Towards the end of 2018, I travelled to Italy with Maserati South Africa to not only experience the Levante SUV, but also to gain some insight into the brand’s history. At the time, I wrote an article for the magazine that I was working for, but then it went out of business. I have decided to share that article, with some images here.
Navigating the Italian Countryside
It is a random Thursday autumn morning and I am driving relatively delicately over narrow gravel and dirt roads through the Italian countryside up the road from the Varano De’Melegari circuit, not far from Palma. Next to me is a man who races sports cars for a living as well as, on days like this, serving as the lead instructor for Maserati. Out of the corner of my eye, I can see him push down on the floor of the passenger side of the Maserati Levante I am handling, trying to apply pressure to a brake pedal that, very much like a phantom limb, is sadly, for him, not there.
I’m not driving too badly – from my perspective, at least. This is our first run through the Rally Shakedown course circuit and I am still quite restrained. But, I think it is getting too much for him; he points out, a little louder than necessary, that I am driving too close to the right side of the road. It does take me some time to get used to sitting on the left side of the car but, the one thing about the Levante is that, at no stage does it feel uncomfortable, whether accelerating with hill descent activated down or powering up a curvy hill with loose gravel and branches reaching over the road as if to stroke the Levante.
Before we headed out, we were taken through a comprehensive briefing covering everything from seating and steering wheel position, handling, dealing with stones and rocks and where to place tyres, depending on the terrain to ascent and descent, dealing with extreme diagonals and the various curves and corners. Maserati provides various courses for customers and they are all handled by professional drivers, whether tar or dirt; one of our group from Lebanon had the winner of the Rally of Lebanon a few years ago as his instructor.
The Home of Maserati
The morning had started in Modena, a fascinating and ancient city in northern Italy, where Maserati is headquartered and has its factory and main showroom, although it was initially established about 37 kilometres down the road in the slightly larger city of Bologna by the Maserati brothers, led by Alfieri. Mario Maserati, an artist, is credited with creating the Trident logo, which was inspired by Neptune, the god of freshwater and the sea, of whom a statue stands in Bologna.
The main showroom houses a beautiful model of a race track with model car equivalents that take you through the rich history of the manufacturer since its inception in 1914, when it was more a racing car brand, through its evolution into a luxury car brand with all the peaks and dips in between, of which there have been many. There have been multiple takeovers and points when it looked like the manufacturer would not survive and yet it has endured.
After the Rally course, which involved two circuits of off-road tracks – and I must add that I did redeem myself slightly at second bat – we hit the country roads in a Quattroporte GTS. My instructor seemed a little less stressed and I am glad to say that, by then, I had a handle on driving on the right side of the road while sitting left, although it did require immense concentration. This didn’t distract from both the beauty and calm of the landscape, in between the small towns that faded in the rear view as quickly as we came up on them. There was a stretch where I switched to sport mode and the GTS got a little gnarly, navigating the bends with enough ease for me to continue to catch some of the sights.
We then turned around to retrace our tyres and I jumped behind the wheel of the Ghibli GranSport. Responsive, easy to handle while still being comfortable, I thoroughly enjoyed the drive. And, to cap the day off, I was able to get two laps around Varano in a Quattroporte, one driven and the second driving.
Maserati Customer Experience
The purpose of the trip was to get insights into the Maserati Customer Experience which incorporates the Master Maserati Driving Courses designed to both provide customers with the opportunity to explore the capability of their Maserati and improve as drivers, in general.
For off road they have the Rally Shakedown and the Rally Powerstage and, for track, the courses are Practice, Qualifying, Race in the Maserati GranTurismo GT4 race car, and Championship where you get to experience hot laps in the MC12 Versione Corse, driven by Andrea Bertolini, a four-time world champion and official test driver for the Maserati factory.
What better way to understand the intricacies of a 100+ year old car brand than to be totally immersed in all aspects of it from the road, to the showroom to the Panini Motor Museum which houses the most complete collection of Maserati since it was established. The collection was bought by Umberto Panini, creator of the Panini football cards. When he sold the Panini brand, he established the Hombre cheese farm to produce Parmigiano Reggiano and it also serves as home to the Maserati Museum.
Maserati is about more than just cars. It is about history and Italian luxury and a celebration of Modena.