Motor Valley Stories
Ernesto Maserati: The racer-engineer behind the Trident
Within the bounds of the automotive industry, there are certain names that instantly spark a sense of prestige and passion. Maserati is, without question, one of these, famous not only for its luxury cars and supreme sports performance, but for its fascinating history too.
The brand’s roots are intrinsically bound to one key figure, Ernesto Maserati: one of the founding members of the company and an indisputable genius in automotive engineering.
The beginnings of an icon
Ernesto Maserati was born on 4 August 1898 in Voghera into a family with a deeply anchored passion for engines and racing. His father, Rodolfo Maserati, was a bike manufacturer and engineer. And so Rodolfo’s five sons, Carlo, Bindo, Alfieri, Ettore and Ernesto, lived and breathed motor vehicles from a young age, so much so that they went on to play a key role in the creation of the Maserati brand.
The creation of Maserati
Ernesto Maserati’s career began at his father’s bicycle company. The turning point came when it joined with then-luxury car manufacturer Diatto. Here, Ernesto accrued invaluable skills in automotive engineering and engine performance.
In 1914, Ernesto, Ettore and Alfieri founded the “Società Anonima Officine Alfieri Maserati” in Bologna. This signalled the start of an extraordinary adventure in the automotive sector: the company initially started out as a car repair workshop and garage, but soon moved onto developing engines on behalf of third parties. And the rest, as they say, is history!
The Golden Age of racing
During the second half of the 1920s, Ernesto Maserati began to really nurture his ambition of becoming a big name in the racing world, regularly training in the hills of Pistoia with his brother Alfieri. Testament to his smooth, prudent riding style, Ernesto won two Italian titles (in 1927 and 1930). In 1931, he took part in the French GP with a Maserati 26M together with Luigi Fagioli, but was forced to drop out after 45 laps due to problems with the brakes.
His experience on the track proved to be crucial to the success of the brand, as over the course of the 1920s, the rest of the Maserati clan began to compete in races as a means of showing off their technical ingenuity.
In 1932, the Maserati family suffered a grave loss with the premature death of Alfieri Maserati. Despite the tragedy, Ernesto abandoned his career as a racing driver and, together with his brothers, set about continuing their legacy. During the 1930s, Maserati started producing top-of-the-range race and road cars, such as the Maserati 8C 2500 launched in 1939: a car that quickly shot to icon status and helped consolidate the company’s stature as a luxury car manufacturer.Maserati’s victories on the track came almost instantaneously. In France, Giuseppe Campari brought home the brand’s first triumph in one of the Grandes Épreuves; Tazio Nuvolari won the Belgian GP, despite being in the last row; and American driver Whitney Straight became the first non-European to win a renowned race for the Emilian brand at Brooklands.
But the goalposts shifted in 1934, when German brands Auto Union and Mercedes arrived on the scene. In 1937, this disturbance pushed Ernesto and his brothers to leave their brainchild in the hands of Modena-born entrepreneur Adolfo Orsi. Free from the burden of managing a business, the Maserati brothers remained at the company for another ten years, where they designed, amongst other models, the legendary 8CTF: the first Italian car to win the prestigious Indianapolis 500 (1939 and 1940).
The end of an era
Despite leaving the company in 1947, Ernesto Maserati did not say goodbye to the automotive world. After parting ways with Maserati, he founded OSCA (Officine Specializzate Costruzione Automobili) with his sons, where he continued to produce competitive racing cars, pursuing his greatest passion right up until his death in 1975.