Maserati Padova Salone Auto D’Epoca 2018 Eldorado
Maserati is exhibiting at the Auto e Moto d’Epoca Show in Padua, Europe’s biggest classic and contemporary car and motorbike fair. The event, in its 35th edition this year, opens today and will welcome visitors until Sunday 28 October.
Maserati has chosen three classic cars for display on its stand in hall number 1 at the Show:
Tipo 420M-58 – Eldorado (1958)
In 1958 the Indianapolis 500 was exerting a stronger appeal than ever in Europe and over Maserati in particular, thanks to the many wins recorded by the 8 CTF. Maserati was therefore attracted by the 500 Miles of Monza, and actually prepared a specially constructed car to race on the city’s fast, technically demanding circuit. This was the Tipo 420M-58, better known as the “Eldorado” thanks to the famous sponsor suggested to the constructor by Gino Zanetti, owner of the ice-cream company of the same name. The car’s white bodywork therefore carried a large Eldorado logo, and hence its nickname.
The car had a tubular chassis inspired by the reduced-weight 250F, the front suspensions of the 450S with the unusual feature of a lever damper on the left and a telescopic one on the right, and De Dion rear axle with oversized components.
The engine was a V8 derived from the 4.5 litre unit, with displacement reduced to 4.2 litres and vertical carburettors. In view of the anticlockwise running direction chosen by the organisers of the 500 Miles of Monza, the engine was mounted on the left of the chassis, and not aligned with its longitudinal axis.
The gearbox with just 2 speeds, the first only used for the start, was mounted on the rear axle which, interestingly, had no differential.
The car’s overall layout provided excellent weight distribution, a factor more than fundamental for high cornering speed, particularly important at Monza, a circuit famed for its long, very testing banked “Parabolica” corner.
After the initial test drives, the spoked wheels were abandoned in favour of light alloy alternatives fitted with large Firestone tyres inflated with helium for the utmost weight reduction.
At Monza on 29 June 1958 the “Eldorado” with Stirling Moss at the wheel performed well in the first two heats, finishing in 4th and 5th places.
Unfortunately, the steering failed in the 40th lap of the third and final heat and the car went off the track at over 260 km/h. In spite of the accident and retirement, Moss was still awarded seventh place by reason of the three heat results and the total number of laps completed. He walked away unscathed from the crash and, all things considered, the “Eldorado” too suffered only limited damage, proving the value of its solid structure.
Despite the success in terms of spectator numbers and entertainment value, the 500 Miles of Monza did not become a regular event on the racing calendar. Based on the findings from the race, the “Eldorado” was modified by the Gentilini bodywork shop, which removed the rear fin and reduced the hood scoop, after which the car was entered in the Indianapolis 500 in 1959.
This time it was finished in red, the colour denoting Italy in competitions, but still emblazoned with the Eldorado sponsor’s name in white lettering on the sides, as well as the cowboy logo in a white circle on the nose and tail.
The inexperience of the gentleman-driver, Ralph Liguori, meant that the car failed to qualify, as it set the 36th fastest time, with only the first 33 qualifying. With a professional driver behind the wheel, it would have been a very different result. But that is a whole other story.
The Indy 500 race was dear to Maserati, which took victory in 1939 and 1940 with the driver Wilbur Shaw behind the wheel of an 8CTF. Shaw almost made it a hat-track in 1941, but was forced to withdraw during the penultimate lap while out in front, victory denied by a broken wheel. Maserati is the only Italian car manufacturer to have won on the Indiana race track and the only European brand to have triumphed on two consecutive occasions.
Merak SS (1975)
In view of the commercial success of the Bora, the first road Maserati with mid-mounted rear engine, in 1972 Maserati decided to develop a new, decidedly sporty medium-displacement car capable of holding its own in the highly competitive three litre saloon segment. The result was the Merak.
The design of the new car was entrusted to Giorgetto Giugiaro’s Italdesign firm, which had already designed the Bora: the engine chosen was the 6-cylinder, V90° type C114 created for the Citroen SM. The design approach chosen for the project (code name AM122) had more than one point in common with the Bora, with which it had far more than a passing resemblance. The new car utilised the Bora’s platform as far as the doors, the same bodywork and, with slight modifications, the same suspension and steering systems too. The original characteristics were found in the rear, arising from the extraordinarily compact engine, which allowed two cramped extra seats to be created in the cockpit.
The car was presented at the Paris Motor Show in autumn 1972 and was called Merak after a star in the constellation of the Great Bear.
The Merak SS, this time equipped with a revised, upgraded version of the three litre C114 engine, was presented at the Geneva International Motor Show in 1975. The car’s weight was reduced, improving its weight/power ratio and thus boosting its performance. It also received minor restyling with the introduction of a large hood scoop to improve the cooling system.
In 1977 a version with a two litre engine was also created, mainly for the domestic market, where the heavy taxation on cars with displacement over two litres was proving a strong deterrent to prospective buyers. This car was known as the Merak Duemila.
The final version of the Merak model, called the Merak 80, arrived in 1979. It was basically the Merak SS model with a number of changes, most importantly the abandonment of the Citroen braking system (relations with the French firm had been broken off almost five years before) in favour of a latest-generation brake booster.
The car on display on the Maserati stand is the only Merak to be built with a turbo engine. Yellow in colour, it was the prototype for a possible evolution of the model, developed to further upgrade its performance. Unfortunately, the project was halted and the car was never produced: however, Alejandro De Tomaso returned to the idea of a turbocharged engine a few year later in the Biturbo project.
Bertone was commissioned to design the new, elegant 2+2 coupé intended to replace the Ghibli. The well-known, reliable 4.9 litre V8 engine was retained.
The new car, presented at the 1973 Paris Motor Show, was named Khamsin, after a wind of the Egyptian desert. Khamsin in Arabic means fifty, the number of consecutive days for which the wind blows. With a monocoque structure, it was the first front-engined Maserati to adopt independent suspensions on all four wheels. With sleek, sinuous lines, styled by the pencil of Marcello Gandini, it featured a transparent rear section which gave the car an unusually light appearance. Its technical characteristics complied with the design standards of the early ’70s, so it was hit hard by the dramatic consequences of the oil crisis, after which some of its sporty features were toned down considerably. Because of this crisis, production of the car was phased out with just 430 units built.
However, the Khamsin marked the introduction of the “GT” design philosophy, which prioritised performance without underestimating customers’ rising expectations in terms of comfort and space. The Khamsin was the last Maserati model developed under the technical management of Giulio Alfieri, an engine, racing and road-car designer of true genius, whose creations shaped the Brand’s history for about twenty years.
The three classic cars on display on the Maserati stand belong to the Umberto Panini Collection.
As well as the three exclusive classic Maserati models, the Trident stand will also display the MY19 Levante S GranSport SUV in Bianco Alpi colour, a tribute to the white livery of the Tipo 420M-58 – Eldorado.