Years ago, the Italian design houses--Pininfarina, Ghia, Bertone, Zagato, et al--stole auto shows with audacious concept cars. In the past 20 years, however, their creativity has waned, and we haven't seen many showstoppers from them. That changed at Geneva this year with Pininfarina's Maserati Birdcage, built to celebrate the great Torinese design house's 75th anniversary. True, it harks back to the wonderful Ferrari Modulo from 1970--and supposedly takes inspiration from the mid-engined 1961 Maserati Tipo 63 Birdcage--but this was the best looking and most radical supercar we have seen since the Audi Avus.
The basis of the Birdcage is the Maserati MC12's carbon-fiber chassis and 700-plus-hp, 6.0-liter V-12 engine. The radical bodywork has a combined cockpit and nose that open up and forward, just like the Modulo's. Inside, there is a heads-up display that doubles as the instrument panel, supported by a triangular structure that recalls the multi-tube frame rails of the Birdcage Maseratis. Pininfarina spent plenty of time blathering on about the seamless driver-car interfaces that it had developed with Motorola, but we were wowed by the way the car looked. It was exquisitely detailed, too, down to twenty-inch front and 22-inch rear wheels that had the Maserati motif cast into them. It also made the "production" MC12, not so far away in the Palexpo halls, look clunky and ugly.