What is it that captivates about derelict classic cars? Is it the thrill of bringing back a rusty hunk of metal from the very edge of the scrap yard, costs be damned? If that’s the core of the public fascination with so-called barn finds, this 1961 Maserati 5000 GT may be the perfect such project car.
Today, it’s rare for a wealthy customer to not only have a hand in developing custom bodywork for a contemporary supercar, but also to help develop a whole new model altogether. But that’s exactly what happened in mid-20th-century Italy with the Maserati 5000 GT. At the time, the Shah of Iran, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, was what most of us aspire to be—a dyed-in-the-wool car enthusiast with virtually unlimited spending power. When he approached Maserati about building a car for the street that used the 5.0-liter V-8 engine from one of the brand’s 450S race cars, Maserati was only too happy to comply.
Maserati’s chief engineer at the time, Giulio Alfieri (for whom the Maserati Alfieri was named), began with a Maserati 3500 GT coupe chassis and reinforced it to be able to handle the significant increase in horsepower that it would be asked to endure. The 3500 GT normally came with a 3.5-liter straight-six engine making either 217 or 232 horsepower depending on specification, but the 5000 GT’s V-8 would produce 325 horses in early spec. By November 1959, the resulting car debuted at the Turin auto show, and buoyed by the response, Maserati decided to do a small production run for its wealthiest clientele at some $17,000 each—double the price of the 3500 GT and the equivalent of $150,000 today. At the end of production in 1965, 34 5000 GTs had been built in total and owners included American race-car builder and racer Briggs Cunningham along with Fiat boss Gianni Agnelli.
The car that RM Sotheby’s is auctioning in Monterey is the 18th 5000 GT, and was finished in July 1961. By now the V-8’s output was up to 340 horsepower courtesy of fuel injection and a very small displacement increase (still 5.0 liters when rounded), while disc brakes were fitted at all four corners. Ordered new by Ferdinando Innocenti, the wealthy founder of Lambretta scooters in Italy, this car remains the only 5000 GT to have been bodied by Ghia. Alas, by the 1970s and after spending time with various Italian owners, the 5000 GT ended up in Saudi Arabia where it was left in outdoors and gradually decayed. When its most recent owner passed, his heirs brought the car inside to save it from degrading further, and just in time: It had already been marked as abandoned by Saudi authorities (that’s the spray paint on the passenger door) and would soon have been scrapped.
According to RM Sotheby’s, the 5000 GT has some remaining sections of its original silver paint, as it originally came from Maserati, along with its unused spare tire and original pencil drawings by Ghia craftsmen on the inside of the driver’s door. With just over 15,000 kilometers (9,300 miles) on the odometer, it’s fair to say this once exotic Maserati has spent far more time sitting than being driven. As evidenced by the photos, it’s also fair to say the car will need a lot of everything from mechanical work to structural repair to cosmetic surgery, but when it’s finished the owner will no doubt be receiving invites to many of the world’s most prestigious concours events. Of course, the total outlay will likely double the pre-sale estimate of $500,000 to $700,000 by the time this Maserati sees the road again. With a possible restored value in excess of $1 million based on previous 5000 GT sales, the new owner just might come out ahead depending on how well the car is bought.