I remember hearing the word “Maserati” when I was a kid, unaware that it referred to a car marque. I just liked the way it sounded and how it flowed over my tongue, quickly and with a staccato punch at the end. When I got a little older and realized it referred to a car, the sound of its name seemed almost perfectly synesthetic.
Of course, Maseratis numbered few when I was growing up. A great aunt of mine had a Biturbo Spyder in the late 80s, a de rigueur blocky and angular cherry red convertible. The best part about it was that she let her granddaughter—my cousin—drive it. So we’d steal away during family get togethers… la-da-di-la-di-da, listening to Crystal Waters sing about the gypsy woman, we thought we were hot.
We had no idea.
At the time, Maserati was owned by DeTomaso, and one of the Spyder’s contemporary cars was the unfortunate Chrysler TC by Maserati, a rebadged Chrysler LeBaron. I suppose we should give them a break because the 80s were the Golden Age of Badge Engineering, but still, BAD IDEA. It makes one wonder what was going through the heads at Daimler-Benz when they were acquiring Chrysler. Shortly after the TC, and plagued with the perception of expensive, low quality cars, Maserati left the US market in 1991.
By 2005, Maserati had changed hands a number of times and found themselves as part of Alfa Romeo underneath Fiat. Just prior to that in 2004 they released the very sexy 5th generation Quattroporte, which was available for purchase in the US because Maserati had returned to the market in 2002. Quattroporte means “four doors”, and simply put, the car is incredibly sexy and elegant. But at a cost of over $130,000, it’s not exactly within most people’s budgets. I lust for it from afar.
In 2009, Fiat took a 30% ownership stake in Chrysler. At the time I remember being grateful, because it appeared that the Big 3 were going to go out of business, which would be really painful to the local economy. If Fiat hadn’t come through, the US government was not going to bail Chrysler out, and the company would close. I haven’t ever owned an American car, but at the same time, I didn’t want to see them go out of business. (Maybe I’ll reconcile that for you later, although now that the American auto companies are starting to make appealing products, I might not have to explain myself.) Bonus: Fiat and Alfa Romeo might also bring their cars back to the US! Still I wondered why Fiat made the decision, and while I’m sure it’ll be the topic of some book someday, I think I know why: the Jeep Grand Cherokee.
This isn’t the first time the Grand Cherokee has done this, either. For those of you who aren’t from Michigan, or aren’t car nuts, you may not remember that there used to be another car company up until the late 1980s: American Motors. American, who brought us the cult-classic Gremlin, found itself struggling in the market due to poor reception of vehicles and a mismanaged alliance with French automaker Renault.
In 1987, Renault divested themselves of American to Chrysler, which was keen to get its hands on the forthcoming Grand Cherokee. I’m not sure if Daimler-Benz was keen to get their hands on it as well, but there are two things to consider:
- What else would Daimler-Benz get out of the deal?
- The latest M-class Mercedes (2012) shares its platform with the Grand Cherokee.
That Grand Cherokee must be something else behind closed doors. But we were talking about Maserati, right? How does any of that relate? Behold the Kubang, the first joint venture between Chrysler and Maserati since the ill-fated TC:
Skip to about 2 minutes to avoid most of the badly-chosen, cloying power-pop backing track:
So now we’ve come full circle. This Maserati will be built in Detroit on the same platform as the Jeep Grand Cherokee. It’ll feature two engines: a gas 4.7l v8 making 450HP and a 3.0l turbo-diesel making around 300HP. A Maserati SUV seems like a bit of an oxymoron, yes? I used to think SUVs were a terrible thing, and SUVs from traditionally exotic sports marques were blasphemous. After getting my own SUV due to last winter’s miserable driving weather, I’ve changed my mind. However, this isn’t the first time Maserati considered building an SUV. Kubang originally debuted as a concept car back in 2003:
Depending on the price, my dream of a diesel-powered, Detroit-built Maserati may just end up in my garage in a couple of years. Here’s to hoping.