. Immediately after acquiring it, the
present owner placed the 5000 GT with FAI in Costa Mesa, California where Rod Drew and his crew commenced a meticulous and sympathetic restoration to return
it to pristine condition.
The original brilliant metallic green color was found preserved under the rear window weatherstrip and duplicated as closely as possible. Rod Drew’s team at FAI spent hours on the complicated 450S-based engine to ensure it was perfectly synchronized and tuned. The interior’s original light ivory leather also was duplicated as closely as possible and the car’s presentation accurately re-creates the sumptuous quality of the original.
The quality of its gem-like restoration was proven at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance in 1999 when it was adjudged the best of its peers, a glittering class made up solely of the featured cars of the year, the Maserati 5000 GTs. It again won its class at the 2000 Meadow Brook Concours d’Elegance and was chosen Best of Show at La Belle Machina also in 2000.
The owner states “it drives like a dream,” a dream that is comparable with its appearance, one of only three Maserati 5000 GTs bodied by Touring with the
style, fit, details and finish for which Touring’s creations are justly famous. Even among the Maserati 5000 GTs, this car, the second built, stands
out. It is one of only two with gear camshaft drive and Weber carburetors. It is the 1959 Turin Show car. It is one of only three bodied by Touring. It is the Pebble Beach 5000 GT class winner. It is the Alfa Two-Nine of its era, the greatest postwar gran turismo.
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