By on January 14, 2009

See, this guy in Lexington, KY died of cancer around 1962, and he left a Maserati to his only remaining relative, an uncle in his ’80’s living in Louisville. Uncle hadn’t driven a stick shift in 30 years but had just bought a new Cadillac, so he goes back to the dealer and says, “Get rid of this thing for me, willya?” The Cadillac salesmen looks at the Maserati, they look at each other, and one of them says, “Hey, I bet Dr. Dean would be interested.” And that’s how my father picked up a Maserati 3500GT for about two grand.

The car was built like a brick shit house. It had a steel space frame like the legendary Birdcage Maserati: light, but rigid as a bridge girder. Indeed, the 3500GT was all but bolted to the ground.  With its stiff suspension, you needed a football mouth protector when surmounting a curb or highway expansion joins. The payoff came at speed. You could cruise in a 3500GT at 100mph and think you were doing 60.

As the brand’s first foray into a limited production sedan, the 3500GT was meant to reclaim Maserati’s fortunes. You can take the car out of the sport, but… The interior was luxurious. But anything that didn’t directly relate to touring at speed had extremely rough edges.

Maserati developed the passenger car’s powerplant from an F1 engine. The clutch came down like a hammer, either on or off.  Forget about getting started on snow and ice. The coolant temperature sensor was an afterthought, inserted in a little can in the upper radiator hose. As a result, the 3500GT wanted a long, winding, open road.

I got stuck in traffic one day and nervously watched the coolant temperature climb… and then fall. Much relieved, I didn’t realize that the coolant had boiled off to the point that the sensor was dry. Then the oil pressure started to drop.

Finally, I funked out, stopped and nervously opened the radiator cap. Nothing there. Like the teenaged idiot I was, I quickly got water and poured it in. Out came the inevitable, searing steam geyser. But the engine had been built well, the Fates were feeling kindly toward idiots, and nothing warped.

The GT3500’s engine was a DOHC straight six, mated to a smooth, tight, ZF gearbox. The straight-through glass pack muffler was quiet at idle, roaring at full bore. If you took off the air cleaner cover off the early cars– and why wouldn’t you– you found six velocity stacks all in a row atop the three double-barrel side-draft Webers. Oh, the symphony of all that valve gear spinning and ringing in resonance.

There was gobs of push and a pedigreed assurance that the 3500GT was a car that knew what it was about. Which was not so much sports racing (like Ferraris) as true grand touring– with luxury, effortless speed and absolute self-possession. Even so, I eventually realized I didn’t have the stuff to drive this car at much more than 40 or 50 percent of what its potential (some 145 MPH). But like the Bugatti T40, it had no glaring vices, and brought you back to base safely.

And I crunched it.

Oh the shame; nailed by a farmer at a dead stop! Blinker on for a left into a drive way, I was waiting in the left lane on a four lane main suburban road just after a long slow bend. I looked up at the rear view mirror and all I could see was GRILLE.

The next thing I knew, I was 150 feet down the road, in the car, on my back. The pedals were gone and there was an awful grinding noise coming out of the rear. The impact had broken the seat back off, and the left rear fender pressed against the tire.

The offending ’53 Chevy was totaled. The Maserati had one bent space frame tube and some crunched bodywork. Everything else seemed OK. I pried the tire free and drove it home.

Funny thing: aluminum bodywork doesn’t just smash at the point of impact like steel. It had deformed with a standing wave four feet long all the way up to the driver’s door. Didn’t we have fun finding someone who could do aluminum body work. We eventually located an old timer who was a dead ringer for the Wizard of Oz.

Going in to the shop, the car was a putrid dirty green. Coming out, she wore a lovely Mustang Poppy Red coat that just screamed “Ticket me, please!” But that’s another story…

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15 Comments on “Capsule Review: 1958 Maserati 3500GT...”


  • avatar
    Robert Schwartz

    Wow. Do you have any idea of how lucky you were growing up? The only used car my father ever bought was his grandmother’s 1958 Oldsmobile. I told my brother that driving it was like driving a giant mushroom.

  • avatar
    Edward Niedermeyer

    This makes me ache in all the right ways.

  • avatar
    Areitu

    Edward Niedermeyer :
    January 14th, 2009 at 12:46 pm

    This makes me ache in all the right ways.

    Same here!

  • avatar

    You know, some of these old beauties are still reasonably priced. I came across a 4000 Quattroporte (late 60s) at a used car dealership a few years ago. It was in good shape, not a concours car but certainly a driveable example. The price? 10K. Canadian. I thought I was dreaming, but they aren’t worth a whole lot, the best examples struggle to crack 20K.

  • avatar
    Jordan Tenenbaum

    Great read! Thank you for this.

  • avatar

    Do you have any idea of how lucky you were growing up? Yes. Would I like to step back and drive them again? Yes. Would I like to see my parents again? Yes. Time goes on, and you have to create your life anew. And the Bugattis and the Maserati were, besides fun for my father, an insidious plot on the part of my father to introduce his sons to machinery. I broke the passenger window on the family car. Dad: “Here’s the repair manual, son, fix it”. And so I worked on that and on the Bugattis (the cable brakes) and the Maserati (the Webers)…and when I wasn’t ham-handed, Dad just let me loose. He bought the cars not as concours trophies, but life experience. Juice. And he never obsessed or tried to have the perfect collection of whatever. He would get something, experience the juice of it, then let it go and try something else. Now that is something to pass on your kids.

  • avatar
    menno

    Cool story, cool car. My fave Maserati’s were a tad later – mid 1960’s, Frua bodywork.

    Especially the Berlina (later known as the Quattroporte) four door cars. With the DOHC V8.

    “sigh”.

    Love Frua styling.

    Oddly (and boy, is it ever odd), the only car which even remotely has the “Frua shoulders” of old – is a Kia Optima. (By this, I mean the particular style of body side just below the greenhouse – aka body side glass).

    Weird, eh?

    Of course, the delicate, thin A-pillars are nowhere to be seen on modern cars. It’s like driving with two tree trunks stuck to your car, that you have to look around.

    Don’t we live in Bizarro-world? We’re mandated to have massive roof pillars in case we crash and flip, but the bloody great things impinge on our view, so we’re more likely to – crash. All the while, we’re pushed by “popular opinion” to high center of gravity vehicles with the false idea that we “gotta have” all wheel drive (so when it snows now and again, we can slide into the ditch and flip, because the false sense of security that all wheel drive provides).

    Surely it’s better to have a low center of gravity so you can have a car that handles well, so you DON’T have the damned accident in the first place? Surely it’s better to have two wheel drive so your “going”, “steering” and “stopping” are all 3 on the same level, and you therefore actually know to slow down when roads are slippery? Surely it’s better to have thin roof pillars so you can see that Freightliner in your blindspot?

  • avatar

    There is nothing so smooth and wonderful as a big-ol DOHC straight-six. I love the exhaust note… something you rarely get to hear anymore in this world of ubiquitous V-8s and little 4s. The sound is exotic and evocative of another age.

    Thanks for the review!

    BTW: I see twin coils & plugs, did it have a pair of dizzy’s too?

    –chuck

  • avatar

    did it have a pair of dizzy’s too?
    I don’t think so. In the days of double ignition (poor gas, redundancy) they had single distributors with double wiring. We also had a Type 49 Bugatti that had double ignition with one distributor, which you can see here. Dept of Small Delights: with two spark plug holes, you can shine a light in one hole and look in the other. I would imagine it would be extremely difficult to get two distributors to fire the spark plugs at exactly the same moments….a single distributor sounds more feasible for double ignition. FWIW, the ignition key could select either or both spark plug sets.

  • avatar
    romanjetfighter

    @Menno:

    Don’t forget, we need side curtain airbags, too!

    Gone is beautiful design. Now it’s government-mandated safety requirements. Sleek noses are all but gone, now they have to be upright and big just in case a pedestrian gets hit. Rear wing required on XK because of mandated center-rear brake lights, et al. :O

  • avatar
    Lumbergh21

    The only experience I have with classics is with domestics, and to see an engine that beautiful in a car that old amazes me. That one picture didn’t ruin my appreciation of the domestic classics, but I doubt I will ever look at the engine in an old Chevy or Ford the same again.

  • avatar
    postjosh

    wow, mr. dean, this is now my new favorite section on ttac. what else did your dad have???

  • avatar

    chuckgoolsbee:
    There is nothing so smooth and wonderful as a big-ol DOHC straight-six. . I love the exhaust note
    Well the Type 49 Bugatti had a straight SOHC eight in it. Aforementioned LOUD whine/howl (could be heard a half-mile away) of the straight-cut crashbox would climb higher with every gear, but when you hit fourth, there was silence (from that department) and the wonderful thunder of the straight-back 3″ diameter or so exhaust….and a big grin on your face.
    postjosh:
    what else did your dad have??? A full life, but we need to stick to cars. 6 months after I’d gotten my shiny new driver’s KY license, he sent me out, saying, “Kid, it’s time for a new car. Find one”. So I looked. The Volvo P1800 was lousy for my paralyzed mother, but the Saab 95 station wagon was what I settled on and we got. Wonderful quirky, gutsy (850cc, 2 cycle!) little wagon with oodles of free space for the wheelchair, easy to get Mom in and out. The 2-cycle mix got old (though the ring-a-ding-ding engine and free-wheeling was kinda neat) quickly. I busted the tranny synchro speed-shifting it (A Saab?! Speed-shifting?! I blush). Father: “Here’s the manual kid, fix it”

  • avatar
    FromBrazil

    Wow!

    Loved your article.

    Pls do tell the rest of your Maserati stories!

    This is why I love TTAC, surprises, surprises, surprises, they just keep on comin’!!

  • avatar
    RDarnell914

    please email me at rdarnell@ayeblink.com, we got your grandfathers 1958 maserati started yesterday after sitting since 1975. car is still here in Louisville.


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