The Frua-penned Maserati Mistral has everything you'd want in a Ferrari – except the badge…
There’s a chill north wind that blows in southern France called the Mistral, and there’s no doubt the Maserati that bears its name has yet to really heat up the marketplace: the Mistral, for the time being, still represents outstanding car-for-car value for money compared with Astons and Ferraris.
If you want thoroughbred breed points, the Mistral has the lot. Maserati chief engineer Giulio Alfieri was responsible for the development of the legendary 2.5- litre twin-cam straight-six that powered Juan Manuel Fangio’s 250F to the 1957 F1 World Championship, and for the 350S unit that evolved into the engine fitted to the 3500GT and Mistral. Alfieri was also the father of the Tipo 60/61 Birdcage, and the multi-tubular chassis construction that gave the car its nickname was employed in the Mistral, too.
And, of course, the Maserati Mistral was styled by Pietro Frua of Turin. The pure two-seater with opening glass tailgate displays a light, self-assured touch. The cabin of the Mistral is also airier, better-sighted and more comfortable than those of most two-seater rivals. As Alfieri once stated: ‘With one of my cars, I can leave the factory early in the morning, arrive in Paris late in the afternoon and have time to take a good shower at the hotel before going out to dinner without being tired… None of my competitors’ models can do the same thing.’
It’s a good point. Of course, by this time Maserati was 100% focused on – and indeed pinning its hopes of survival on – luxury high-performance road cars, with no distracting racing activities to create internal tensions. This commitment shows in the Mistral, the first of the Bologna cars to be named after a wind, and the last to use the race-derived six-cylinder.
At launch in late 1963 the very first Mistrals were fitted with 3.5-litre engines, producing 235bhp and a top speed around 140mph. The twin-plug engine with the Lucas fuel-injection first seen on the 3500GT grew to 3.7 and 4.0 litres. Punching out 255bhp, the 4.0-litre option hit 60mph in well under seven seconds and topped out beyond 150mph – not quite Ferrari territory, but is that really relevant in a road car?
Remember, you were supposed to arrive in Paris fresh and eager for the night rather than needing to be prized out of your car and taken to a chiropractor. Although unassisted, the Maser’s steering is surprisingly light, the disc brakes do what they should and, while the independent front end and rigid rear axle might not be very advanced, they won’t bite you. And the ZF five-speed gearbox complements the rest of the package.
The Mistral endured to 1970, by which time 828 coupés and 120 spiders (just 20 in right-hand drive)had been built. Unusually, the Mistral was offered in both aluminium and also mostly steel bodywork.
So what’s wrong with the Mistral? Is it the stigma of six cylinders? That hasn’t impeded Aston values. To some extent, when the V8-engined Ghibli came along in ’67, it tagged the Mistral as the entry-level or poor man’s Maser. But the real elephant in the room is that it’s not a Ferrari. Today this discerning choice represents exceptional value compared with its more obvious contemporaries that were in the same price bracket when new.
Take a look at Maserati Mistrals for sale in the classifieds
AT LAUNCH In 1964 the Mistral, in both coupé and convertible forms, cost £5686 in the UK, with punitive import duties. That sum would have bought three E-types, and pitched the Mistral £100 ahead of a Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud 3 saloon. The Aston Martin DB5 saloon was considerably cheaper at £4249 (£4563 for the convertible). All Ferraris were pricier than the Maserati, with the 275GTS coming in at £5974 and the 330GT at £6522. As an aside, the 275GTS is five times the value of a 330GT today!
BOOM AND BUST Top Mistral coupés were price-guided at £40,000-plus in the late 1980s, with convertibles at £65,000. A coupé for sale in the trade at £45,000 in 1989 was offered at £14,950 in 1993. A nice but not mint coupé was available for £19,950 in 1995. In 2003 a superior all-aluminium coupé was up for £24,000. Through the 1990s into the early 2000s no spider fetched more than £40,000 at auction.
TODAY In the later 2000s, spiders were making £120,000-plus at auction; the top transaction of the decade was £190,000 for a freshly restored car. Coupés at aucton had not yet topped £50,000. Recently a coupé fetched £125,000 under the hammer, which is the highest European auction price and equates with higher-quality dealer cars. The top European auction price for a spider is £329,000. Surely the Mistral is ‘ripe for rotation’, considering ordinary Aston DB6 saloons (not half as rare) are £250,000-plus and Volantes nearing £1 million. The Mistral’s contemporary Ferrari rivals – the 275s, Daytona and 330GTC/GTS – are three to four times the money, and then some.
Words: Dave Selby/Octane Magazine