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1959 Maserati 3500 GT Spyder Prototype by Vignale

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1959 Maserati 3500 GT Spyder Prototype by Vignale
Sold for $1,072,500 Including Commission
RM Auction, Monterey, CA. 2014
Chassis no. AM101.678
220 bhp, 3,485 cc DOHC inline six-cylinder engine with triple Weber 42 DCOE carburetors, four-speed manual gearbox, independent front suspension with coil springs, live rear axle with semi-elliptic leaf springs and tubular shock absorbers, and four-wheel drum brakes. Wheelbase: 100 in.
•One of a believed three Vignale-bodied prototypes; arguably the most elaborate
•Delivered new to renowned sportsman Lindsey Hopkins
•Reported to have a matching-numbers drivetrain
•Subject of a nut-and-bolt restoration
•Documented by original Maserati factory delivery paperwork
When it was introduced in March 1957 at the Geneva Motor Show, the Maserati 3500 GT Coupe was the marque’s big hope for the future. Maserati was primarily known through the 1950s for their competition successes and fielding some of the day’s most potent engine and chassis combinations, but it had spread itself thin, to the point of near insolvency, by the end of the decade, with entries in three different sports car classes as well as Formula One racing. A fundamental lack of financing badly hampered each of these pursuits, and despite the immense potential of racing sports cars, like the four-cylinder 250S and the V-8-equipped 450S, it was the six-cylinder 300S that became the marque’s most consistent competition performer, consequently absorbing most of the engineering team’s attention.
With the cancellation of its major racing programs just over the horizon, Maserati needed a production car that could catapult the company to solvency, and it found its proven straight-six engine the most suitable for serial production. Although prior models like the A6GCS/53 and A6G2000 GT were beloved by the Modena faithful, their hand-built construction and low production volume undermined any potential for profit. The 3500 GT addressed these concerns with an extension of the competition inline six-cylinder motor, which was now reworked to displace 3.5 liters and was tuned with a modified camshaft, a design based on the 350S. With elegant coupe coachwork by Touring, the 3500 GT went on to be the company’s biggest commercial success to date, eventually producing an impressive quantity of almost 2,000 examples over eight years.
From the inception of the 3500 GT, Maserati intended to create a spyder version, but as was often the case with Italy’s boutique automakers of the time, considerations of capacity and choice of carrozzeriere were always challenging issues. During 1957 and 1958, Frua and Touring individually bodied at least three of the early 3500 GT Spyders, but Maserati was clearly not convinced by any of these designs. By 1959, the marque selected for production was a variation on the three that had been posed by Vignale, which officially debuted at the Turin Motor Show later that year. The Vignale Spyders were constructed on a slightly shorter wheelbase than the coupes, and they soon became the premium open Italian sports cars of their day, rivaling Ferrari’s 250 GT Cabriolets as the most elegant and exclusive sporting convertibles on the road. Just 242 examples of the luxurious Vignale Spyder were eventually produced, adding a degree of rarity to their distinctive style.
Chassis 101.678 is approximately the tenth open 3500 GT built, and it is one of as few as three prototypes built by Vignale as they searched for the perfect combination of styling cues. Physically, this car differs from the forthcoming production version in its side trim, principally with the angular semi-sweep-spear design that starts towards the front fender’s crest, carries through the door, and then commences with a mesh outlet similar to the front grille, which itself was uniquely extravagant, with its hint of Dual Ghia side grilles. This exquisite brightwork is among many features that serve to distinguish this prototype from the short center-placed vents later seen on the production Vignale Spyders.
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