Exploring Barcelona’s El Born Neighborhood In A Reborn Maserati 3500 GT
Photography by Virgiliu Andone
Every now and then we are treated with the news of another stunning discovery of an almost perfectly preserved time capsule resting under a thick blanket of dust. These “barn finds” are sometimes staged to give some more gravitas to an otherwise banal story of an old car, but that’s only because the authentic instances really are that special. These true stories of automotive archaeology are almost always followed by a cherry on top, namely that underneath the dirt and detritus is a matching numbers car.
Finding one that’s stayed in one piece and in one place feels like absolute magic. You can’t put a paint meter to a story, and you can’t weld in a better one. This goes some way toward explaining why genuine barn finds command such hefty premiums given the condition, because a good story—even if said story is simply the end of a neglected history—can light up the parts of our brain in a way that production numbers and horsepower outputs can’t.
But after the “exhuming” of the car from its not-so-final resting place, these stories tend to follow a typical narrative. Wealthy person spends a lot of money obtaining the car, and then a lot of money restoring the car. Nothing wrong with that, but nothing overtly exciting about it either. Sometimes, though, the sentimental and romantic aspects of the discovery keep on going; a valiant enthusiast, who, armed with virtuous bravery and fueled by an unrelenting desire, takes on the enormity of the task of putting together the car that he simply cannot live without from whatever parts he can find. And, on top of that, he does most of the work himself.
This 1962 Maserati 3500 GT was once reduced to a pile of parts in a series of unbecoming boxes. The body was the first to be reborn, from a bare metal restoration. Then, bit by bit, the missing pieces were assembled from all around the world. Between every insignificant gasket and definitive exterior component, the splendor of this old grand tourer came back into focus. Soon enough, this Italian masterpiece found itself back on the road.
But only when you look at where these parts originally came from do you realize how much love and effort was poured into putting them all back together. In a way, this car’s second birth was very similar to its first, to what made the 3500 GT a reality in the first place. Faced with the immense task of building a street car from all but scratch, Maserati’s legendary engineer, Giulio Alfieri, looked outside of his country for solutions, just as the owner of the pictured example had to. Alfieri ended up combining the best of what Maserati could do in-house with the best that outside suppliers could offer, particularly a long list of British essential components, to complement the intrinsically Italian Weber carburetors, Marelli ignition, and that gorgeous Carrozzeria Touring body. The result became a template for many iconic British and European GT cars that followed, with many Italian greats famously adopting American powertrains.
To celebrate this car’s identity, the owner and I brought it to an area that I have been in love with for a very long time, El Born, perhaps the most vibrant of the neighborhoods comprising Barcelona’s Ciutat Vella, the old city. Normally, this would be the last place you would consider bringing a car to. It’s not that it’s a bland or dangerous or particularly speed bump laden, quite the contrary in fact. Here you find contemporary designers working from their open studios, with their doors swung wide to let in the world, including their neighbors, a mix of age-old shops that have stood for generations, avant garde cocktail bars, and fascinating antique shops.
What you won’t find here are cars. There is no space for them, and frankly, there is no point either. In normal circumstances, being on these streets behind the wheel would bring anything but driving pleasure. Plus, whatever design masterpiece (or rote econobox) you would be in would end up stuck in the masses of people whose day you would be disturbing, so there would be few chances of inciting much appreciation from anyone. Quite sensibly, the Barcelona authorities have severely restricted car access throughout the historic areas of the city. Only now, where once there was no space, there is plenty. The city, like so many around the world, has been kneecapped by this pandemic.
Everything is closed. It’s almost deserted. There is no music wafting out of the bars, no scents of the various delicacies being cooked up in the kitchens in the back, and in general there are only scant signs of life in this usually lively space. On the positive side, the spirit of the place is still somehow palpable, a sort of cultural sleeping giant, and I could think of no better catalyst for summoning some piece of it back to life than this reborn Maserati. As if by magic, there are, incredibly, some roads where it is still legal to drive down, even if you aren’t a resident.
The 3500 GT cuts an elegant profile against the softly lit walls. The cobbles almost resemble waves, and our trident-bearing vessel feels welcomed. The 3500 GT is an effortlessly pretty predator, and as we circle the wrought iron sculpture that dominates the market square it’s as if this big silver shark is hunting something—small schools of fish, automotive banality, what have you. Indeed this city has its own nautical links, and more literal ones. In the Middle Ages, this was the place where the fishermen would gather and share their catches, their gifts from Neptune.
The pleasant thrum of the straight-six is a far cry from the howl of gulls, the explosions inside the block are not as loud nor as violent as those of the canons that once bombarded this place, razing it to the ground in one of the many episodes of its tumultuous history. The car’s shining chrome sparkles as bright as the hopes of the people who rebuilt this area into the shape it is today. For this place has resilience in its genetics, picking itself up after every blow, always striving to achieve a better expression of its former self.
As the mellow afternoon slips into a darker evening, the Maserati magic is on clear display. Kids on their way home after school swarm it. A couple of toddlers sprint out straight to the car, their mums visibly chuffed by their children’s precocious display of good taste. From street sweepers to local residents who come out of their homes just to take a closer look, everyone’s happy to see something beautiful in these trying times. Every type of human is drawn to this machine. Some cars are just transcendent like that.
My friend who graciously brought the Maserati on its date—and who also helped to iron out the inevitable glitches that resulted from its home-built restoration—is stunned. He was weary of a the typically dismissive and outright anti-car reputation that this part of the city has. His company, APT Performance, is based in Barcelona, so he knows a thing or two about the area. Once again, our faith in driving tastefully was more than rewarded. People around us instinctually felt that we were connecting to this place, not just taking advantage of an unfortunate situation for some photos, but turning a challenging set of circumstances on their head. And for that, they loved what we did, as it seemed to be part of the same attitude that made this place so great so many times in history. It will survive this current trial, too, in which case we’ll be more than happy to leave the car at home and join the throngs of people on foot once again.