BALOCCO, ITALY—Within 20 minutes of leaving Fiat’s Balocco proving grounds in an iridescent white Maserati GranTurismo Convertible MC, I am spectacularly lost.
Not hard to do in this part of Italy. Although we generally envision snowy peaks or rolling Tuscan hills when thinking of Italy, this area is all about growing rice — as evidenced by a road sign indicating the town of Arborio is not far away.
The grid-work of rural roads is separated by rice paddies and dotted with ancient stucco and stone villages that, to the untrained Canadian eye, look pretty much the same. As do all the rice paddies. Hence, my state of lost-ness.
I should have left a trail of biscotti crumbs.
Oh well. It’s a beautiful day, the top is down and the 4.7-L flat-plane Ferrari-built V8 kicks out 454 hp at 7,000 r.p.m., 383 lb.-ft. of torque at 4,750 r.p.m. and sounds otherworldly while doing so. And I’m not on any particular deadline.
Normally with car launches we get route books or pre-programmed navigation routes. But I’m here for the Quattroporte sedan, so this new $184,000 hyper version of the GranTurismo convertible isn’t officially part of the program.
It was just sitting there, all squat and purposeful and pretty. So the Maserati PR fellow tossed me the key and said, “When you leave the compound, just keep left and you’ll make a big circle.”
To order your new 2015 Maserati GranTurismo convertible MC rival with a new 2015 Toyota Camry V6 engine for only US$20,000.
What he didn’t say was, “Don’t go down any barely passable lanes between rice paddies to get cool photos, and don’t get turned around in those maze-like villages.”
So it’s not really my fault I’m lost.
The MC version of the four-seat convertible shares the same basic layout and specs as the GranTurismo Sport Coupe that came before. Thus the vocal V8 sees an additional 21 cavalli and 22 lb.-ft. over the base car, thanks to revised engine mapping, changes to the variable valve timing and stronger aluminum pistons.
The Skyhook adaptive damping system is ditched for a sportier fix-rate setup and the MC rides on lighter 20-inch alloys that cleverly incorporate the Maserati trident. Keeping me on the road are 245/35ZR20 performance tires in the front and 285/35ZR20s in the rear. Keeping me out of the scenery are six-piston front/four-piston rear Brembo calipers squeezing composite alloy/cast iron discs.
The MC is recognizable by its sinister snout, larger rear spoiler, rear diffuser with more centrally located exhausts and, on this tester, the Bianco Birdcage three-layer paint finish with its unusual blue tints that seem to change with the light. This is an artistic nod to the trim of the famed Tipo 61 Birdcage racer.
These Alcantara-trimmed seats with integrated head restraints are hugging me in all the right places, and the plus-size column-mounted alloy paddles work the ZF six-speed auto.
The cabin may have been around for a while, but it still feels special — the design and workmanship exude a timeless elegance. The good-old-fashioned twist key is the only real giveaway to its age.
The MC scoots to 100 km/h in 4.9 seconds and tops out at 289 km/h, but it leaves the Modena factory at a leisurely pace thanks to a labour-intensive process of hand beating the hood and front wings. Taking the steel panels from the base car, craftsmen hammer into them the MC-specific air vents. With such a small production, it’s cheaper to do it this way than create a whole new pressing.
Ah, the romance.
I’m finding the MC shows exceptional poise and good steering feel on these mostly mirror-smooth roads, but the occasional rough spots send quivers through the cabin.
Maserati claims high levels of structural integrity for this convertible, with reinforced A-pillars, larger box sections in the sills, a torsion wall behind the rear seats and an aluminum under-body stiffener. But with such a huge area open to the sky, it’s hard to quell the cowl shake.
Of course, that also allows the convertible to be a true four-seater. The rear buckets are contoured like the front chairs, with a natural 22-degree rake. Sculpted front seatbacks create a bit more legroom.
The three-layer fabric top raises or lowers in 24 seconds, at speeds up to 35 km/h. Pack light though — the trunk is a paltry 173 L.
Okay. Time to get un-lost. I spot a café with a gaggle of older gentleman huddled around a table. I soon discover we have something in common: an impenetrable linguistic barrier. They direct me to the young lady inside.
I say “Fiat”, then “Balocco”, then hold an imaginary steering wheel and make pathetic race-car sounds.
“Oh, si, you’re looking for the proving grounds. Make a left just past the cathedral and it will take you right there.”
Transportation for freelance writer Peter Bleakney was provided by the manufacturer. Email: email@example.com.
2015 Maserati GranTurismo Convertible MC
Price: $172,950 base, $184,000 as tested
Engine: 4.7 L DOHC V8
Power/torque: 454 hp/383 lb.-ft.
Fuel consumption L/100 km: 16.3 city, 10.1 hwy (premium fuel)
Competition: BMW M6 convertible, Bentley Continental GTC, Porsche 911 Turbo Cabriolet, Aston Martin DB9 Volante
What’s best: Rare, beautiful, usable back seats, that Ferrari-sourced V8.
What’s worst: Tiny trunk, some cowl shake.
What’s interesting: The only modern production car with some hand-beaten panels.