1959 Maserati 5000 GT

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.

Stephen Serio

Stephen Serio - SCM Contributor

Stephen is the president and owner of Aston Martin of New England / Lotus Motorsports Inc. in Waltham, MA, although for the most part, vintage European cars are where his heart is. His need to over-indulge in vintage European cars of the 1950s and 1960s inevitably leads to coveting one more car. Recent garage inhabitants include a Porsche 356A Speedster and 356A European coupe, Ferrari 275 GTS and 246GT, BMW 2002 and a Hudson Hornet. HIs vintage-Porsche-driving wife, Amanda, tolerates this all nicely.

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