If the Maserati 3500 GT was good enough for Dean Martin, this often-overlooked GT is good enough for us
Somewhere along the way, wealthy collectors and classic car aficionados forgot about the gorgeous Maserati 3500 GT spider. It’s got rarity, style, glamour and, to a degree, race breeding, yet it remains perhaps the ultimate Cinderella asset-class classic. There are signs, though, that this elegant convertible GT is on the way to the ball.
The Michelotti-styled, Vignale-built 3500 GT spider evolved in 1960 from the Touring 3500 GT of 1957, the first true series-produced Maserati road car, which quite possibly saved the company. In 1957 Fangio had claimed Maserati’s last F1 World Championship in a 250F, but the kitty was empty. As Maserati chief engineer Giulio Alfieri once explained: ‘Previously our primary objective had been to win races. By late 1957, it was to survive. The battle moved from the race track to the showroom… Thankfully, it [the 3500 GT] was instantly popular and we sold around 2000 cars, which was a lot for this type of machine. I’ve never been one for looking back… but I must admit that I’m very proud of the 3500 GT.’
The car’s 3.5-litre alloy twin-cam, twin-plug ‘six’ was essentially a detuned version of the 350S racing engine, initially developing 220bhp, and the GT coupé hit the mark, selling to a client list that included Prince Rainier, Tony Curtis and Rock Hudson.
In 1960, the even more exclusive and differently styled Vignale GT spider upped the ante, its kicked-up rear wing line inviting comparison with the Ferrari 250GT cabriolet and California spider. The new offering also took advantage of model developments including Dunlop front disc brakes, optional from 1959, then standard in 1960, and five-speed ZF box; Lucas fuel-injection in the GTi model of 1962 boosted power to 235bhp, delivering a sub-eight-second 0-60mph time and a top speed of 137mph. That’s not quite as fast as the GT coupé, but then the steel-bodied spider (with alloy bonnet and boot lid) weighed around 140kg more than the Touring Superleggera alloy-bodied coupé, despite being mounted on a four-inch shorter wheelbase.
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We could get into an argument about spider production numbers, but let’s just settle on ‘round about 242’. Famous owners included the King of Morocco and Dean Martin, the man who with his easy style made relaxing an art form. The ‘king of casual’ seems a nice fit for the graceful, elegant, self-assured Maserati that is so much less high-strung, pushy and in-your-face than other Italians I could mention; Frank Sinatra springs to mind.
So there you have it. Naysayers might denigrate the rigid rear axle and point out that the tubular chassis was fairly rudimentary, but if you felt the need – and I’m sure Dean Martin didn’t – you could stretch a point and say it was race-bred by way of the earlier A6 model. But then you’d be missing the point. Dino would no doubt have appreciated the electric windows, and the understated suaveness of the leather interior with its array of chrome-rimmed glass dials that glitter like the optics in a Vegas cocktail bar.
There’s also one other very salient point. When new, the Maserati 3500 GT Vignale spider was pitched at roughly the same price as the Ferrari 250GT cabriolet and California spider. Today it’s available for a fraction of the money.
When new: In 1960 the Maserati 3500 GT spider cost £6165 in the UK, making it only slightly cheaper than the Ferrari 250GT California spider at £6326; the Ferrari 250GT cabriolet was actually the most expensive of the trio at £6577. How times have changed.
Afterlife: In the rising market in the second half of the 1980s, an abyss opened up between the Maserati 3500 GT spider and its Ferrari peers, with price-guide peak values for the Maserati around £50,000. Meanwhile, even post-peak, Ferrari 250GT cabriolets were changing hands on the open market for five times that, and more. By then, California spiders were already well past the £1 million mark…
Today: Throughout the later 1990s and until the end of the noughties the Maserati remained on tick-over, while Ferraris accelerated ahead. It was only around 2010, when the Ferraris were already in orbit, that the Maserati began to break gravitational pull, as people started to notice what good value a £200,000 Maserati was compared with a £3 million-plus SWB California spider, or a ‘lowly’ S2 cabriolet at £500,000. In late 2013, when a Maserati 3500 GTi spider breezed beyond expectations to sell for close to £600,000 at auction, it commanded attention. The market is still evolving and with SWB California spiders at £7 million-plus now, and even S2 cabriolets at £1.5 million, there’s still an awful lot of air in the gap.
Words: Dave Selby/Octane Magazine