It was in 1907 that Carlo Maserati had a revolutionary idea: he would convert the electrical system of his racing Bianchi from 6 to 12 Volts. After racing for Isotta Fraschini, Carlo had moved to Bianchi, but his results with the team were not particularly good. In fact, in that year’s Coppa Florio his performance had been adversely affected by problems in his car’s ignition system, and he only finished seventh; the same thing happened at the Kaiserpreis, where he came in ninth. In view of these reliability problems, Carlo Maserati decided that the engines of the time could be improved fairly easily through a truly ingenious change: by converting their electrical systems to run on 12 Volts instead of 6.
Born in Voghera in 1881 Carlo Maserati was the eldest of the Maserati brothers. From a very early age, Carlo showed signs of having a brilliant mind, with lots of initiative and a wealth of bright ideas. His first job as an engineer was at Affori where, although still very young, he developed his first single-cylinder engine for use on bicycles. This unit was produced at Anzano del Parco by Michele Carcano for installation on a bicycle, running the wheel off it using a leather belt. Carlo started his racing career at 18 years of age; he won the Brescia-Orzinuovi race in 1899, going on to win the Padua-Bovolenta and Brescia-Cremona-Mantua-Milan events in 1900. He then became a test driver for Fiat in 1901 before joining his brother Alfieri at Isotta Fraschini in 1903. Four years later he moved to Bianchi, before spending the last few years of his life at Junior with his brother Ettore.
By changing the voltage of his Bianchi’s electrics, Carlo Maserati solved all the problems relating to failure to ignite the fuel inside the combustion chamber. This improved reliability considerably, giving better performance and more continuous power output. The switch from 6 to 12 Volts proved to be fundamental not only for car design at that time, but also for all the cars which were to follow: even today, all car electrical systems operate at 12 Volts.
Carlo was definitely one of the most mercurial of the Maserati brothers. A dynamic genius, he never seemed to settle anywhere for long. After converting his Bianchi’s electrics from 6 to 12 Volts, Carlo decided to leave for Milan, joining his brother Ettore at Junior, where he became manager in 1908. His lifestyle and his passion for engine design meant that he worked all day at Junior and then came home to work on the development of his own car, which had a wooden chassis and an engine entirely of his own design. His impetuosity and tendency to push himself too hard were amongst the reasons why he contracted tuberculosis, the disease which killed him in 1910. Carlo then found a worthy successor in his brother Alfieri, who continued along the road that led to the birth of the Maserati brand.