Classic Italian cars give pleasure and a few jitters (for the owners)

There's nothing like hurling a mighty lump of Italian muscle car through a narrow set of bends on the wrong side of the road. Unless it's a 43-year-old muscle car on skinny tyres, with Antonio Scarpetta - the Maserati Ghibli's Italian owner - gesticulating wildly in the passenger seat, his only means of communication given we had no language in common.

As for me, my arms were busy wrestling the mighty car round corners; without power steering it was all I could do to drive it let alone talk, the 4.7-litre V8 engine's deep-throated roar inciting an ever-firmer pressure on the throttle pedal, the ageing suspension holding its own as I lifted off into corners then powered out, the car weaving just a tad as the speedo needle climbed before I leaned on the brakes as the next bend neared.

This was no rebuilt fashion plate, with updated brakes and dinner-plate-clean engine bay. Only the paint is new - chosen to match the 1966 Turin show-car colour, the rest original and faultlessly maintained to run, rather than look good.

One of four 1960s cars we'd drive that day, it was on loan to the press to celebrate the launch of the Classiche programme which will certify old Maseratis, produce and sell exact replicas of owner's manuals and period brochures, and which is slowly scanning every Maserati design penned, life size, to print them on period-correct paper.


Many of those documents are almost 100 years old, huge designs carefully unrolled and scanned in a controlled-humidity environment. With more than 100,000 original documents it's a mammoth task.

But back to the cars, and the 1969 Ghibli. Antonio has five classic Maseratis - they're his savings, he says.

When new, the Ghibli outsold Ferrari's Daytona and Lamborghini's Miura. Its steel body, with that long, lean shark nose and graceful lines, was penned by Giorgetto Giugiaro.

It's powered by a 250kW V8 with a five-speed manual transmission that requires decisive movement to work, and was capable of zero to 96.5km/h in 6.8 seconds and up to 248km/h.

Marcello Candini's 1967 Mistral is a smaller yet equally elegant car, with 830 coupes and 120 drop-tops built. It uses a 3.7-litre straight six twin-spark engine and that, combined with its more compact size, lighter weight and the independent front and solid rear suspension makes it easier to throw around.

Its owner runs a business fettling classic Maseratis and he's added a few minor comforts to the cabin while keeping the running gear largely standard; he drives it fairly regularly, though less since police increased random checks after press reports on tax-dodgers with pricey cars.

No such worries with the 1968 Quattroporte as it's owned by Maserati, which celebrates the model's 50th anniversary this year. The first car was a four-door grand tourer, designed to do 200km/h on motorways and fitted with a 4.1-litre, 191kW V8 engine and either a three-speed auto or five-speed manual. It has twin headlights and a 4.7-litre engine, with 500 made before production stopped in 1969.

Four journalists fitted on board in comfort with a fantastic view out from the tall windows, cruising comfortably behind the camera car as it trailed the Mistral through rural Lombardy.

Then there is the 1961 3500 GT Vignale Spider, one of only 242 cars originally built. This one was passed on to Claudio Ivaldi by his father. Its rarity frightens its owner, who is reluctant to take it out in case it's scratched. He's also worried about ham-fisted journalists, stressing the need to double declutch and paling when I forget.

But it was hard to worry when the sun gleamed, the 3.5-litre straight-six engine barked off medieval walls and purred down the highway as we headed home.