Is This The Only Maserati Indy To Have Been Raced?

Images: Makarand Baokar

Several of Maserati’s (one of the most famous Italian sports car manufacturers) very successful racing models were the legendary 450S. Arguably the quickest car during the second half of the 1950s, the 450S finished the 1957 World Sports Car Championship season as runners-up to Ferrari—and not the winner—thanks to reliability issues than a lack of speed. Between 1956 and 1962, the 450S had 119 starts at races across the Globe, finishing with a most impressive 31 victories, in the hands of legends like Juan Manuel Fangio, Jean Behra, Carroll Shelby, Jim Hall and Masten Gregory.

So when Maserati enthusiast, the Shah of Iran, Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi, wanted a very special car, in 1957, what did Maserati’s chief engineer Giulio Alfieri suggest? Why not marry the fantastic V8 of the 450S to the chassis of the street legal Maserati 3500 GT, and make a very special car for the Shah!

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Designed by Virginio Vairo for coachbuilder Vignale, the Maserati Indy has excellent proportions

The Shah liked the idea and gave the go-ahead. Alfieri increased the size of the engine to almost five litres, by increasing the bore to 98.5mm (from 93.8mm), for a displacement of 4938cc. With the compression ratio reduced—to tame the race-bred engine—the max power of the V8 (aspirated by four twin-choke Webers) came down from a heady 400bhp (at 7200rpm) to a more civilized 340bhp at 5500rpm.

With a body by Maserati’s favourite coachbuilder then, Carrozzeria Touring, the Maserati 5000 GT was born. Weighing in at under 1.5-tonne, the 5000 GT was capable of an estimated maximum speed of 270 km/h, making it one of the fastest cars on the planet at that point of time.

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With a hatchback fastback rear, the Indy was a very practical GT

The Shah’s car caught the media’s attention, as it did the eyes of some of the wealthiest people in the world then. Despite a pricing of over 7.5 million lire at its launch, making the Maserati 5000 GT the most expensive sports car in the world during that period, as many as 33 (or was it 34?) 5000 GTs were sold to the who’s who of the international jet set: Karim Aga Khan, Fiat’s Gianni Agnelli, Ferdinando Innocenti of Innocenti Lambretta fame, actor Stewart Granger and gentleman racer Briggs Cunningham, amongst others.

More importantly, Maserati had in its portfolio a wonderful V8 that would remain in production for more than three decades, powering some of Maserati’s finest cars ever: the legendary Ghibli, the elegant Mexico, the very first Quattroporte, as well as the third-generation version too, the striking Bora, the stunningly beautiful Khamsin and the gorgeous Indy. And despite being some of the most desirable cars ever made, not even one of the other models seem to have made it to India, except for this sublimely beautiful Indy, featured here.

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Arguably one of the most beautiful cars of all time

Unveiled at the 1968 edition of the Turin Motor Show, the Indy went into production in 1969, and remained on sale till 1975. Planned as a replacement for the 2+2-seater Mexico coupe, Maserati commissioned Italian coachbuilder Vignale to design and build the bodies, which would be supplied to Maserati for final assembly and completion at their factory in Modena. Vignale’s in-house designer Virginio Vairo drew a beautiful fastback design—inspired no doubt by Lamborghini’s four-seater, the Espada—but with a more understated look, commensurate with Maserati’s older, old-money clientele.

The model’s name ‘Indy’ was chosen to remind everyone about Maserati’s two victories at the Indianapolis (or Indy in short) 500, in 1939 and 1940. Initially powered by a 4.2-litre version of Maserati’s V8, the carmaker offered a version with the more powerful 4.7-litres in 1970, and by 1971, the 4.9-litre version of the V8 from the Maserati Ghibli with max power, reduced from 335 to 320bhp. All the engine variants featured four overhead camshafts, with aspiration through four twin-choke Weber carburettors of the Type 42 DCNF. A five-speed ZF manual gearbox was standard, with a three-speed Borg-Warner automatic as an option.

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The Maserati Indy borrowed its rear lamp from the Alfa Romeo 1750 Berlina

In classical sports car style from that period, the engine was at the front, with drive to the rear. Though designed to be a luxurious, transcontinental cruiser—the kind of use most Indys must have seen, when new—the car on this page has the unique distinction of being raced! In fact, likely, this (4.7-litre version of the) Indy may be the only one (out of 367 4.7-litre Indys, from a grand total of 1,102 made) that has ever been raced anywhere… making it a very special car indeed.

The late ‘maharajkumar’ of Gondal, Ghanadityasinhji Jadeja, acquired the Indy from an Italian expatriate, and promptly took it racing on a few occasions. By the 1980s, the car was in a rather bedraggled state when it was acquired by United Spirits. The car was eventually restored around 2005 and repainted in this bright red.

Gautam Sen

Serial concours judge, author, founder-editor of several Indian auto mags, as well as co-conspirator with design greats Marcello Gandini, Tom Tjaarda, and Gérard Godfroy on a few vehicle projects


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