The Maserati Story is the story of a family with daring, courageous, forward-looking ideas. It all started with Rodolfo Maserati, father of seven sons. A railway engineer employed by the Italian monarchy, he was the father of a brood which was to write automotive history. The Maserati brothers were born in 1881, year of arrival of the first-born, Carlo, and 1898, when Ernesto was born. This formed a family with a single passion, for engine design and racing cars.
A very precocious, creative engineer, Carlo was the eldest of the Maserati brothers. He built his first single-cylinder engine at just 17 years of age. He immediately caught Fiat’s eye and was hired as a test driver; in the meantime, while in Turin, he built his own first car in his free time. With a wooden chassis and single-cylinder engine, this could be described as the first Maserati in history. In the years which followed, Carlo Maserati also worked for Isotta Fraschini and Bianchi, where he became a racing driver, although he never lost his passion for design engineering. In 1908 he became CEO of the Milan-based firm Junior, before founding his very own firm in 1909, with the dream of producing an outstanding aircraft engine. Carlo Maserati tragically died the following year, stricken by a terrible lung disease.
Before his death Carlo Maserati introduced his brother Alfieri, who was only sixteen years old, to Isotta Fraschini. Alfieri immediately impressed Cesare Isotta, who employed him as a mechanic before appointing him as a racing driver. In 1913 Alfieri opened his own first garage in Bologna, providing service for Isotta Fraschini cars. In 1914 he brought some of his brothers into the firm and founded Società Anonima Officine Alfieri Maserati. A few months later the First World War broke out: Alfieri and his brother Ettore were enlisted, while Ernesto, just 17 years of age, worked in the garage during the day and pursued his technical studies in the evening.
Even with Italy at war, the Maserati brothers did not give up: Alfieri assembled the engines of combat aircraft and patented a high-performance spark plug in association with the driver Trucco. It is an interesting fact that the poet Gabriele d’Annunzio used Alfieri Maserati spark plugs during his famous raid on Vienna. In the meantime, in Bologna, Società Anonima Officine Alfieri Maserati continued in business in various areas.
At the end of the War, the Maserati Brothers moved their garage to more suitable, larger premises in the Pontevecchio area of Bologna. Here Alfieri, Ernesto and Ettore worked on the development of the first Maserati in history. Mario Maserati, the artistic brother with little interest in cars or racing, was tasked with designing the fledgling company’s logo. On the advice of Marquis Diego de Sterlich, a great friend of the family, Mario chose to use one of the symbols of the city of Bologna: the Trident of the statue of Neptune on the fountain in Piazza Maggiore. The colours chosen for the Maserati logo were also those of Bologna itself: blue and red.
It was in 1920 that Alfieri Maserati returned to the racing circuits, first driving a SCAT and then a Nesseldorf, but he was dissatisfied with these cars’ performances and so in 1921 he decided to create his own first racing car. Alfieri took an Isotta Fraschini chassis and mounted the Hispano Suiza engine on it. The project’s complexity becomes clearer when we learn that he used a SCAT transmission and other technical components taken from various cars of the time. The car Alfieri created made its debut on 24 July 1921 on the Mugello Circuit, and achieved an impressive second place in its class: its first victory came just two months later. In fact, in September 1921 Alfieri and Ernesto Maserati won the Susa-Moncenisio race, the first in a series of wins, leading the press to start asking questions about this man called Maserati, in a car he built himself, who was winning races ahead of more famous marques.
In 1922 Alfieri Maserati started to work for Diatto, also competing for the Turin racing team. In 1925 Diatto withdrew from racing for financial reasons. So, with the indispensable financial backing of Marquis Diego de Sterlich, the Maserati Brothers decided to buy ten Diatto 30 Sport chassis, opening the way to the production of the first cars to bear the Trident logo. Then, in 1926, came the Maserati Tipo 26, a development of the Diatto GP 8C, rewarding all Alfieri’s design efforts and making his dream come true.
Alfieri won several victories in the early thirties; Maserati’s first international win was at the Tripoli Grand Prix in 1930, and successes continued to arrive as the firm gradually produced a sequence of racing cars. Alfieri Maserati received the honorific title of Cavaliere del Lavoro from the Italian Government, but he died in 1932 during surgery on the only kidney left to him after a terrible accident in 1927. Even in mourning, the Maserati brothers did not give up: Bindo left Isotta Fraschini to join the family firm, becoming Chairman of Maserati and thus carrying forward the history of the Trident Marque.