This Maserati 320 S Is A One-Off Racing-Aimed Barchetta Designed By Giorgetto Giugiaro
Photography by Marco Annunziata
The undertaking of this project, which resulted in just a single example, was carried out by Maserati and Giorgetto Giugiaro’s Italdesign firm, with the technical support of Sparco and Michelin during a time of important transition for the Maserati brand.
It’s 2001 and Maserati, whose ownership passed to Fiat-Ferrari, has successfully completed all the quality and safety tests to return to selling its cars in the United States. Important sales targets are on the horizon for the new Spyder, which will be presented in September at the Frankfurt Motor Show. Designed by Giugiaro, the Spyder is equipped with a 4.2-liter Ferrari V8 engine with a transaxle transmission, and is the first Maserati to use the sequential paddle gearbox in addition to a Ferrari powertrain. It reminds many of the previous 3200 GT presented at the Paris Autoshow in 1998, also designed by Giugiaro (contrary to his famous quote, he didn’t only draw straight lines). A single-seat racing-oriented version was also planned, but never saw production. This 320 S is the extent of those plans.
I’m back at the Candini workshop in Modena, where Marcello Candini is waiting for me with this bizarre but intriguing modern classic, and happy to give me some backstory. “They thought of celebrating this moment of great importance for Maserati and its return to the United States with a racing car series, but with a limited financial situation that would not allow for the development of a whole new model, Maserati decided to transform a 3200 GT into a racing prototype, and for the concept they used the colors of the historic American Cunningham team from Cleveland that raced with the cars of the trident in the past. This is how the 320 S was born, and I believe that the project was in some way the precursor of many modern barchetta projects born in more recent years, or still in planning. For example, the Ferrari Monza and the McLaren Elva seem like similar styles.”
The Candini workshop has been working for years with American customers, and very recently they received a request from an important American collector for the complete restoration of his Maserati Ghibli SS Spyder. “The American market for Maserati has always been very important to the marque, and the trident has always received great interest and esteem there. Perhaps this is also due to the fact that Maserati was the first European brand to win twice in Indianapolis”, Marcello muses as we circle the car.
The 320 S was presented at the Geneva Motor Show in 2001 by Luca Cordero di Montezemolo, president of Ferrari S.p.A., and the idea was for a subsequent creation of a single-make championship with this car, but for various reasons, the 320 S 001 model you see in the photos remained alone, the only example of its kind. “I want to clarify that every other car on the road that can look like this is not a product created by Maserati but built by some craftsman in their own workshop,” Marcello tells me. This is the only official example.
Aesthetically, the 320 S is a 3200 GT whose had its wheelbase shortened and its passenger seats deleted, with only a small windscreen blocking the driver from the elements. Other features unique to the concept is the exposed roll-bar with an aerodynamic fairing at the rear. The central rearview mirror is reminiscent of vintage Maserati sports cars such as the 200, 300 S, and 450 S, and of course the Tipo 60/61 Birdcage.
Sparco, the leading company in the production of automotive safety components and technical apparel and gear, created much of the safety equipment, including the arched roll-bar, the quick fill nozzles for petrol on both sides of the car, the automatic fire extinguishing system, the composite bucket seat, and the six-point safety belts. Michelin made specific tires for the car, but those have long since been used up. The engine is a twin-turbocharged, all aluminum 3.2-liter 90° V8 capable of 370hp at 6250rpm, and of pushing the car to a top speed close to 300km/h—enough power and pace to paste quite a few bugs to your face I would imagine.
Candini has owned and enjoyed the car for over a decade now, but at first various localized restorations had to be carried out to get it to this state. When it arrived in the workshop, even if it was beautiful, it was not running. First of all, the electrical system was restored, then the braking system, and finally the engine was put back to healthy operating spec.
The last time Candini drove the car was at the Modena race track during the world launch of the MC20 last September. The 3200 GT that this car is based on has divided opinions as its aged, but Marcello does not hide his passion for his car’s direct lineage. “Personally, I really like the 3200 GT, for its compact four-seater shape, the elegance of the bodywork and interiors, which now make it a classic Maserati in my mind. It also has 370hp to play with, which can push it from 0 to 100km/h in five seconds—still pretty fast today. I also have an emotional connection with this car as the 3200 GT, often referred to as the model with the ‘boomerang’ lights, is the last Maserati with a Maserati engine, before switching to Ferrari-sourced engines.
“The 320 S has very similar driving characteristics of a 3200 GT, but with a lighter weight [more than 300kg lighter] and a slightly more nervous ride due to the shortening of the wheelbase and the exclusion of all traction control systems,” Marcello tells me.
“Last summer during an automotive event in Sardinia in which I participated, I had the opportunity to talk about the 320 S with Giorgetto and Fabrizio Giugiaro, who told me some anecdotes of how they decided to cut the upper pavilion and shorten the wheelbase by 200mm to make it more compact and proportionate, and they thanked me for having ‘saved’ a car that they believed lost.” Marcello is right to be proud of this comment, and he intends to keep preserving and sharing the history of this unique machine.
In the more immediate future, Marcello would like to be able to participate in the Goodwood Festival of Speed and perhaps in the Italian concourse of Pebble Beach in California someday, but for now, going for a few kilometers around Modena and spinning a few heads suits him and the car just fine.