Profile: Maserati brothers creat storied tradition

A model sits in the new Maserati GranCabrio

A model sits in the new Maserati GranCabrio Sport at the car maker's booth during the Geneva car show on March 1, 2011 in Geneva. Car makers display 170 new models as the automobile industry preview the 81st Geneva motor show. AFP PHOTO / Sebastian Derungs (Photo credit should read SEBASTIAN DERUNGS/AFP/Getty Images) (Credit: Getty/SEBASTIAN DERUNGS)

Seven sons.

As their father, Rodolfo Maserati helped bri ng every one of those boys into the world from the kitchen table of a small house on the outskirts of Voghera, in the northern Italian province of Pavia.

He would have every reason to be proud.

But how could he have known that those seven sons would build an empire that would rival the greatest Italian manufacturers? How could he have anticipated the name would become a staple of the European auto industry and a symbol for speed?

Rodolfo Maserati was mechanical by nature. He couldn't have dreamed the genes would run so thick.

He had moved his family into the heart of Pavia's industrial revolution after marrying and taking a job as a railway engineer. The revolution from his own home would be phenomenal.

Carlo came first, followed by Bindo two years later, then Alfieri, a boy who would die a few months after birth. The next boy they would also name Alfieri in honor the dead son, then Mario would arrive, followed by Ettore and Ernesto.

Except for Mario, who turned his attention to painting, they all would become involved in engineering, design and construction of automobile engines. The oldest would set the trend.

Born in 1881, Carlo began his career as a young apprentice in a bicycle factory near Milan and, by age 18, was designing his own single-cylinder engine and helping improve factory production. When the company went out of business he joined with Fiat, then the Isotto Fraschini auto company before producing the first Maserati chassis.

In what would quickly become commonplace, another Maserati brother was always waiting in the wings. Each helped contribute in some way to the company that still bears the name.

Alfieri would join in at age 16 with a passion equal to his mechanical talent. Bindo would follow. Ettore would follow him.

The Fraschini company quickly realized Alfieri's talent and, although he was only 20 at the time, sent him around the world to help organize operations. But Alfieri soon realized that with the help of his brothers, he could set out on his own and develop his own car brand.

A couple of years later, on a Monday morning in mid-December, the "Societa Anonima Officine Alfieri Maserati" was born on the ground floor of a rented Bologna, Italy, office. With a workshop specializing in race preparation for Italian engines, the Maserati brothers - Alfieri, Ettore and Ernesto (Carlo died before he turned 30) - would build an empire, first in racing and then in automobile manufacturing.

The birth of Maserati as we know it took place in April of 1926 when Alfieri introduced and raced the first two-seat Maserati "production" car, an eight-cylinder, 1.5-liter supercharged thoroughbred. It was the first car to bear the Maserati Trident logo, a symbol taken from a sculpture designed by Mario Maserati. The car finished its first race in first place.

But Maserati began to really make its name with four, six, eight and 16 cylinders, although the brothers would also produce detuned racing engines in road cars during the 1930s. Even one of the fearsome "sedici cilindri" (two side-by-side mounted inline eight-cylinder engines) was converted into a road car.

Alfieri Maserati died at age 44 following an unsuccessful operation brought about from a racing incident five years earlier. With Ernesto, the youngest brother in command, the Maserati competitive spirit would continue. In fact, Maserati would be the first European factory to introduce hydraulic brakes on race cars.

In 1937, a wealthy industrialist company took control after the Maserati factory moved to Modena, Italy, although the Maserati brothers stayed on until 1947.

Race cars were a mainstay of the company following the Second World War and were driven by some of the best drivers at some of the best races - from Formula One to the Indy 500.

It was in the 1940s that the remaining Maserati brothers decided to concentrate on a range of different projects - from batteries to sparkplugs to trucks. The first sports car was launched during the Geneva motor show in March of 1947 followed by more Grand Prix titles, personal cars for world leaders and expensive sports cars with five-liter V-8 engines. During the golden years of Formula One during the 1960s and 1970s, Maserati ruled.

In 1969, with a Modena factory building about two cars per day as well as more than 30 engines, Citroen took over control of Maserati for about $1 million. Six years later, Maserati announced it was going out of business, but a group called De Tomaso saved it before selling control to Fiat, which is owned by Ferrari.

The rejuvenation of Maserati began in 1999 with the introduction of the 3200 GT Coupe.

The influence of the original Maserati empire lasted even as the original names disappeared.

Seven sons for a generation to dream with. Seven sons to build a name around.

Jason Stein is a feature writer and the editor of Wheelbase Communications' RaceWEEK racing page. He can be reached at jstein@wheelbase.ws.
 

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