Maserati, the Italian sports car maker that just completed celebrating 100 years in existence, doesn’t have a museum. It once had one – a wonderful collection started by the five Maserati brothers themselves. But due to the controversial machinations of former company owner Alejandro de Tomaso, the museum is gone and the company no longer owns any of the historic models that were featured in it.
These days, an engine from its 1939-40 Indianapolis 500-winning race car seems to be the most significant piece of its history that Maserati retains; it is on display in the lobby of the company’s headquarters in Modena, Italy. (The car it was installed in, the Maserati 8CTF driven to back-to-back victories by Wilbur Shaw, resides in the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum.)
So, where can a Maserati fan go, to see the best selection of historically significant Maseratis?
“The most beautiful collection of Maseratis,” explains Giorgio Manicardi, a company stalwart since the mid-1960s and a historian of the marque, “is located outside Modena, in a barn – at a dairy farm. There are larger collections of Maseratis, but no collection as significant.”
The private Collezione Umberto Panini museum (open for public viewing via appointment) belongs to the Panini family, and it was the passion of patriarch Umberto Panini, who died a few years back. His sons carry on their father’s memory, by maintaining that wonderful Maserati Collection (as it is officially called), assorted other classic cars, motorcycles and tractors in and around the lavishly appointed converted barn.The farm also makes a very fine Parmesan cheese!
The Maserati Collection was first established by the five Maserati brothers (a sixth wasn’t part of the automotive business), who started making cars under their own name in 1926; the collection was later expanded to 17 vehicles by Omar Orsi, son of another former Maserati principal who had opened a popular public Maserati museum in Modena. The Collection currently includes 23 Maserati vehicles, which are regularly on display; another three vehicles are undergoing restoration.
“The Collection contains a number of cars of great value for Maserati, partly because of their unique nature: such as the 6CM from 1936, of which only 27 were made and which dominated European races in the ‘vetturette’ category and won the Targa Florio,” according to museum literature. “And the A6GCS Berlinetta Pininfarina, of which only four were made and which won the Mille Miglia for its category three times, with its ‘barchetta’ design.”Also, of equal importance is a 250F driven to Formula 1 victories in 1954 by Juan Manuel Fangio, a Tipo 61 Birdcage – with its exceptional frame comprised of 200 tubes in special alloy welded together for an overall frame weight of just 80 pounds, and its distinctive Drogo bodywork. There is also the 420M58 – the famed “Eldorado” used in 1958 by Stirling Moss in his battle for one of the top spots during the Monza 500 Miglia. And the enormous “Chubasco” prototype, which sadly never was approved for production.
There is quite a cliffhanger story about how Panini, who made his fortune selling stickers and collectible sports cards, acquired the Collection.
The company was on the verge of liquidating (not for the first time) in 1993, when de Tomaso decided to sell out; at risk was not only the company, but, critically, the firm’s collection of 17 rare and historically significant vehicles. Although de Tomaso sold his stake in the company to Fiat, “De Tomaso had one sting left in his tail,” according to Maserati’s official company history. He disclosed that the Maserati Collection cars, on display in the museum that Orsi had started in the early 1960s, were not included in the sale.
“It was discovered that he planned to sell them at an auction in London,” Manicardi said. “This was very unpopular, of course, in Modena. So Mr. Panini stepped forward to buy them. Ultimately, he had to pay not only a very inflated price for the cars, but also the commission to the auction company.”
“He bought the whole collection,” the company history confirms, “perhaps more for the city than for himself. But the cars stayed in Modena, where they have remained to this day.”(If any other car company has a better museum story, I’d like to hear it.)
May 1, 2015