New Set Of Wings | Coachbuilt Maserati-Touring Sciàdipersia
There was once a time when you could create a car in any shape or size, with every flavour imaginable, and the sky was the limit. A stark contrast to today's era of mass-production, where cars are stamped and pieced together, a world where efficiency matters more than craft. Today, large variance in creativity is limited to trim levels - whether you want that bit more faux carbon-fibre, or if you're willing to pay more, for less plastic. What happened to the art?
In the early days of car-making, there were such people as coachbuilders, and they were the ones to go to if you have the wildest dreams that needs to see life. Coachbuilding is a process for creating a bespoke carriage, with unique touches made and perfected for each person. It's a tradition that has existed since the Renaissance, sometime in the 15th-century, when the wealthy and powerful wanted their horse-drawn carriages to stand out; with gold leaves, or painting their heraldic coat-of-arms.
When the power of equines were replaced by internal combustion, it was only natural that this heritage would resume in automobiles. Indeed, there were some mad creations in the early and mid-1900s, but things soon changed. In the old days, a car's body is separated from the chassis, and it was easy to take it off, and put a new one in its place. It allowed coachbuilders to dream all figures and expressions for styling.
Over time, automotive design and engineering have been constrained, to meet new regulations and standards. Cars became more complicated in its construction, and it gradually became harder to practice any excessive modifications. It has since become a lost art, and modern coachbuilding has nearly died off, with even the most tame creations worth celebrating. Some companies and their craft have survived, and among them is the legendary Milan-based, Carrozzeria Touring Superleggera.
Superlight, Super Pretty.
Formed in 1925, the company became well-known for its stunningly beautiful creations. Their specialty is in the name, Superleggera - Italian for "superlight ". By adopting techniques used in aviation, they became masters for creating gorgeous, but lightweight and aerodynamic bodies. Its creations have stretched across Europe - including the Alfa Romeo 6C and 8C; BMW 328; Aston Martin DB4, DB5 and DB6; Lancia Flaminia; the first Lamborghinis, the 350 and the subsequent 400GT; and Maseratis, including the lovely 3500GT - just to name a few.
Nevertheless, difficulties have forced the company to shut its doors in 1966, and worse of all, a fire had burned most of Touring's archives, turning its early drafts and designs into ashes. Fortunately, one of its designers has started to re-create the archives from distant memories, and after preserving the trademarks for 40 years, the company has come back with a reborn spirit.
Credits to: Petrolicious - Maserati 5000GT
Their newer creations have since captured the soul of automotive enthusiasts around the world. Their earlier projects were merely slight reworkings of Quattroportes and Continentals, though they have since stretched their wings. The first among them is the Alfa Romeo 8C-based Disco Volante, or "Flying Saucer ", which is unsurprising given Touring's long history with Alfa, and it has invoked a striking look.
Now, they have another one, and it also comes from a carmaker which has familiarised with the Touring treatment before. Clothed onto what was an already beautiful Maserati Granturismo, Touring has rebodied it into the Sciàdipersia, which translates to "Shah of Persia ", specifically the last Shah of modern-day Iran, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. Why celebrate a mid-century autocrat known for excess and oppression, you might ask.
Credits to: NetCarShow - Disco Volante
Well, the Shah's extravagance and visions has had a lasting effect in automotive heritage. One example, was the Shah's idea for creating a military vehicle for his armies, which formed the foundation of the Mercedes G-Wagen. Another involved the Maserati 3500GT. Impressed, the Shah imagined what it would be like, if it had a racing engine from the 450S. With Maserati's engineering, and Touring's Superleggera bodywork, the 5000GT was created. If you're interested to know more, then you can read @heroldius' post, right here.
Half a century later, it now has a successor to pay homage. The first ones were shown at the Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este, just by the shores of lovely Lake Como. This was an appropriate choice of venue, as the person who saved Touring's archives and trademarks, Carlo Felice Bianchi Anderloni, was also among the people who helped to bring Concorso d’Eleganza to the public eye, in itself a display of automotive beauty.
Tributes To Simpler Times.
Back to the car, this new-age Sciàdipersia comes in either Coupe and Convertible forms, and neither has even a single body-panel shared with the GranTurismo, nor the GranCabrio. Exceptions include a few parts that are integral to the car's overall structure, but otherwise, it's been built from scratch. From afar, it's hard to tell that it was even a Maserati in the first place, and it's certainly stunning to look at. It has some design touches that hark back to the 5000GT, with its chrome details, and sharp creases along the body.
The overall body invokes a sense of exoticism. Along the front, the Trident is gone, replaced with a chrome panel on the grille, and designed to mimic the wings on the Touring badge. These are flanked by seemingly small headlights, and they don't appear to emit much light. That is, until you notice the small light-bars integrated on either side of the chrome panel. Further up on the bonnet, you'll notice some vents, and not one, but two Touring logos on either side, a tribute to older cars.
The side profile is rather simple, and you'll find another vent on the front-fender to relieve built-up air pressure from the wheel arches, and topped with another set of Touring wings. You'll start to find some oddities as you move to the rear-half, where a large, aluminium panel separates the side and rear-windows. Its hand-brushed, satin finish is well contrasted by the polished chrome elsewhere, including along the window sill.
Just like the front, the rear shows off the most changes in the overall design from the Maserati donor cars. Here, you'll find another Touring badge, so that makes it five, altogether. It doesn't have a spoiler, but it has a sharp angle where the boot tapers off into the rear-fascia. This abrupt cut-off creates a Kammback, or Kammtail, which helps with aerodynamics, and it mimics to the 5000GT. Following the front, the taillights are also minimal, with a narrow light-bar going across, topped with another brushed aluminium panel.
Overall, the design of the Sciàdipersia is truly timeless and elegant, but without being garish. While I normally don't like chrome or highly-polished accents, I do think that Touring has done a great job here, and they've integrated it well with the rest of the car, helping instead to highlight its many features. It's a truly fitting successor to the original Shah of Persia, and just like the Pininfarina-designed Maserati that sits underneath, this is something that will age well over time.
It's well worth just looking at it, and even more so, when you take the time to appreciate the work that's been put into it. It's truly a marriage of modern engineering, and old-school craftsmanship. For starters, 50% of the Sciàdipersia's construction is made from carbon-fibre, a first for the company. The rest of the lightweight bodywork is made from hand-beaten aluminium. No robots are present, as Touring's workers spend 5000 hours assembling and crafting each car to perfection.
The interior is largely unchanged from the Maseratis, but there are small touches here and there. You'll find the Trident sitting proudly on the steering wheel, while the new gauge cluster with Touring's logo, serves as a kindly reminder. The leather and suede comes in more variations than what Maserati offers, and with more stitching options for your choosing. The most significant change here is the panoramic glass-roof in the Coupe, giving you a sense of airiness in the cabin.
One slightly disappointment, is that the Sciàdipersia has no significant changes to the mechanicals. However, that's no bad thing, with Maserati's Ferrari-derived, 4.7-litre naturally-aspirated V8 powering the car. It's an engine that rewards the driver with emotions, peaking at 460hp and 384lb-ft of torque, allowing it to accelerate to 60mph from standstill in 4.7 seconds, and topping out at 187mph. Not on par with modern sports cars, and their 600+hp engines, but few powerplants on Earth gives you this much excitement.
A Hopeful Future.
Overall, this hand-crafted machine is something to celebrate, as coachbuilding is truly a rare thing these days. I do have some hope that they might see a revival in the future, as we begin to experience a new era of electrification. Without large engines and transmissions to work with, some electric cars are adopting a skateboard chassis, which allows for all the componentry like the batteries and motors, to sit at the bottom.
Theoretically, this should allow the body of the car, albeit still rigidly intricate, to be more accessible for coachbuilders to play around with. An intersection of new and old times, these craftsmen are a reminder of the creativity and expression from the golden age of automobiles. Time will tell if we'll see their return. I hope you've enjoyed this, and rest assured, we'll see each other again, even in these dark times. Stay safe, and take care!