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Australia and NZ’s Role in Maserati’s 100 Year History

Australia and New Zealand’s Role in Maserati’s 100 Year History

After a year-long build-up of anticipation with celebratory events around the world, supercar marker and motorsport competitor, Maserati will celebrate its 100th birthday on 1 December 2014, marking a century since the Maserati brothers founded their legendary company.

Maserati’s record of racetrack success and the production of unique high performance road cars is well recorded, but the car maker also has a long history in Australia and New Zealand. Maserati has played a key role in the careers of some of both countries’ leading racetrack stars before launching its road cars into the Australian and New Zealand car market.

Not only, for example, did Sir Jack Brabham and Chris Amon have a Maserati 250F play a major role in their careers – it was the first car to race under the Brabham Team name and it launched Amon’s motorsport career – it was actually the same Maserati 250F, having passed from one legendary owner to the next and owing its survival to a late night pub car park sale!

Legends such as Sir Stirling Moss raced with Maserati with success in Australia, winning the 1956 Australian Grand Prix, and Maseratis were raced by local legends such as Reg Hunt, Bob Jane and Stan Jones.

Maserati’s road car history in Australia and New Zealand started in 1960 when the first cars were imported, starting a business which a little more than half a century later is a significant player in both countries’ exotic luxury and performance car market and which in Maserati’s centenary year is enjoying unprecedented success.

So, where did it all start?

Alfieri, Bindo, Carlo, Ettore and Ernesto had been all been involved with the automobile in some form from the beginning of the 20th century and during the war years began production of Maserati spark plugs.

Founding Officine Alfiera Maserati with the trademark of Neptune’s Trident, the traditional symbol of Bologna, the brothers did not produce a car under their own name, the 1.5-litre Tipo 26 race car, until 1926. Driven by Alfieri the new Maserati would win its class in its first race, the 1926 Targa Florio.

More race cars followed for private customers while a succession of 4, 6, 8 and 16 cylinder models in the 1930s would prove most successful in pre-war Grand Prix and sports car racing as well as the Targa Florio.

Maserati’s other notable pre-war success was winning the 1939 and 1940 Indianapolis 500 with the 16-valve 3-litre straight 8 8CTF.

However, while Maserati had already made a name for itself on many of the world’s major race circuits the company’s foundation in Australia and New Zealand would not be laid until much later during the post war years.

Whilst privateers had imported the pre-war Italian racers in very small numbers, including some ex-works cars, it was not until the early 1950s that Maserati’s would become a regular feature at Australian events. In New Zealand however, Thomas Pitt Cholmondeley-Tapper had become a household name in the 30s behind the wheel of a Maserati 8CM.

Tom Sulman would drive a 1.5-litre Maserati 4CL to sixth place in the 1952 Australian Grand Prix at Mount Panorama at Bathurst while Eldred Norman in a 1.5-litre Maserati 6C retired on lap 14. The following year the inaugural Albert Park meeting in Melbourne saw two 1½ -litre Maserati AGP entries, Ted McKinnon taking 15th. place in a 6C while Cec Warren crashed after 51 laps in a 4CL.

In 1954, the Australian Grand Prix was staged on a public road circuit near Southport in Queensland with the sole 3.0-litre 8CM Maserati entry of Fred Zambucka coming in 12th.

Grand Prix racing would come of age in Australia on the 10th October 1955, the Australian Grand Prix staged for the first time on a purpose built race circuit at Port Wakefield in South Australia.

The twentieth Australian Grand Prix would not only see future triple World Champion Jack Brabham take the chequered flag in a 2.0-litre rear-engined Cooper Bristol but see the emergence of the first post-war Maserati Grand Prix car in Australia, the A6GCM.

Imported by expatriate Englishman Reg Hunt, the potent 21/2-litre Maserati, which in 2-litre form had been driven to victory by Fangio in the 1953 Italian Grand Prix, took a four-second lead over Brabham’s Cooper-Bristol in the first four laps before a broken cam follower let the Aussie win by three-seconds at the chequered flag.

Hunt campaigned the Maserati A6GCM early in 1955 in the New Zealand Grand Prix as well as the Moomba race meeting in the March at Albert Park but was dogged with mechanical problems, finally taking the chequered flag in the Bathurst 100 later that year. Hunt’s success during the 1955 season, both in Australia and Europe, had not been lost on the factory and he was invited to visit the company’s works, by now located in Modena.

Offered a drive of the still secret 1956 250F GP car on the company’s Autodrome test track Hunt put up better lap times to those of local ace’s Musso and Castelotti.

He was subsequently presented with a solid gold Trident badge by Signor Orsi of Maserati confirming his appointment as a works driver, the company offering to send him in Australia one of three ex-works models. As the legendary Jean Behra’s mount during the 1955 Grand Prix season it had taken the chequered flag at the Pau and Bordeaux Grand Prix’s.

The arrival downunder of the potent Maserati 250F is recognised as raising the bar and taking Grand Prix racing in Australia to a new level. As such, a number of top privateers imported competitive near-new Maserati open wheel and sports-racing cars.

After Hunt’s impressive victory in the South Pacific Championship in Orange in January 1956 it was obvious that the 250F would be the car to beat for the coming season.

The ex-works 2496cc straight-six Grand Prix car with twin gear driven overhead camshafts had had its compression ratio raised to 15:1 by the factory and now developed 285bhp. Maserati had also fitted new type conrods designed for sustained revving at 8500 with peak performance above that figure. The five-speed gearbox was also now built in unit construction with the differential to provide better overall balance.

By the Australian Grand Prix staged on the 2nd December 1956 several Maserati 250Fs were already in locals hands. Designed to capitalise on the publicity surrounding the 1956 Melbourne Olympic Games and staged on the picturesque Albert Park circuit the ‘Olympic Grand Prix’ attracted a world class field of international drivers including Stirling Moss, Jean Behra, Reg Parnell and Peter Whitehead.

The event also drew a record number of local and international fans, in the process, attracting worldwide publicity, Autosport’s Harry Russell suggesting ”the event left little to be desired, and there is no reason why an International event should not be run on this circuit at this time.”

The ‘works’ Maserati racing team of Stirling Moss and Jean Behra, running under the Officine Alfieri Maserati banner, had brought a fleet of 250F and 300S racing cars while privateers Reg Hunt and Stan Jones, as well as Ken Wharton from the U.K., also entered 250Fs giving the blood red Maserati’s a real presence on the Melbourne circuit.

Kevin Neal also campaigned the Hunt Maserati A6GCM while a lone and ageing 4CL was also entered by Sydney car dealer Arnold Glass but did not start.

Interestingly, the ‘works’ Maserati’s were fettled by chief mechanic Guerino Bertocchi who had been with the company since 1923 and was riding mechanic to Alfieri Maserati in the 1926 Targa Florio.

Staged over two weekends with the 32-lap 160km Australian Tourist Trophy sports car race on the first, the ‘works’ Maserati 300S cars dominated with Moss heading Behra to the chequered flag.

The 80-lap 402km. Australian Grand Prix the following weekend saw Moss and Behra repeat the performance, this time in their latest ‘lowline’ 250Fs, the two drivers a class apart with Moss nearly lapping his team mate.

These late series 250s had first appeared at Monza and featured offset drivelines, a lower seating position and triple twin-choke Weber’s rather than fuel injection, the latter not having the power in the lower rev range deemed necessary for Albert Park’s slower corners.

Reg Hunt and Stan Jones filled fourth and fifth place after an exciting duel with their older 250Fs while the more powerful Ferrari of Peter Whitehead took third.

By now Maserati had become revered downunder, further strengthened a year later when Fangio took his fifth world championship at the wheel of a 250F, while in 1958, Stan Jones would win the Australian Driver’s Championship and the 1959 Australian Grand Prix, also in a 250F.

Meanwhile in Europe, a recent arrival from Australia, Jack Brabham had made a quick name for himself for his driving and technical ability with Cooper. In recompense for his work with the company, Brabham was given the Cooper T40 he had helped develop. He used the money from the sale of this car to fund the purchase of a Maserati 250F and this car became the first to race under the Brabham team name in 1955 and 1956.

By means of which none of the parties are entirely sure the car made its way to Australia and on to New Zealand where a budding young driver, Chris Amon, got behind the wheel and at just 17 launched his racing career in 1962.

"It was that car that got me to Europe. Reg Parnell (the British team owner who took Amon overseas) saw me drifting it at Wigram and told me later he'd never seen a 250F driven like that since Fangio retired,” says of the importance of the Maserati to his career.

Thanks to a deal in a pub car park, this Maserati 250F survives until today with Len Southward sealing the purchase and preserving the car so today it is not only on display at the Southward Collection in Paraparaumu, New Zealand, it is also a ‘runner’ with Amon getting back behind the wheel in 2010.

Melbourne Tyre King Bob Jane would also make a name for himself campaigning the ex-Stirling Moss 300S in a range of sports cars events during the late 50s and early 60s.

Interest in the Italian car maker’s sports and road cars was at an all-time high but little was known about them in Australia outside of the motor sport fraternity.

Interestingly, the company did not produce its first road car until post war with the A6G sports car, available with either 1.5 or 2.0-litre single overhead camshaft engine, first shown at the 1947 Geneva Motor Show.

Early records, confirmed by Maserati Classique, show the first import of road going Maserati’s to Australia was two 31/2-litre six-cylinder 3500GT 2 plus 2 Coupes in late 1960. The duo, were the first of a small number of the model brought in by Melbourne racing identity Bib Stillwell, who would later win the Australian Racing Driver’s Championship four times from 1962 to 1965.

Import of the potent Maserati sports and GT models was slow at first in the 1960s with only a trickle of cars brought in mainly to the Eastern States.

The demise of the large front-engined Grand Prix cars and the rise of the new breed of Cooper rear-engined racers in the late 1950s had seen Alec Mildren win the 1960 Australian Grand Prix at Lowood in Queensland. Unable to buy a new 2.5-litre Coventry Climax the enthusiastic motor dealer mated a Type 51 Cooper chassis with a 2.5-litre Maserati engine from a 250S to great success.

Visits to Italy to buy racing components meant Mildren spent much time at the Modena factory managing to gain the Australian franchise and importing a handful of Maserati road cars for local consumption. These included the 1963 4.2-litre V8 Quattroporte super-sedan, considered at that time to be the fastest four-door in the world.

While Mildren sold a variety of Maserati’s through his new dealership at Pymble on Sydney’s Northshore, in Melbourne, Murray Wright at MW Motors was appointed in 1967 to look after Victorian sales.

However, by the early 1970s Melbourne retail sales had moved to Auto Italia in Camberwell and by 1977 to Frank Talbot Motors in Collingwood. Mildren would also appoint Canberra dealer Ray Gulson in 1970 to look after Maserati sales in the ACT which he handled until 1998.

In all, only a sprinkling of Maserati’s arrived in the late 60s including examples of the Mistral, Ghibli and Mexico while the 1970s saw small numbers and various right-hand–drive derivatives of the Indy, Khamsin, Merak, Bora and Kyalami.

The arrival of the Biturbo models in the 1980’s saw interest in Maserati grow with the company’s appointment of Maserati Australia as the national importer late in 1986 headed by Tony Graziani in Sydney.

Maserati road cars began to appear on Australian roads in greater numbers including V6 Karif and Ghibli models as well as the V8 Shamal. Graziani would lift the profile of the Italian marque during the 1990s using the Shamal in a motor race program in 1994 and in a later series with several cars in the 2-litre bi-turbo Ghibli Cup.

In 1997, with the change in ownership of Maserati under Fiat control, and then its amalgamation with Ferrari in 1999 under the Fiat umbrella, responsibility for Maserati in Australia came under the control of Ferrari importer, Maranello Concessionaires, part of the Sutton Group of companies.

The arrival of the highly-acclaimed new 3200GT model downunder in late 1999 was well received and would take the Italian brand’s annual sales consistently into double figures for the first time, a momentum that was maintained with the addition of the Spyder to the range and the transformation of both cars with the addition of the Ferrari-sourced V8 engine into the new Coupe and Spyder.

But the car that began a new era for the company was the launch of an all-new Quattroporte in 2004. The same year saw New Zealander Neville Crichton provide a compelling case to take over the brand’s distribution in Australia and New Zealand.

A new company, European Automotive Imports (EAI), was formed and on the 1 October 2005 and distribution of Maserati, as well as Ferrari, in Australia and New Zealand, transferred to EAI.

This new era for Maserati in Australia and New Zealand saw a significant lift in the marques presence with sales and customer service. New retail premises were built in Melbourne by the Zagame Group, in Brisbane by Euromarque, while Perth got its first Maserati facility under Barbagallo Sport.

From late 2005 retail sales in Sydney remained with Italia Motori under a partnership with Tony Graziani and Neville Crichton until the development of a new state-of-the-art head office, retail and service facility for Ferrari Maserati Sydney in Waterloo which opened late in 2009, just after sales reached a then all-time peak of 201 in 2008.

The first new model to be launched in Australia and New Zealand was a range toping variant of the Maserati Coupe, the GranSport, which was followed in 2006 by the GranSport Spyder.

Fifty years after his victory at the wheel of a Maserati 250F at the Australian Grand Prix Sir Stirling Moss was reunited with the car in which he dominated at Albert Park at the opening of a new Maserati dealership in Melbourne, Zagame Maserati, taking over responsibility for Maserati in Victoria. Later the same year, Brisbane gained an all new Maserati facility with the opening of Euromarque Maserati.

The 2007 Melbourne Motor Show saw the local launch of the Maserati Quattroporte with a full automatic gearbox, a move that transformed sales of the striking luxury sports sedan. September of that year saw the Maserati GranTurismo arrive in Australia, displacing the Coupe from the range and providing the marque with a luxurious four seat coupe.

In 2008 the arrival of 4.7 litre version of the Maserati V8 engine saw new performance variants of the Quattroporte and GranTurismo, the GT-S and S respectively, launched. The same year saw Maserati move into an all-new multi-million dollar facility in Melbourne as Bobby Zagame opened his new Swan Street Showroom. Further sharpening its performance edge, the first of the MC-Sportline options were launched, derived from the all-conquering MC12 race car programme.

The ultimate version of this generation Quattroporte, the Sport GT-S arrived in Australia and New Zealand in 2009 and, showing the local passion for performance, immediately became the dominant variant of the Quattroporte. An automatic version of the most powerful GranTurismo further cemented this model, now the fastest selling Maserati of all time, in the Maserati line-up.

The Maserati GranCabrio brought open top motoring back to Maserati for the first time since the Spyder ended production and added full four seat luxury to the mix in 2010.

In 2010 another legendary Maserati 250F and its driver were reunited with Chris Amon back behind the wheel of the car he raced in New Zealand in the 1950s after the car had completed a ground-up restoration. A grinning Amon could not be kept out of the car!

Maserati moved to Waterloo in Sydney in 2010, with the opening of another multi-million dollar Maserati facility, Ferrari Maserati Sydney. Home to both the retail Maserati business for New South Wales and the Maserati Australia and New Zealand distributor, the new landmark building provides Maserati with world class retail and wholesale facilities.

2011 saw Maserati assume the title of Australia’s number exotic brand with strong sales across the range ensuring market leadership.

In 2013 Neville Crichton launched Maserati Auckland, a new Maserati dedicated dealership for the North Island of New Zealand to prepare the ground for the onslaught of new models, something that was repeated in Adelaide with Solitaire Maserati opening its facility dedicated to Maserati brand.

About Maserati SpA
Maserati is an Italian luxury car manufacturer which was established on December 1, 1914, in Bologna (Italy) by its founder Alfieri Maserati and his brothers. Their passion and talent contributed to the company DNA: innovation, excellence, and challenge, which are reflected in the brand’s claim “The absolute opposite of ordinary”. Today, the company's headquarters and main production location are in Modena (Italy). A second state-of-the-art production location, based on the highest quality standards of the World Class Manufacturing (WCM) concept, was inaugurated in Grugliasco, near Turin (Italy), in 2013. Maserati has been owned by the Italian car giant Fiat S.p.A. since 1993.

Its emblem, the trident, was inspired by the fountain on the Piazza del Nettuno in the center of Bologna (Italy). It is a symbol that ties together the brothers, their hometown, and the artistry and craftsmanship for which Bologna and Emilia-Romagna are known.

Through major investments into product development, production facilities as well as its worldwide dealer network, Maserati has hit a turning point. In addition to the successful GranTurismo and GranCabrio ranges, the latest generation of Maserati’s flagship sedan, the Quattroporte, and the new sports executive sedan, the Ghibli, provide the cornerstones to the brand’s strategy of producing some 50,000 units annually and gaining a significantly strengthened presence in the global luxury car market.

For 2013, Maserati posted a 148% increase in shipments to 15,400 vehicles, driven by the success of the new Quattroporte and Ghibli models. Its major markets include the USA (2013: 6,900, plus 138%), China (2013: 3,800, plus 334%), Europe (2013: 2,500, plus 133%) as well as Asia-Pacific (2013: 1,300, plus 52%) and the Middle East (2013: 750, plus 81%). For 2013, the company posted revenue of €1,659 million (plus 120%) and a trading profit €171 million (plus €114 million).

About European Automotive Imports
European Automotive Imports (EAI), trading as Maserati Australia and New Zealand, was appointed as the distributor of Maserati, its products and services in Australia and New Zealand in 2005, starting operations on 1 October that year, initially from offices in the Sydney suburb of Homebush before moving, in 2010 to its present offices in Waterloo. The company also took over the New South Wales retail Maserati representation from 1 October 2005, initially as Italia Motori until the completion of the new facility in Waterloo as both home to EAI and the new dealership, Ferrari Maserati Sydney, which opened its doors in 2010. From 2013 EAI has also controlled the Maserati retail outlet ‘Maserati Auckland’ in New Zealand. In addition to offices for EAI Maserati dedicated showroom and workshop facilities, the Waterloo facility also provides a state of the art training facility for both technical and sales training. EAI has a fully computerised parts facility in Sydney to ensure fast and efficient distribution of parts and accessories.

EAI is a private company wholly owned by its Executive Chairman, Neville Crichton, and it is not a subsidiary of any of Mr Crichton’s other companies. Maserati Australia and New Zealand is headed by Glen Sealey, who took over as General Manager in 2010, and who has overseen a doubling of team responsible for Maserati in Australia and New Zealand. These include Bilgen Tug, National Marketing and Public Relations Manager; David Weihen, National Aftersales Manager; Alex Ball, National Sales Manager and Angelo Ruberto, General Manager of Ferrari Maserati Sydney.

Following its appointment, EAI set about a major renewal of its dealer group, with all-new dealerships opening in Brisbane (2006), Melbourne (2008), Perth (2008), Sydney (2010), Adelaide (2013) and Auckland (2013) with major refurbishments in Sydney, Adelaide and Auckland prior to new facilities opening. In addition, Christchurch opened initially as a Maserati service centre bringing the marque officially to the South Island of New Zealand in 2008 and this was expanded to a full dealership in 2013. In Maserati’s centenary year these dealerships will be joined by a second dealership each in Sydney and Melbourne to serve the growing customer base and, in 2016, another dealership in Queensland.

EAI has consistently grown Maserati sales in Australia with its annual best in 2008 with a total of 201 units, a record which is set to be broken in 2014 with sales expected to exceed 300 units. With arrival of new products, EAI plans to take Maserati to an annual sales figure of 1500 by 2016.

ENDS

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