Just as I’m about to set off to catch my flight to Bologna, I hear on the news that Italy is being paralysed by truck drivers striking over fuel prices. It only started two days ago, but petrol stations are already running dry and borders with neighbouring countries have been blockaded.
Oh, great. Not now, please! I’m due to collect my new GranTurismo from the Maserati factory tomorrow and this is the last thing I need for the maiden drive in my shiny new toy.
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In Modena the next morning the day dawns bright and chilly. I have to admit to being desperately excited, strike or no strike. The paperwork is done, the finance forms signed, the specification long since decided. Today, nine long months after I placed the initial order, I will finally get the keys to my very own, bespoke GranTurismo. My heart's beating faster just at the thought.
Maserati personnel are waiting in the hotel reception, ready to take me to the factory just round the corner, and they greet me with the best possible news: the truck drivers’ strike was called off last night. What a relief!
This is actually the second time I’ve been lucky enough to collect a new Maserati from the factory. The first was in 1995 and, well, it didn’t exactly go to plan.
The car wasn’t ready when we arrived, even though I’d made numerous telephone calls before we set off to check that it would be. In fact, they seemed genuinely surprised when I turned up that particular July morning armed only with a set of number plates and a map to get me and my friend (who had driven us there in his TVR Griffith) back home again. After waiting for what seemed like an age, a Maserati bod emerged and announced, ‘Mister Metcalfe, we need more time. Would you like to go for lunch? Please make sure it’s a long one. We pay.’
Having consumed more food in one sitting than I’d ever imagined possible, we waddled our way back to the factory where, after a heated discussion about whether I had really paid for the car before leaving the UK, I was finally presented with the keys to a blue Maserati Ghibli GT. We gaffer-taped the number plates on and immediately legged it to the nearest autostrada. Ah, happy days…
Today I expect a very different experience. For a start the factory is unrecognisable from those dark days, with a real buzz in the air that suggests Maserati has come good at last. Sales are at a record high, quality matches Ferrari levels and everyone you meet has real pride in what they’re doing. This is so very different from the way it was in 1995.
Maserati allows just one factory collection each day and I can see my car hiding under a cover in the beautiful reception area. There’s a table of refreshments waiting for us too, but first we must go on a tour of the factory.
Although the GranTurismo is assembled here, these days all Maserati bodyshells go through the paintshop of sister company Ferrari in nearby Maranello. Maserati’s engines are built at Ferrari too, where they are also fully bench-tested (run for around an hour, stepping up the revs in stages until maximum power is reached and maintained for the final five minutes).
Walking around the Maserati plant, one colour is dominant on the production line: black. Twenty-six per cent of all new Maseratis are painted this discreet shade, but there’s still the odd burst of colour along the way – a yellow GranTurismo in particular stands out. Now there’s a brave owner…
I have to admit I’m a bit worried about my own colour choice as I’ve not yet seen it on a GranTurismo and I hear that, to date, no one else in the UK has chosen Grigio Palladio for their car. Not a good sign. But when we return to the reception area and the covers are finally ripped from my new baby, I’m chuffed to bits with the way the car looks in its ultra sophisticated bluey-grey sheen. The GranTurismo is such a good-looking car it really doesn’t need any further help from vibrant hues. The interior looks terrific too, much more of a piece than the Maser’s stablemates at Ferrari to my eyes.
We hoover up the last few cakes, dose ourselves on espresso, pocket the Maserati chocolates and say our goodbyes before the long trip home. The plan is to travel back via the Mont Blanc tunnel and stay the night in the French market town of Beaune – a convenient place to stop that, more importantly, has some excellent shops for those last-minute Christmas presents I still need to get.
First, though, there’s the trip across Italy. The advice from the factory is to keep below 5000rpm for the first 1000km, as while a new GranTurismo’s engine might be run in, the drivetrain isn’t. With the odometer showing just 44 miles, this sounds like a bit of a bore, but once we hit the motorway it soon becomes clear that this Maserati is very long-legged and a 5000rpm limit won’t be a handicap at all, potentially allowing us to reach 165mph!
On first acquaintance the steering feels overly-alert and quite twitchy at around 80mph, but beyond 100 the trait disappears and we settle into a steady 110-120mph cruise across central Italy. I do like this sort of running in…
As we get closer to the tunnel the air gets colder and trucks start congregating around petrol stations again, ready for a new blockade at the weekend. Fortunately the fuel tank on the GranTurismo is enormous, meaning we’ll be well into France before we have to fill up for the first time.
As we exit the tunnel on the French side, the dash is showing -7 degrees Celsius. The snow outside is much thicker, but thankfully the road is still relatively clear. It’s not until we’ve travelled nearly 400 miles that we eventually stop for fuel. The last thing I expected from the GranTurismo was a range like this – it’s almost diesel-like!Whilst paying for the fuel I catch a glimpse of the car on the forecourt and it finally clicks what the Maser’s looks remind me of – one of those strikingly handsome bespoke Zagato coupes you occasionally see at motor shows. Not the worst thing for a production car to look like.
It’s around 7.30pm when we pull into the car park of the Hôtel Le Cep in Beaune. The GranTurismo is already proving to be better at this cruising lark than I dared hope it would be. Even the firm seats have been beautifully comfortable over the past 600 miles, something I’d never have predicted when I first sat in them.The next day we load up the car with an unfeasibly large amount of wine, several shopping bags and all the trinkets we bought from the market and head for home. There’s another stop for fuel near the final péage before the Eurotunnel, but this third tank will easily see us home (1005 miles door-to-door).
On this final leg it strikes me that the GranTurismo’s satnav has been very effecient too. OK, not having the Eurotunnel listed under its ‘places of interest’ isn’t ideal, but it makes up those lost points by having the whole of Europe stored on its hard-disk, meaning there’s no need to swap discs at any point. Shame the female voice it uses is so grumpy, though. Surely a Maserati should have some luscious Italian goddess doing the announcements?
Such a minor detail isn’t going to make any difference to how I feel about this car right now, though. I’m already in love, but will it be a long and meaningful relationship or will the rose-tinted glasses get badly dislodged over the coming months? That’s part of the fun of owning a Maserati. If my previous experience is anything to go by, there’s no other car that can tease an owner like a Maser can on occasions, but this one already feels like a different breed. Only time will tell if I’m right.
|Date acquired||December 2007|
|Costs this month||£0|
|Mileage this month||1276|
|MPG this month||22.6|