There have been a few cars that have genuinely surprised me to see parked on the street like any ordinary automobile. The pristine ORC Lagonda and the rough Aston Martin V8 Volante stick out in my mind. It’s time to add another car to that list: a 1986 Maserati Quattroporte parked behind a minivan on West 104th street.
The blocks up there between Central Park West and Manhattan Avenue seem to be on the up and up, but the glory years of this Maserati definitely seemed to be behind it. Its renowned interior, full of light and leather was cluttered with old newspapers and the look of an everyday, used and abused automobile. That’s not exactly something you expect of a car from one of the world’s most prestigious brands, of a car that was hand built in a production run of just over two thousand.
In spite of its good name and fine upbringing, it is not the most surprising thing to see a 1980s Maserati Quattroporte in a tarnished, worn-down state. There was only so much Maserati could do to fight off the depreciation of its image and of the worth of its cars.
In contrast to the company’s previous four door, the triumphantly complicated, massively disappointing Quattroporte II, Maserati kept the Quattroporte relatively simple. The company’s efforts indeed paid off, as the Quattroporte II only sold 13 copies, over a hundred and fifty times fewer cars than all of the Quattroporte IIIs like this one.
Still, I use the term “relatively simple” with some great emphasis, as this Italian luxury car presents the car buyer of the 21st century with a far more daunting maintenance proposition than that of a contemporary BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Caddilac, or Lincoln. I think it is no stretch of the imagination that this Quattroporte’s owner is very well acquainted with the local foreign car mechanic.
The engine exemplifies the mechanical traits of a Quattroporte III. This silver sedan’s 4.9 liter, 280 horsepower engine was just another reworking of Maserati’s venerable four-overhead-camshaft vee-eight, a mainstay of the company since its introduction in sports car racing in the mid 1950s. Its reliability is unlike that of a traditional American or Japanese engine, requiring regular maintenance to stay working. Still, even in the best of times, a classic Maserati V8 can melt its own innards, as Olivier-Renaud Clement found out on a pan-European drive in his 1967 Ghibli.
These kinds of things can lead to a troublesome reputation for high maintenance costs, and the more logical car owners of the world tend to shy away from 1980s Maseratis that hit the showroom with Bentley-level price tags.
Smart money does not buy a 1986 Quattroporte.
But then the smart money will be missing out on its style, its clean, smooth lines, its gorgeous seats and dashboard, its throaty exhaust, and its grace on the road, qualities that seem to have fallen into unexpecting hands. Who owns this car and keeps it on the street? Italian politicians bought Quattroporte IIIs, not working class Upper West Siders.
The only cars I’ve ever seen like this 1986 Maserati have been kept in pristine condition, washed, wiped, babied with regular trips to the mechanic. They don’t get parked behind minivans with reading glasses forgotten on the dashboard and blankets between the two front seats.
I can only assume that the rich old owner of this Quattroporte, a person of some considerable flair back in 1986 – flair enough to view Italian politicians as makers of fine purchasing decisions – died within the past few years and left the car to the caretaker. I
doubt that the car was sold to anyone – new buyers would have designs to restore a rare old car like this or they wouldn’t get involved with the car in the first place. Repairs are going to be catastrophically expensive, from bodywork to mechanical malfunctions. On the production line, Maserati workers filled in any panel gaps by hand, which won’t make repairs easy, and though the engine is a reliable piece of machinery, expertise on an out-of-production Italian motor will not come cheap.
It is clear that the car does not live in ideal conditions, but it shows great resilience sitting curbside on West 104th. It has US-mandated bumpers projecting front and rear, protecting the car from New Yorkers’ tendency to parallel park by feel, moreover we know that the drivetrain works because the owner will have to move the car every week for street cleaning. We are looking at a regularly-driven, everyday Maserati Quattroporte III; it boggles the mind.
Either I’m completely wrong and twenty five year old Italian super luxury cruisers make just as fine city cars as mid-nineties Nissan Maximas, or this Maserati is just hanging by a thread, one tiny breakdown from the junkyard. In both cases it is an extraordinary sight, beautiful and spectacular and rare.
Driving impressions of Quattroporte IIIs are hard to come by, but Frank Markus at Motor Trend did a comparison piece in 2006 between an ’85 model, an Aston Martin Lagonda, and a Bentley Mulsanne. Read the article here, though the Quattroporte gets few words. Its on-road manners are described thusly: “The Quattroporte’s ride also is well damped, and the suspension is abetted by a rigid body structure. Strike a pothole, and you hear and feel a single thud with no reverberations, rattles, or hood flutter. Hard cornering provokes considerable lean and only modest grip (0.75 g measured in the day, as compared with 0.68 on the Aston) from the 235/70R15 rubber, but this was never intended as a track car. It’s more about gobbling up kilometers of autostrada by the mille, and that it does con molto gusto.”
Octane Magazine gave a short buyer’s debriefing here.
A fine page on the Quattroporte III with a broad overview and some technical detail can be found here.
As a reward for scrolling all the way to the bottom of this page, enjoy the sound of a Quattroporte III’s V8 getting revved by a mechanic. What? You’d think an owner would rev the engine? Obviously they’re all too scared of potential repair costs if something goes wrong. Best leave it to the mechanic.
Finally, the very best wiki on the Quattroporte III is, of course, the page on the Italian wikipedia. It certainly has the most information available, made legible by translate.google.it. Did you know that from 1984 Quattroporte IIIs were available with a limited slip differential called Sensitork? Now you do.