The Asphalt Jungle

An Epiphany in a Maserati GranTurismo Convertible Sport

Revisiting a feeling I’ve experienced long ago

In my career, while behind the steering wheels of automobiles of every type and color, I have experienced moments of joy too numerous to count. Usually I am alone, free to focus on the charisma of the machine and the splendor of the passing landscape as I think to myself, “This is why I love cars.”

There was the time I piloted a Lamborghini Aventador Roadster, roof off and cockpit open to the cobalt sky above, up Going-to-the-Sun Road in Montana’s Glacier National Park, the narrow two-lane wriggling against a perilous drop-off, snow-dusted mountains rising nearby and beyond, the V-12 behind me purring with muted power and primed—at the slightest touch of my right foot—to explode in mechanized fury. The week I spent driving a Dodge Challenger R/T through the American Southwest, just me and the Hemi V-8 and the rush of warm desert air as we discovered land-locked saltwater seas, endless dunes of pure white sand, and Trinity, the delivery room of the world’s first atomic bomb. The afternoon on California’s Highway 1 at the helm of Reeves Callaway’s open-cockpit C16 Speedster, fresh from its Concept Lawn debut at the 2007 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, me the first outsider to don one of the car’s two paint-matched Stand 21 helmets and take the 700-horsepower supercharged beast out for a romp, no windshield to filter the view, no motorist immune to the shock of spying the silver UFO with the exposed, helmeted alien fast approaching in the opposite lane.

All of those and more were joyous experiences, yes, but a slow burn, the kind of happiness you feel on a perfect afternoon at the beach or during an afternoon barbecue with friends and family, the steaks rare and the beers cold and the conversation warm-hearted.

But recently I drove a 2018 Maserati GranTurismo Convertible Sport. Although I cannot be certain why, I felt a shock of emotion I have felt on only a handful of occasions in my life, all of them 40 years ago. Call it what you will—bliss, rapture, an epiphany. One afternoon in the Maser, seemingly from out of nowhere, it struck me. It changed me, too.

The last time I experienced anything like it was back in college. During my sophomore year at the University of Michigan, I lived alone in a small top-floor dorm room overlooking one of the school’s sports fields with the main campus buildings beyond. I had a routine. With classes done for the day, I’d hit the dorm’s dining hall early, the better to avoid the dinner crowds and, more important, to catch the evening’s special lasagna before it congealed too much. Afterward, back in my room, I’d grind some fresh coffee beans (before the Starbucks invasion, only a few specialty stores in Ann Arbor sold them) and brew up a small carafe in my little Krups machine. Suitably energized, I’d don gloves and a down parka (it was always dark and always cold) and head back to campus for a walk in the crisp winter twilight. And on a few nights, whether it was the caffeine or the orange and ice-blue of the dusky sky or the etch of a crescent moon above or just being young and having everything in front of me, I’d feel, as I walked through the chill of the coming night, a wave of elation. Absolute peace. A contentment where I had no worries and noticed beauty all around me. I felt hard-wired to the earth, as if things were suddenly clear to me. It couldn’t last, of course, not with papers to write and exams to take and the responsibilities of adulthood soon to shoulder. But in those few precious moments on those rare winter evenings, I felt … bliss.

The car is as “digital” as an anvil. That is not a criticism. the GranTurismo’s analog essence comes through to your fingertips unfiltered and unapologetic.

the Fiat Chrysler-sourced 8.4-inch color touchscreen). The 4.7-liter naturally aspirated V-8, making 454 horsepower at 7,000 rpm, is based on the engine used in the Ferrari 360 Modena—from 1999! The gearbox is not a cutting-edge dual-clutch design but rather a gentrified six-speed automatic (it does have shift paddles, though). As if to drive home the “timelessness” of this $165,000 ragtop, to start the engine you actually have to twist a key in the ignition. To anyone who has grown up believing smartphones have always existed, the GranTurismo will seem as primordial as a Tyrannosaurus rex.

Dated, perhaps, but this sensuous Maserati is expressive and thrilling in ways that far faster, far more modern sporting automobiles simply aren’t. The car is as “digital” as an anvil. That is not a criticism. Instead, the GranTurismo’s analog essence comes through to your fingertips unfiltered and unapologetic. (The steering isn’t even electronically boosted.) The V-8, unmuted by turbos, simply howls with passion and power. Just listening to the Ferrari-sourced powerhouse for a half-hour could lift the pall from the worst of bad days.

I spent a memorable afternoon hurling the GranTurismo around my favorite mountain two-lanes in Malibu, the top folded away, the exhaust playing a 32-valve aria as I flipped the shift paddles up and down through the gearbox. For an old chassis, the GranTurismo proved remarkably solid and quiver-free—especially given the lack of a roof structure. It even sticks well, charging hard through corners despite its touring nature and 4,300 pounds. This is sports car driving the way it used to be, with no sense that computers are doing much of the work for you, the connection between you and the machine palpable and enchanting.

And then it happened. I was driving home along Pacific Coast Highway, the sun warm on my face, the ocean to my right sparkling green and blue and breaking gently on the shore. The Maserati’s V-8 was alive with the chorus of whirling valves and cams and rods, the radio playing one perfect tune after the other—Springsteen, Seger, the Stones, Warren Zevon. I expected nothing more than to savor my good fortune at being able to drive this car in the here and now. But suddenly, as if a spigot had opened inside me, I felt flooded by a euphoria I hadn’t felt since those long-ago moments out amid the Michigan winter dusk. Briefly, intensely, everything was right and at peace and I had not a care in the world. I had no thoughts of bills or deadlines or the world’s injustices or all the things I’d done wrong up to now. Once again I felt that accord with the earth, as if I understood without knowing what or why. I was so overcome I almost pulled over, but instead I kept driving, hoping the feeling would continue. It did.

When I got home, before I’d uttered a word, my wife and daughter said almost in unison, “You look different.” They could see it, and I was. In a beautiful car, I’d felt that elusive bliss I’d thought lost to a moment in time. And now I could hope that someday, if I were lucky, it might come again.

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