Cars

The Story Behind the Best-Looking Car of the Year

How the Maserati MC20 came to look the way it does.
IMAGE Maserati
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A lot of car brands like to tell you somewhat dubiously that racing is in their DNA, but in Maserati’s case it’s pretty accurate.

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Of the six Maserati brothers, the eldest, Carlo, was making and racing motorbikes as far back as 1898.

Four more, led by Alfieri, became racing drivers and car engineers, while even the odd one out — Mario, an artist — designed the famous trident Maserati logo for the family firm which became one of the great race teams of the Forties and Fifties.

And yet, fast-forwarding past the slightly sketchy Eighties and Nineties to today, as Maserati diversifies as a luxury car brand making saloons and SUVs and has ambitious plans to add several more in the future, there was one thing missing in its line-up: a proper sports car.

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Which goes some way to explaining why the teased and delayed MC20 has become one of the more hotly anticipated unveilings of the last few years.

Even Maserati is calling it a must-make car. It’s also why, as the covers came off it this autumn, everyone who has a soft spot for Maserati may have been forgiven for performing a little internal round of applause.

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Photo by Maserati.
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Because this is a serious machine. The MC, for Maserati Corse, signals its intrinsic racing credentials. The 20 represents the year it was created, just like Maserati’s first ever car, the Tipo 26.

The new 630bhp twin-turbo 'Nettuno' V6 engine, developed from F1 technology at Maserati’s Innovation Lab in Modena, sits behind the driver.

The carbon-fiber monocoque is engineered with race chassis experts Dallara. It’s fair to say expectations have been exceeded even before you come to its looks.

Because aside from speed, Maserati’s most prominent genetic trait is style.

A simpler, more understated approach perhaps than its long-time local rival and younger upstart Ferrari, with whom its turbulent relationship would make a good Netflix mini-series.

Their racing rivalry was once so fierce they could only refer to each other as “that lot down the road” and off-track they battled it out as makers of some of the world’s most beautiful cars.

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How did Maserati approach designing its first super-sportscar in an already pretty crowded playing field?

“It sounds contradictory but what we did to stand out was to reduce unnecessary elements,” says chief designer Klaus Busse.

“I don’t think this car needs to scream to everyone, ‘Hey, look at me, see what I can do’. By sheer proportions, you know that this car is serious.”

Photo by Maserati.
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One specific inspiration came via a stone-cold classic from Maserati’s history, the 1954A6GCS.

“It has this very pure fuselage and these free-hanging exhaust pipes on the driver’s side that almost look like an afterthought,” says Busse. This contrast between the upper and lower levels became a blueprint for the MC20. “While we remain hand-sculpted and super pure up here, on the lower part it’s almost raw, almost engineering driven.”

The clean-lined bodywork is offset by three scene-stealing features. Firstly, those “super-characterful”, three-spoke wheels based on a similar design from the Birdcage 75th concept car by Pininfarina.

Then, at the rear, an abstract interpretation of the Maserati trident badge doubles as additional cooling for the engine cover.“It’s big but subtle, you only see it on second sight,” says Busse. “For me it’s hands-down the coolest emblem in the industry.”

Finally, the doors: “We wanted the owner to feel special every time they enter and exit. Nothing is more special than these butterfly doors.”

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Inside, the decluttering theme continues. The onus has been on moving things out of the way, so it doesn’t feel cramped, helped further by a slightly higher roof line than normal.

Busse also estimates 90 percent of the car’s switches are on the steering wheel for a cabin that promotes “hands on the wheel, eyes on the road”.

At the front, a smaller, neater grille than might have been expected echoes the 2004 MC12. “We are born in racing, so this car goes back to the roots of Maserati and also represents a new era,” says Busse. “From a design point of view, you’re looking at the future face of Maserati.” It’s a future that will include both a convertible and electric version, as well as a new mid-size SUV and brand new Quattroporte and GranTurismo models.

In a strange way, without Ferrari this car may never have come to pass. When they were both part of the Fiat Group, Ferrari’s pre-eminent status somewhat stalled Maserati’s potential. Now that Ferrari is independent once again, Maserati’s car-making confidence has returned. Perhaps after all these years, this long-running rivalry has more left in the tank.

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Overall, the MC20 is a car that won’t fail to garner attention and maybe a little surprise too. “I want people to be positively surprised,” says Busse. “About what we’ve done as a team to create this overall package. I hope people realize, ‘Oh wow, they really went all in’.”

This story originally appeared on Esquire.co.uk. Minor edits have been made by the Esquiremag.ph editors.

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Will Hersey
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