Simon Clay ©2022, courtesy of RM Sotheby’s

Ahead of Maserati’s official unveiling of the 3500 GT, the Italian manufacturer instructed a small cluster of trusted carrozzeria to design bodywork to clothe the newly designed rolling chassis. Five unbodied chassis were sent to the Turin-based coachbuilder Pietro Frua, who returned with completed cars with his usual exuberance and attention to detail. Of these, only the car shown here, chassis number AM101268, was styled as an open Spyder. Fascinating design features, such as the headlights set into gently rising wings, cleverly disguised side-mounted air intakes dressed in chrome, and flared tail fins punctuated a truly unique shape.

The styling of chassis AM101268, envisioned in 1958, was reportedly a pitch for the 3500 GT Spyder. While that contract would eventually be awarded to Vignale, this unique car laid the foundations for future Frua designs that dressed the later 5000 GT. Few road-going concept Maseratis had such far-reaching influence, and the legacy would live on with hints of future models, such as the Mexico and Sebring, evident in this car’s appearance.

The fifth owner, Bruno Bouvier of Evreux, bought the car in 1981 and commissioned a full restoration, which would include a new 3500 GT engine acquired from the Maserati factory. Restoration work was continued by the next owner, Peter Garett of Kent, at Glendale Engineering of Oldham. The Maserati was finished in the striking color scheme of pastel yellow with a turquoise-and-white leather interior and included the desirable factory upgrades of a 5-speed gearbox and disc brakes.

Subsequent caretakers included the noted collector Ben Huisman and the renowned Maserati enthusiast Alfredo Brener. Mr. Brener is said to have renewed some of the restoration work between 1998 and 2000, with new Cream paint, and it appeared at the 2000 Concorso Italiano and 2002 Los Angeles Auto Show. The consigning owner acquired this Maserati via auction in 2020.

SCM Analysis


Vehicle:1958 Maserati 3500 GT Spyder by Frua
Years Produced:1958–63
Number Produced:1 (260 production Spyders by Vignale)
SCM Valuation:$619,000–$970,000
Chassis Number Location:Stamped on frame member just above left suspension
Engine Number Location:Stamped on rear left just above starter
Club Info:Maserati Owners Clubs
Alternatives:1957–62 Ferrari 250GT cabriolet, 1956–58 Lancia Aurelia convertibile, 1958–65 Alfa Romeo 2000/2600 spider
Investment Grade:B

This car, Lot 138, sold for $551,560 (£488,750), including buyer’s premium, at RM Sotheby’s London, U.K., sale on November 5, 2022.

The year 1957 was pivotal for Maserati, as it turned its attention from being a low-volume producer of mostly race cars to serial production of road cars. The first production Maserati was the 3500 GT, which was built in collaboration with Carrozzeria Touring. From the beginning, Maserati envisioned using the same powertrain and chassis with various body styles, including a convertible. Later cars would be bodied by Vignale, Allemano, Ghia, Bertone and others.

Clamoring coachbuilders

When word got around that Maserati was planning on making road cars, the various carrozzerie wanted a piece of the action. These coachbuilders made their money by producing automotive bodies and interiors, but a compelling design was needed to secure a manufacturing contract. The best way to do that was to create a proof-of-concept car, a prototype. An initial car would be built, then displayed at a major international auto show where potential customers and the motoring press alike would hopefully fawn over it, persuading the manufacturer to put this unique design into production.

The prototypes being built were most often fully operational cars and were sold after the sales pitch was over. The fate of Maserati prototypes was much better than their American counterparts, as few were destined for the scrapyard. Coachbuilders were perpetually tight on cash, so throwing away something that could be sold was out of the question. This explains why there seem to be so many Italian prototypes extant from relatively small companies such as Maserati and Ferrari.

Frua swings but misses

Pietro Frua somehow acquired five 3500 GT chassis. I checked with a historian at Maserati, and it is not clear if Maserati gave these chassis to Frua or if they were purchased. In the end, four rather handsome Frua-bodied 3500 GT coupes were created, while the fifth chassis was used to create this convertible.

Even great designers have an occasional flop. In my opinion, and apparently that of the market as well, this one missed the target. The coupe never went into production either, though Frua did eventually get the green light to design a car for Maserati, the Quattroporte sedan.

I saw our subject car in 2000 during Monterey Car Week. Then, it was painted Cream Yellow with turquoise interior. I have checked with the factory and the car was indeed originally painted “Giallo Chiaro Banana.” While this color combination might look appropriate on a Nash Metropolitan, not so much on a Maserati. Although it is understandable why the interior has been more recently changed to red, this being a prototype, I would have left the original color combination intact, however jarring. The other design aspect that strikes me as odd was the abundance of chrome trim and the tail fins. Perhaps Frua was trying to appeal to the American market, or at least what he thought the American market wanted in a convertible.

An historic artifact

It may sound like I am bashing this car, but I would still love to have it in my garage. It has a whole host of unique features, the type of one-off that gets invited almost anywhere you want to take it.

I had the pleasure of owning and restoring the very first 3500 GT protype built by Vignale. Owning a prototype is a love-hate relationship. You are constantly reminding yourself that any body damage will require hand fabrication, and don’t even want to think of breaking the windshield. It is not the type of car you’d typically feel comfortable driving on a tour, though our subject car was said to have completed the Colorado Grand after a mechanical refurbishment in 2018.

In the end, this prototype failed to achieve its objective of convincing Maserati of a production run. That honor would go a year later to Giovanni Michelotti’s design while working for Vignale. While Frua’s design is a bit quirky and perhaps an ugly duckling, it nevertheless has an important place in Maserati’s history; in fact, an image of this car adorns the exterior of the Maserati factory in Modena.

Misunderstood, but well bought

This car has crossed the block a few times in the past five years. It sold for $605,000 at RM Sotheby’s 2017 Monterey sale (still in its yellow/turquoise color combo, SCM# 6846364) before selling again at RM Sotheby’s online 2020 Monterey sale in its current colors for $550,000 (SCM# 6933602). This recent London sale had virtually the same result as the last and is still more than $50k shy of its 2017 price.

Perhaps this being a left-hand-drive car in a right-hand-drive country, or that the U.K. is going through some financial difficulties, had some influence on the results. Nevertheless, the 2023 SCM Pocket Price Guide values a production 3500 GT Vignale Spyder between $619k and $970k, which by comparison makes this unique car look well bought. ♦

(Introductory description courtesy of RM Sotheby’s.)

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