When the Shah of Persia came to Maserati in 1958 looking for a unique and distinctive gran turismo, Maserati included a two-page description of the sports-racer 450S in the information he received. The 3500 GT, then entering production, was not exclusive enough for Shah Reza Pahlavi, whose garages housed some of the world's finest cars, but the 450S caught his attention and Maserati bravely undertook the creation of the most powerful, exclusive and unique gran turismo ever contemplated, the 450S-based Tipo 103 Maserati 5000 GT.

The Shah's Maserati was conceived and executed as a one-off, but the allure of its style, luxury and performance was such that word of its creation leaked out and a steady stream of clients came to Maserati seeking it. Eventually, 34 5000 GTs were built, each to individual order and specification, over a period of six years. Coachwork was created by the cream of Italian coachbuilders: Touring, Frua, Allemano, Ghia, Pininfarina, Bertone, Michelotti and Monterosa. Its buyers set it apart as the car of kings, princes and captains of industry.

Some would propose that the Maserati 5000 GT is the greatest postwar gran turismo. It has all the attributes of greatness: direct racing heritage, immense power, excellent road manners, exclusivity and luxury.

The lusty 450S engine featured dual overhead camshafts on each bank, driven by a train of gears for precise timing. The valves were operated by rocker arms with roller followers interposed between the cam lobes and valve stems. Dual ignition from a pair of magnetos was utilized to achieve optimum combustion in the hemispherical combustion chambers. The highly over-square engine produced 400 bhp at 7,000 rpm and 364 foot-pounds of torque at 5,500 rpm with 9.5:1 compression. Induction was through a quartet of Weber IDM45 dual-choke carburetors.

Of the 34 5000 GTs built, two stand out from the rest: the first two, built for the Shah of Persia and for Basil Read, a South African businessman and owner of the racetrack at Kyalami, home of the South African Grand Prix. While later cars had Lucas fuel injection and chain-driven camshafts, only the first two in the series were powered by mildly modified 450S engines with Weber carburetors, gear drive to the cams, roller cam followers and hairpin valve springs. They were bodied by Touring with distinctive coupe coachwork, the purest and most elemental of all these fantastic, legendary gran turismos.

It is the second of these carbureted, Touring-bodied GTs-Basil Read's-which is offered here. It was displayed at the 1959 Turin Show, then tested by Hans Tanner and driver Guerino Bertocchi. Tanner's stopwatch captured the 5000 GT swallowing up the autostrada at 172.4 mph.

The 5000 GT is built on a massively strengthened 3500 GT chassis frame with the same wheelbase and track dimensions. Front suspension is by A-arms with coil springs, while the rear is a solid axle with semi-elliptical leaf springs. The 5000 GT has disc brakes at the front and drums at the rear and the transmission-a four-speed built by ZF in Germany-is in unit with the engine and hydraulically operated clutch.

Read's car is essentially identical to the 5000 GT built for the Shah, but is instantly identifiable by the thin chrome side spear which extends back to the rear wheel arch. The interior has the same 18k gold-plated trim accented by rich chrome, an understated elegance and luxury that adds to the sumptuous and harmonious design.

SCM Analysis


This car sold for $495,000, including buyer’s premium, at RM’s Amelia Island auction on March 8, 2003.

This automobile may very well be the poster child for how the custom coachwork segment of the automobile industry and its buyers have changed in the last 40 years. In today’s exotic car showroom, custom coachwork is a lost art. With the rather large exception of the Sultan of Brunei, auto manufacturers haven’t been in the business of creating one-off, personal rides since the early 1960s.

Heads of state, captains of industry and the usual cadre of this new millennium’s playboys have had to settle on customizing interiors, paint-to-sample exteriors and a short list of somewhat ludicrous manufacturer’s options, such as built-in cigar humidors, to give their Aston Martin, Rolls or Ferrari a personal touch. Times have changed.

This Maserati 5000 GT is the type of car you go out of your way to buy at auction, if your wallet and tastes flow in that direction. Extremely rare, restored by all the right people to the correct original specification and owned and cared for by Alfredo Brenner-arguably the “guru” of these cars-this was a solid purchase. Ignore all the price guides and so-called “experts” who try to tell you what these cars are worth; this is a near one-of-a-kind jewel, and exotic equipment is worth exactly what the next buyer is willing to pay for exclusivity.

This 5000 GT has already proven itself at Pebble Beach, Meadow Brook and Le Belle Machine on the show circuit, but by no means is it just a trailer queen. It’s a real running and driving car, now ready to be exercised on the open road in the appropriate vintage events.

These Masers have shot up in value over the last five years. It wasn’t long ago that they were $150,000-$175,000 and not considered great property. Of course, more than just prices have changed. Persia is now Iran, and the Ayatollah’s idea of custom coachwork is now probably one-hump or two-“Should I take the goat or the yak?”-another reason these 5000 GTs are wonderful icons of the past, when calling something “the cars of kings” meant more than a monogrammed badge on the door.-Steve Serio

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