After a 50-year hiatus, Maserati, which has produced some of the world’s most lust-worthy cars, revived its partnership with Pininfarina, the legendary design house. Pininfarina’s founder, Batista “Pinin” Farina, penned both the 1500 GT—Maserati’s first road car—and the A6 GCS, which is widely regarded as an absolute masterpiece. Maserati again tapped Pininfarina’s design DNA when it rolled out the 2004 Quattroporte sedan and, this past spring, the 2008 GranTurismo coupe, which was widely hailed as “one of the year’s most beautiful cars.” Here is the story of the birth of the GranTurismo’s look and feel, in the words of Maserati managing director Roberto Ronchi, Pininfarina CEO Andrea Pininfarina, and others who were there.
Roberto Ronchi: Not everyone was convinced that Pininfarina was the best choice for us. They were completely involved with Ferrari, and we didn’t want to create a B-version Ferrari. And some thought we should look for a bit more novelty in the design. But Pininfarina has this kind of classical modernity, and Maserati is all about dynamic elegance. We thought Pininfarina, because they had designed the A6 and the first Quattroporte, could take some of Maserati’s design heritage and project it into the future. No one was in a better position to do that.
Our brief for the GranTurismo was very simple: give the car the right combination of sportiness and pure elegance. Make it very dynamic, very fluid. And even if we took away the Trident [badge], it still must be recognizable as a Maserati.
Andrea Pininfarina: Maserati has a prestigious name but no clear design heritage for the past 30 years. The challenge was to reinvent what it means to be a Maserati. From one point of view, it was a great opportunity; from another point of view, it was a high risk.
Jason Castriota, Pininfarina exterior designer: We wanted to tap into a part of Maserati’s DNA that wasn’t being utilized recently — the heritage of the 1950s and 1960s racing cars, like the Birdcage and the 450S. They have such a strong character that is uniquely Maserati. Particularly the nose of the cars, which begin with the extrusions of the oval mouth; and then the fenders, which give the cars a very distinct, trapezoidal view. The difficult part was extracting just enough DNA without making the GT look retro. It had to be timeful — of its time. But also timeless — relevant to the future.
We created five or six initial proposals, which were then brought down to two distinctly different proposals. One was for a classic large coupe, along the lines of a Bentley. The other was for a car that was much more dramatic. That’s what Maserati was looking for—a car with great impact.
Ronchi: It was a difficult design challenge, because Maserati has had so many different styles over the years. In the 1960s, Maseratis were rounded; in the 1970s, they were squared. But whatever the time, Maserati was always dynamic and elegant.
Castriota: Maserati’s A6 GCS and the Birdcage 75th concept car [which Pininfarina produced in 2005, to celebrate the shop’s 75th anniversary] acted as bookends for the GT’s design language. From the A6, which is simultaneously sporty and elegant, we took inspiration from the concave grille and especially the way the body pulls back from the mouth. With the Birdcage, we were inspired by its maximum expression of extreme, futuristic sportiness. And also the line over the wheels, which gives the car its dynamic stance.
Pininfarina: The Birdcage is a dream car. We wanted to make an aesthetic and technological beauty — a clean design, quite sexy. The body covers the chassis like a sheet of silk, just like a sheet of silk covers the body of a nice girl.
Ken Okuyama, former Pininfarina design chief: Car design starts with the tire, and when I did the first briefing with the Birdcage team, I told them I wanted big wheels. I actually sketched the car on a napkin, in a restaurant up near the Matterhorn. But for a long time, I didn’t show the sketch to the team. You’ve got to leave some room for designers to innovate their own ideas. The Birdcage built anticipation for the new GT. But I’m really hoping it will inspire a new generation of young designers to come into the car industry.
Castriota: Every three to four weeks, we’d update Maserati management on our progress with the GranTurismo. We’d take them to the roof of our design center and unveil a full-sized replica of the GT. We painted it in the same cool, pearly white color that we developed for the Birdcage. We’d give them a moment to take it in, and then we’d brief them on what we did and why we did it. It was a very fast process. Normally, it takes 18 to 24 months to design a car. We did it in six months.
Pininfarina: Maserati gave us a very clear brief, which helped us move quickly. They knew what they wanted. I was very confident when we unveiled the GT for them. We are quite hard on ourselves and sometimes, with other cars, I don’t have the same level of confidence. This time, I knew we’d done something good.
Ronchi: When they did the final unveiling, we were not completely surprised. We’d already seen several evolutions of the design. Still, we were wowed, because it was exactly what we wanted. When you see the first drawings of the GT and the final result, you don’t see many major changes. That was one of the most impressive things about this venture.
Pininfarina: In some ways, the fact that Maserati didn’t carry a heavy design heritage was an advantage. Because of its lack of presence over the past 30 years, we had the opportunity to propose a new brand positioning, through design. The next generation of Maseratis will capitalize on what we did with the Quattroporte and the GranTurismo. But it will also be more difficult, because you’re not starting from scratch. It’s not so easy to surpass a success.