The History of Maserati

Founded by four brothers in 1914, Maserati has seen six owners in 94 years

1949 Maserati 1500 Grand Tourismo. Getty Images / Heritage Images / Contributor

The history of Maserati began at the end of the nineteenth century in Bologna, Italy, where Rodolfo Maserati and his wife Carolina had seven sons: Carlo, Bindo, Alfieri (who died as an infant), Alfieri (named for his deceased brother), Mario, Ettore, and Ernesto. Five of the surviving boys became auto engineers, designers, and builders. Mario was the lone painter--though he is believed to have designed the Maserati Trident.

The brothers spent years working for Isotta Fraschini, following in the footsteps of Carlo, who also worked for Fiat, Bianchi, and others before his death at age 29. In 1914, Alfieri Maserati left his position in customer service at Isotta Fraschini to start Officine Alfieri Maserati on Via de Pepoli in the heart of Bologna.

The Racing Era

But the brothers still worked on cars for Isotta Franchini, and Alfieri designed and raced Diattos. It wasn't until 1926 that the first all-Maserati car in history came out of the shop, the Tipo 26. Alfieri himself drove the car to its first victory in its class in the Targa Florio.

Throughout the 1930s, Maserati produced several record-setting racers, including the 1929 V4, with its 16-cylinder engine, and the 1931 8C 2500, the last car designed by Alfieri before he died.

But the Depression years were hard on the company, and the brothers sold their shares to the Orsi family and moved Maserati's headquarters to Modena.

During World War II, the factory produced machine tools, spark plugs, and electric vehicles for the war effort, then returned to building race cars with the A6 1500 at the end of the conflict.

Maserati picked up legendary Formula One driver Fangio in the 1950s. He piloted the 250F to a win in the car's debut at the Argentine Grand Prix.

He was the driver of a 250F in 1957, too, when Maserati took home the World Title for the fifth time. The company decided to exit the racing scene on that high note. It kept its hand in, though, by producing the Birdcage and prototypes for private teams and supplying Formula 1 engines for other builders, such as Cooper.

Bought and Sold ... and Bought and Sold

In the 60s, Maserati focused on production cars, like the 3500 GT, which debuted in 1958, and the 1963 Quattroporte, the company's first four-door sedan. ("Quattroporte" is literally "four door" in Italian.)

In 1968, French auto maker Citroen bought the shares of the controlling Orsi family. Thanks to Maserati's engine, a Citroen SM won the 1971 Morrocco Rally.

Some of the most famous cars in Maserati history, like the Bora, Merak, and Khamsin, were produced in the early 70s before the global gas crisis took full effect. The auto maker, like many others, hit the skids, and Maserati was saved from closure by the Italian government. Argentinian Formula 1 driver Alejandro De Tomaso, along with the Benelli company, helped resurrect Maserati, and in 1976, they launched the Kyalami.

The next decade was a quiet one for Maserati, with the introduction of the lower-priced Biturbo.

It was 1993 before the company saw light at the end of the tunnel, when it was bought by Fiat. That arrangement didn't last long, though; Fiat sold Maserati to Ferrari in 1997. Maserati celebrated by building a new, updated plant in Modena and producing the 3200 GT.

The New Century

Maserati continued to hitch its fortunes to the Quattroporte's star, making it the centerpiece of the model lineup in the new century. It also made a modest return to racing with the MC12 in the FIA GT and American Le Mans series.

But the transfers of ownership were not over in the incestuous world of European auto makers. In 2005, control of Maserati was transferred back to Fiat by Ferrari, which meant the two Italian powerhouses could team up with a third under Fiat's umbrella: Alfa Romeo.

And so, with a little help from its friends, Maserati history continues to push forward, building more than 2,000 cars each year--a record for the Modena company--including the GranSport.