Words like “classy,” “swank” and “debonair” are perfect descriptors of Maserati GTs from the 1960s. Those were sporting cars whose only real upscale competition were Aston Martins and Ferraris of the era—and by Enzo Ferrari’s own admission, production Ferraris only existed to fund his company’s racing endeavors. On the other hand, Maserati was known as the marque of choice by gentlemen—and gentle-women—whose good taste was complemented by the understated style associated with cars bearing the Trident.
In that period, Maserati had recently won the Formula 1 World Championship in 1957 with Juan Manuel Fangio behind the wheel of the 250F, while the same V-8 engines that powered its race cars were transplanted into Maserati’s most elite coachbuilt models and, soon, the Quattroporte. But the 3500 GT, launched in 1957 and built through 1964, became the first true series-production Maserati.
The 3500 GT model is a handsome coupe—a soberly attractive, if not drop-dead gorgeous, 2+2 design—styled and built by Carrozzeria Touring of Milan, some of whose more alluring work was done for Alfa Romeo, Aston Martin and Lamborghini. The relative success of the 3500 GT had customers clamoring for more. After exploring convertible concepts with coachbuilders Touring and Frua, Maserati ultimately awarded the design for the 3500 GT Spyder to Vignale, and the styling was penned by the prolific and ever-present Giovanni Michelotti.
The 3500 GT Spyder was unveiled in 1959 and, unlike Touring’s Superleggera (“lightweight”) aluminum-over-steel-tube bodywork, the Vignale body was steel with an aluminum hood, trunk lid and optional hardtop. About four inches shorter than its coupe sibling, the convertible weighs a little more than 3,000 pounds. Both 3500 GTs use the 3.5-liter inline-six engine from Maserati’s successful 350S racer, detuned for road use and making about 220 hp with 254 ft lbs of torque when equipped with triple Weber carburetors.
The car performed favorably alongside six-cylinder Jaguars and Aston Martins of the day, and because comfort was a priority, it was offered with a three-speed automatic transmission in addition to the standard ZF four-speed manual gearbox. The front suspension uses double wishbones with coil springs, while the back features a solid rear axle with leaf springs. At the time, it was not uncommon for manufacturers of low-volume Italian cars, like Maserati, to use various British components found on Jags and Astons, including Alford & Adler suspension parts, Girling 12-inch finned drum brakes and a Salisbury rear end. The latter was even appropriated by Lamborghini for the 350 GT until Ferruccio developed his own.
Improvements were made throughout the production life of the 3500 GT, which lasted until 1963 for the convertible and 1964 for the coupe. One so-called improvement came in 1961, when the 3500 GTI became the first Italian production car to feature direct fuel injection. The mechanical Lucas system increased output to 235 hp. In addition, a ZF five-speed manual gearbox replaced the four-speed version that same year, with disc brakes becoming standard by 1962.
This particular 3500 GT Spyder was completed on August 13, 1960, and was delivered new to Rome. Its original colorways were Grigio Florida (gray) with a red leather interior. The car was more recently changed to red with black leather. And it wears Borrani wire wheels instead of the rather unassuming steel rims and hubcaps that were standard.
The 3500 GT model line comprised 2,226 units in total. Of that, only 204 were GT Spyders while the GTI variant numbered just 56 examples. The vehicle presented is one of more than 120 fascinating cars, motorcycles and boats in the RM Sotheby’s sale of the colossal Gene Ponder collection, to be held in Marshall, Tex., from September 22 through 24. The Maserati is offered without reserve and is expected to fetch as much as $1 million.