The Maserati 5000 GT sports car was a car that was built for that extra special customer, not just for anyone who walked in the showroom. One writer termed it “the fit for a King,” and it was appropriate he did so because the Shah of Persia, was the first one to put in an order. Maserati was seemingly at their high point in ’57 for winning the Formula One World Championship. It would have been better if they had World Sportscar Championship that same year but at the Venezuelan GP, three of their cars crashed. What hurt more was that two of the 450S race cars that crashed were already sold beforehand, so they had to build them all over again. Even though they had a competitive engine, the FIA then threw them for a loop by reducing the maximum engine size for the World Sportscar Championship entries to 3-liters. Maserati was bowled over as they had been counting on the 450S and had a lot of 5-liter blocks sitting around…
Plus Maserati had allowed the Argentinian government to float their expenses and after Peron’s regime fell, there was no chance they would be paid back, so they withdrew from racing entirely. But still out the back door supported ‘privateers’.
Finally they recovered with a mass produced car, the 3500GT, and the inflow of cash from Omer Orsi, of the family that owned the firm. Enter the Shah as savior. ‘Reza Khan Pahlavi, the Shah of Persia was impressed with the performance of the 3500 GT after being taken for a drive by Maserati’s test driver Guerino Bertocchi and asked to be guided around the plant during a visit to Livorno in 1958. During the tour, he had seen the flyers for retired 450S cars and asked if the engine could be used in a road car.
So it was Maserati began to design a road car with that 450S engine. That model became known as the 5000GT ‘Shah of Persia’ car. Only his had a certain body style but of the several Tipo 103 cars made there was a variety of coachbuilders. The chief engineer, Giulio Alfieri decided that it was better to take a road car like the 3500GT and modify the chassis for the bigger engine than to try to make the 450S chassis a road car chassis.
After the Shah took delivery of his 5000 GT (#103.002) in Teheran, Maserati built a second car of the same style (#103.004), and displayed it at the Salone di Torino, as seen below. This car was purchased by Basil Read, a South African businessman and owner of the Kyalami race circuit.
They tried to make the road cars as exciting as the race car by delivering a full racing engine, the same as the 450S, tamed down with only a reduction in compression ratio from 9.5:1 to 8.5:1 and a slightly larger bore (93.8 mm to 98.5 mm), resulting in an engine capacity of 4935 cc against 4477.9 cc for the 450S. That brought the output down from 400 bhp @ 7200 rpm to a more livable 340 bhp @ 5500 rpm. But the ones made after that had tamer engines so you could live with them on the street.
The engine’s bore was decreased by 4.5 mm to 94 mm and its stroke increased by 8 mm to 89 mm giving the engine a capacity of 4941.1 cc. The troublesome four twin-choke 45 IDM Weber carburettors were replaced by a Lucas indirect fuel injection system. The gear-driven overhead camshaft system was replaced by a quieter and simpler chain system. The result was a decrease in power to 325 bhp @ 5800 rpm.
They were successful in selling these more or less custom built cars to the rich and famous, such as he Aga Khan, Italian industrialist (whose family owned Fiat) Giovanni Agnelli, and American multimillionaire sportsman and LeMans competitor Briggs Cunningham, not to mention President Adolfo Lopez Mateos of Mexico from 1958 to 1964.
The coachbuilders varied—the predominant one, with 22 out of a total production of 34 cars was Allemano. His 5000 GT was very conservative. Other coachbuilders were Touring (3), Frua (3), Monterosa (2), Pinin Farina (1), Ghia (1), Michelotti (1) and Bertone (1).
The first Allemano bodied 5000 GT, designed by Giovanni Michelotti, broke cover at the Turin Motor Show in 1961. It was called the ‘Indianapolis’ in honor of Maserati’s victories at the brickyard in 1939 and 1940. This car is important as it was the basis for the ‘production’ 5000 GTs.
How fast was the 5000GT? Very fast for a production car. Hans Tanner, a reporter driven by Maserati test driver, Guerino Bertocchi, reported timing a top speed first at 168 mph and another at 172.4 mph!
As the author of the series called Incredible Barn Finds, I am interested in finding out the reason why G. Agnelli ordered a 5000GT with Pininfarina coachwork identical to that he also ordered on a Ferrari 400SA. Was he testing one coachbuilder’s prowess compared to the other? Anybody with a clue can reach me at [email protected]
The Author: Wallace Wyss is the author of “Way Beyond Barn Finds The Story Behind Smokey Yunick’s Boss Mustang” and “49 other Entertaining True Tales From the World of Rare and Exotic Car Collecting” (Enthusiast Books, Hudson, WI)