How one of the richest men in the world was responsible for a superb and very rare car
During the mid to late 1950s Maserati had worked on a racing car, the 450S, which was meant as a foray into larger engined cars. It met with a mixture of successes and failures; more of the latter; but out of it came a very powerful 4.5 litre V8 engine. The company's engineers were scratching their heads and wondering just what to do with it.
In 1958 the fabulously wealthy Shah of Iran, who had a priceless collection of cars already, decided that he wanted to add a very exclusive Maserati to it. He visited the factory and talked to the engineers who tried to interest him in the 3500 GT but being a very important Shah he wanted something much more exclusive. It was agreed that they would take the engine from the 450 S, increase it's capacity to 4.9 litres, and build a unique car around it.
The modified engine was fitted into a 3500 GT chassis and then the Italian coach building company of Carrozzeria Touring Superleggera created an aluminium bodied two seater coupe. The car had to, of course, look completely different to the 3500; Carlo Anderloni, Toring's designer, based the styling on what he viewed as Persian Architecture. The car, hardly surprisingly, was called 'the Shah of Iran'.
This was not a bad deal for Maserati. They had created virtually a new model completely, with the Shah very generously paying most of the development costs!
The completed car was subsequently shipped out to the Shah but word soon got around that there was a new and very powerful car on the block! Maserati started to receive enquiries from some of the most wealthy people on earth who felt that if the Shah of Iran could have a car like this then they deserved one, too. Every one of course had to be unique which was not a problem amongst people who had money to burn and there was no shortage of design companies in Italy who could put together exclusive bodies for them.
The engine capacity was increased to 5 litres and the 500GT, as it was then labelled, soon became known as the supercar for superstars with no less than film actor Stuart Grainger, entrepreneur and yachtsman Briggs Cunningham, King Saud of Saudi Arabia, president of Mexico Adolfo Lopez Mateos and religious leader the Aga Khan all becoming proud owners. The purple 500GT that this latter gentleman bought was eventually sold in 2007 for a price in excess of US$1 million, with the 45 rpm dash mounted record player thrown in.
Between 1959 and 1966 approximately 34 of these very exclusive – and extremely expensive – cars were sold.