12.07.2005 With Maserati and Alfa Romeo now forming a specific sporting-luxury group within Fiat Auto, a series of events are pointing towards an exciting and lucrative future for the two brands

With Maserati and Alfa Romeo now forming a specific sporting-luxury group within the Fiat Auto empire, a series of rumours and happenings are taking place which are pointing towards an exciting and lucrative future for the two marques.

The Pininfarina Birdcage 75th to enter limited production

Sources from within Maserati state that the stunning Pininfarina-designed, MC12 sportscar-based Maserati Birdcage 75th concept will be developed into a very limited production road-going car, a decision that was taken almost immediately the covers came off in Geneva, to instant and widespread praise.

Based on the racing-bred carbon-fibre Maserati MC 12, the striking Birdcage prototype was unveiled at the Geneva International Motor Show in March earlier this year. Designed by Pininfarina in collaboration with Motorola, the design celebrated Pininfarina’s 75 years of existence as one of the world’s leading car design companies. Sitting low, in a similar stance to the Pininfarina Ferrari Modulo from 1970, the Birdcage harks directly back to the wonderful mid-engined 1961 Maserati Tipo 63 Birdcage.

The Birdcage 75th's mid-mounted 6.0 V12 engine - producing over 700 bhp - is translated into the car’s fluid profile, exuding a clean and refreshing energetic shape. Most striking about the design is the glass cockpit, which combines the nose section and lifts up for access to the interior. This solution is very similar to that of another Italian design classic: the Bertone Corvair Testudo of 1963. Other striking details include the bluish LED headlight design, developed by Osram Opto Semiconductors. However, when the Birdcage 75th sees the light of production it is unlikely that this headlight design will be incorporated in exactly the same manner, as it does not meet legal requirements due to the lack of the appropriate optics and cover glass. Despite this, the concept headlight showcases how new design will feature high-power LEDs, set into solid blocks of aluminium in order to remove heat.

The Birdcage concept wowed the onlookers at Geneva, to the extent that it received the “Best Concept” award and was featured in the “Ten coolest concept cars” classification by Forbes. Now a fully working prototype it was recently demonstrated by Pink Floyd drummer Nick Mason and Alfa Romeo / Maserati CEO Karl-Heinz Kalfbfell - who both drove it up the famous 'hill' - during the Goodwood Festival of Speed. An introduction date in 2007 is expected.

The Birdcage as an aperitif to the next generation Maserati GT Spyder

One of the main initiatives behind the Pininfarina Birdcage concept was its role as a preview to the form-language of the new Pininfarina-designed Spyder. This new folding hardtop two-seater was initially due for launch at the Frankfurt IAA in September this year as a replacement for the current Spyder ragtop, although it might make a belated debut at the Detroit Autoshow in January instead. The new car will share similar styling characteristics with the Birdcage, such as the highly individual nose and front wing shape.

The development for the new Spyder was temporarily discontinued shortly after this year’s winter testing in Arjeplog, Sweden, with a period of consideration of redevelopment using the Premium platform.

Maserati's recent tie-up with Alfa Romeo will allow them access to the new 'Premium' platform, with could produce cost-savings which would allow both the Alfa Romeo Kamal and Maserati Kubang  GT  Wagon  to  be  given  the  go-ahead

A new low-cost Maserati sportscar is being studied by Pininfarina with a targeted retail pricing of 80,000 euros, which will fully exploit the technological synergies of the two brands, drawing on Alfa Romeo's  new  Brera  sportscar

The new folding hardtop two-seater Pininfarina-designed Maserati Spyder was due to be launched at the Frankfurt IAA

Well-informed sources have recently mentioned the preference of a Maserati-derived 4.3 litre V8 engine to be used by Alfa for their 159, Sportwagon, Brera and Spider GTA

Despite the temporary set-back in development, the second in the car’s history, an unveiling at Frankfurt may yet be achievable.

Maserati and Alfa Romeo to collaborate closely

Although the Spyder will continue to use a modified version of the M139 platform, Maserati’s future will see close collaboration with Alfa Romeo. As Fiat Chairman Luca Cordero di Montezemolo told journalists towards the end of June, a Maserati crossover is in the works with the aid of Alfa Romeo technology.

Logically this would imply the use of the Premium platform, and for Alfa Romeo this could provide the Kamal SUV project (or similar) with a clear cast future. A new low-cost Maserati sportscar is also being studied by Pininfarina with a targeted retail price of 80,000 euros, which will undoubtedly fully exploit the technological synergies of the two brands.  It is unlikely that this particular project will evolve past the drawing boards, however, with the GT Wagon project currently having superiority over funds.

Similarly, little R&D budget is available for Alfa Romeo projects, with the recently completed Alfa 159, Sportwagon, Brera and Spider models having consumed a lot of it. As a result, projects including the Alfa 147 replacement (Progetto 940) have been prolonged until income from the 159 and Brera is generated. An appearance of the Alfa Romeo 147 replacement in late 2006 is highly unlikely now.

A week ago, Maserati were actively testing prototypes at the legendary Nürburgring in Germany. These prototypes included a Quattroporte bearing a new engine, and a white GranSport fully loaded with measuring equipment. The question that arises is whether the engine lurking under the GranSport’s bonnet is fitted with Uniair to boost power from 400 bhp to somewhere in the region of 450 bhp. Using Uniair technology also improves fuel economy by around 15%.

Well-informed sources have recently mentioned the preference of a Maserati-derived 4.3 litre V8 engine by Alfa Romeo for their 159, Sportwagon, Brera and Spider GTA models. This engine - which is an evolution of the 4.244 cc GranSport unit - will be fitted with Uniair (which was recently showcased in the CRF Sportiva Latina at the Barcelona Motor Show) and will allegedly pump out 440 bhp at 7000 rpm with 505 Nm of torque. The engine has similar dimensions to Alfa’s V6 and only weighs 183 kg. With minimal modifications, open to after market tuning specialists, the Maserati V8 has the potential to deliver well over 500 bhp.  An out-bored, in-house high output variant, for use in possible future Alfa Romeo Supercars and the 169 GTA, is also under development, and will yield approximately 500 bhp.

A benefit of this V8 engine over the initial plan to use a twin turbo version of the 3.2 JTS V6 is the reduced torque (505 Nm compared to the Biturbo 3.2 V6’s asphalt-ripping 680 Nm), enabling the possibility to not only have a 6-speed automatic transmission but also manual and Selespeed options as well.  Another problem with the serial Twin Turbo 3.2 litre V6 engine, which has been actively tested under an Alfa Romeo 166 prototype, lies in the power-band, with maximum power being achieved at only 6000 rpm.

True to the Gran Turismo Allegerita tag, these high performance Alfa’s will be lightweight: the 159 GTA will have a 130 kg weight reduction. The V8-engined GTA’s will retain AWD, as the V8 engine is to be mounted transversely similar to the old Lancia Thema 8.32. Part of the weight saving objective could be achieved through using high-performance parts such as Brembo CCM (Composite Ceramic Material) brakes. These alone weigh 30% less than alternative cast iron discs, and are currently used on high performance cars such as the Ferrari F430.

Offering top end performance is a prerequisite in future Alfa Romeo’s, strongly understood by Alfa Romeo engineer Paulo Massai, who believes that future cars should offer more power than their competitors. Centro Ricerche Fiat also play a crucial role in this respect, having developed the Uniair system, as well as a high performance adaptive rear differential which will feature on the more powerful models. Another recent design, which may be used on future GTA cars, is a retractable front spoiler mounted aerodynamic barrier, offering additional braking in a method similar to that of the Mercedes-McLaren SLR. Clearly, future GTA models will surpass the 250 km/h limit imposed on their German counterparts, requiring all the stopping power available.


Related articles

Osram Opto Semiconductors today introduced its narrow bluish LED headlights that fit in the concept design of the Maserati Birdcage 75th by Pininfarina


Alfa Romeo chose the three day Goodwood 'Festival of Speed' to unleash their potent new Brera sportscar, driven by Alfa CEO Karl-Heinz Kalbfell, in anger for the first time

Additional information: Autopareri; © 2005 Interfuture Media/Italiaspeed