Maserati Mistral & Boat ‘This Maserati Mistral and San Marco raceboat share links forged over decades – after Maserati’s trident was reclaimed by the waves’ Classic GT meets ’60s speedboat. Maserati: on land and water. Intertwining histories of the Mistral and the racing boat it sired. This Maserati Mistral and San Marco raceboat share links forged over decades – after Maserati’s trident was reclaimed by the waves. Words Gerald Guetat. Photography Henri Thibault.
RULING ROAD AND WATER
The date? October 1963. The place? Segrate, a suburb of Milan. Wild economic growth during that decade’s economic boom had pushed back the limits of the surrounding countryside in a chaotic manner. Not far away lay the liquid strip of Idroscalo, the vast artificial lake planned in the days of Mussolini a few kilometres from the centre of the Lombardy capital, at a time when it was thought that seaplanes embodied the future of commercial aviation. There, a few years before, the Venetian powerboat champion Oscar Scarpa had set up his San Marco boatyard to win the hearts and wallets of the Milanese elite.
One day, a young boy named Dody Jost accompanied his father to find a replacement part for their San Marco Appia Zagato boat. One of the shipyard’s more unusual features was its close ties with the automobile industry. Near the premises’ main entrance, a small team was working under the crane, watched by the Bemocchi brothers, two very sporting clients. Before them, suspended from slings, swung a newly delivered six-cylinder Maserati 3500GTI engine, descending majestically into the finished mahogany hull of a two-seater racing runabout. Mario and Michele Bernocchi, of the same name as the textile manufacturer, belonged to a family that had been among the most prominent of Milan bourgeoisie for several generations. They already owned several boats that had been built here. During this period, for the assiduous powerboat-racing gentry and connoisseurs, nothing could beat owning a San Marco: it was sleek, elegant, beautifully designed, highly expensive and much more sporting than a luxurious Riva.
‘In the San Marco runabout the Maserati engine is flexible and powerful yet gentle to use -just as it is on the road’
Oscar Scarpa was a veteran of Maserati. He was so well known and appreciated in the company’s Modena factory that he was able to order even the most valuable engine by making a simple phone call. He and his raceboats held no fewer than 35 world records; some of the most prestigious were taken with 450S V8s, entrusted to the care of the reparto corsa wizard of the factory, Guerrino Bertocchi. For young Dody Jost the vision of the brand new 3500GTI, with its six inlet pipes as shiny as brass musical instruments, would forever mark his memory; he pestered his father during the drive back to the family home, an extraordinary motel called the Nautilus, built directly on the shoreline of Lake Como and boasting its own private dock. A subtle network of relationships began to develop that very morning.
The Bemocchis’ choice of a Maserati six-cylinder for their boat was a wise one. Whether on the water or on the road, the Trident marque was particularly appreciated by a certain clientele of gentleman drivers as committed to performance as they were to comfort and elegance. In the early 1960s the Maserati name possessed great international prestige. The 3500’s GT qualities combined with plentiful torque for everyday motoring were preferred by many to the flamboyance and high revs of Maranello’s products. For more than ten years the Orsi brothers had entrusted the firm’s engineering direction to Giulio Alfieri, and he had become the very soul of Maserati. He was responsible, in particular, for the development of the famous 2.0-litre straight-six that, when increased to 2.5 litres, had enabled Juan Manuel Fangio to win the 1957 Formula 1 title driving the 250F single-seater.
In the same vein, Alfieri’s wonderful 1955 350S Corsa with double overhead camshafts had served as a model for the tipo 101 and its variants that equipped all 3500 to 4000cc six-cylinder Maseratis, from the 3500GT to the Mistral. Alfieri also created the impressive 450S that would later power all the production models from the Ghibli V8 through to the Indy, Bora and Khamsin. In addition, he was the father of the famous ‘Birdcage’ and an early adopter of fuel injection in production cars with the 3500GTI of 1961. As passionate as he was discreet, the ingegnere was a true petrolhead for whom high-end engine development for competition made sense only if it benefited production models as well.
The correlation between racetrack and road was dear to Alfieri, who was passionate about creating the true gran turismo. He would tell his family and colleagues: ‘With one of my cars, I can leave the Modena factory early morning, arrive in Paris late in the afternoon and have time to take a good shower at the hotel before going out to dinner without being tired… None of my competitors’ models can do the same thing.’
And he had reason to be proud, when the shortlist of rivals included names like Ferrari, Aston Martin and Jaguar. In 1963, a Maserati coupe was at least as expensive as the models of its prestigious competitors but offered the superior comfort and performance of a true grand tourer. Therefore, to get from Modena to Paris the fast and easy way, on a motorway network still in its infancy and in an even better driving environment than at the wheel of a 3500GT, Alfieri entrusted Pietro Frua with the task of designing a new, modem body.
The Berlina 2 Posti made its appearance at the 1963 Turin Motor Show.
It was noted for its large windows and light, spacious cabin, with a luggage area accessible directly through a substantial hatch. One could now enjoy travelling with Madame at high speed without forsaking all the creature comforts and abandoning one’s personal elegance – all thanks to the generous space within.
Maserati had risen perfectly to the challenge of the gran turismo lifestyle.
The model, which had yet to bear the name Mistral, had no radiator grille: its air intakes were located below the bumper. Beneath the light alloy body, the chassis (made by Maggiora in Turin) consisted of square- section tubes with a wheelbase of 2.40m, a few centimetres shorter than the Sebring’s and the Spider Vignale’s. It employed the multi-tubular construction originally seen on the Birdcage.
At the suggestion of French Maserati importer Colonel John Simone, the Berlins 2 Posti took the name of a southern wind, the Mistral, beginning a tradition unique to the brand’s two-seaters – the 2+2s carried famous circuit names. Under the hood was the injected six- cylinder, increased to 3.7 litres with a 245bhp output. Contemporary documents stated: ‘The dual ignition and indirect fuel injection provide power, smoothness and exceptional economy.’
Experience since has proven the Lucas mechanical fuel injection to be difficult to adjust and, while effective in competition, it was not well suited to a production car. Many owners have installed carburettors instead, particularly in America. However, tested by Italian magazine Quattroruote, the Maserati was clocked at 227km/h (142mph) and hit 60mph from rest in 6.8 seconds.
With such an engine, how could the Mistral fail to catch the attention of young Dody Jost, a boy already impassioned by cars and boats? And here’s where fate brought about an unexpected encounter. In 1964 a friend of Dody’s father, a famous Milanese jeweller, bought a sumptuous Mistral in unique mouse grey with cognac leather trim. Just like Giulio Alfieri, the man intended to travel regularly to Paris – but carrying precious jewels, for which he had the bodymaker incorporate a small, secret safe under the thick carpet behind the driver’s seat. However, health issues ruined those plans and the new Mistral entered the garage at the Nautilus, much to the delight of Dody, who was waiting impatiently until he could take his driving test. Meanwhile, since his San Marco boatyard visit, the Maserati-powered runabout (launched in 1964) had not been idle. Mario Bernocchi had won several important circuit races on the water, setting lap records that included one in Angera, near Lake Maggiore, at an average of more than a 75km/h. He was crowned European runabout champion in Class 3 limited to 4500cc.
While invisible to those concerned, links were becoming more defined year by year. After the death of Mario Bernocchi, his brother Michele, also a multiple race winner, continued to maintain the boat in a state of near-perfection. He in turn introduced his own son to the joys of powerboat racing, especially during the great classic Pavia-Venice race that had been founded in 1929 – a kind of Mille Miglia along the river Po, down to the famous Piazza San Marco waterfront in Venice.
As time passed, friendships were formed and strengthened. Michele Bernocchi and Dody Jost – who inherited the beautiful mouse grey Mistral – became the best of friends. They carefully maintained their machines, and continued to share the joys of fast rides, whether on the road or on the ‘liquid track’ – a term coined by Michele in the 1960s. Yet, shortly afterwards, Michele – the second of the Bernocchi brothers – died as well. And so, in the tradition of passing on knowledge and the sharing of great moments between father and child, Marco, his son, decided to maintain the memory.
Today, the glistening Mistral and the roaring San Marco Maserati find themselves side by side, still at the Nautilus, for ‘gentlemen’s’ driving sessions. So many shared memories, woven invisibly for almost 50 years – and what a vibrant homage to the man who made all this possible, the ingegnere Alfieri.
SIDE BY SIDE CAR vs. BOAT
Settled behind the wheel of the Maserati, you immediately feel comfortable in the elegant, understated and very bright interior. The welded frame gives good rigidity, while the rear suspension is a little firm; something you soon realise when travelling over poor surfaces, especially at the rear with its semi-elliptic leaf springs and rigid Salisbury axle. The Mistral is easy to drive and delivers few unpleasant surprises – until it’s really pushed to the limits. You have to remember that, thanks to rear-wheel drive and 275lb ft of torque, there is a tendency to oversteer very quickly.
However, in ‘touring’ rather than ‘sporting’ conditions, there’s really nothing to fear; the Mistral knows how to reassure its driver. The four disc brakes are effective, even if the car cannot completely hide its age, while the inline six-cylinder is a performance legacy from Fangio’s 250F. Its long stroke means it delivers the best results under 5000rpm. Power and torque combine to give excellent flexibility, and you can have tremendous fun playing with the short ZF five-speed gearstick.
The Mistral is well suited to long-distance motorway trips, and for a 50-year-old car it has a high degree of insulation from noise and the elements. Wind rush is greatly reduced, and no-one should complain about listening to the raucous sound of the six-cylinder at high speeds after spending a gratifying time spooling up through the revs.
Ineffective wipers are but a minor weak spot; in conditions more appropriate to a grand tourer, the car is an absolute pleasure to drive, with its 142mph top speed and 0-60mph time of less than seven seconds.
Boasting the same engine as the Mistral, the San Marco racing runabout feels equally powerful and torquey but sounds even better thanks to the more direct water-cooled exhaust. The straight-six is located just behind the driver, and its closer proximity than in the car is evident in its louder noise and increased vibration. The simple cockpit features traditional English-inspired 1960s instrumentation.
On the water, you can go flat-out without fear of destroying tyres or clutch. With its V-drive transmission and the propeller at a 15° angle, this sporty runabout and European champion is built for speed. Such power and thrust mean you literally take off, reaching hydroplaning speed in seconds – but it requires a lot of concentration to stay on course as the boat powers effortlessly towards its top speed.
This type of hull – virtually flat with a very slight V in the front – tends to bob up and down tirelessly, porpoise-like and in a straight line if there is little or no chop. Otherwise, the boat will ‘tap’ hard on the waves and it is necessary to reduce the throttle. Bends should be taken wide, as the hull isn’t designed to cling to the surface. The result is long, controlled slides and large sprays of wash, in the style of all motor boats of the period. You can have great fun making turns and playing with the acceleration, superbly delivered by the Maserati engine that is both flexible and powerful yet gentle to use – just as it is on the road.
TECHNICAL DATA FILE SPECIFICATIONS 1964 MASERATI MISTRAL
ENGINE 3694cc straight-six, DOHC, twin-spark, Lucas fuel injection
MAX POWER 245bhp @ 5800rpm
MAX TORQUE 275lb ft @ 4000rpm
TRANSMISSION Five-speed manual, rear-wheel drive
STEERING Recirculating ball
SUSPENSION Front: double wishbones, coil springs, telescopic-dampers, anti-roll bar. Rear: live axle, leaf springs, telescopic-dampers, anti-roll bar
WEIGHT 1430 kg
PERFORMANCE Top speed 142mph. 0-60mph 6.8sec
TECHNICAL DATA FILE SPECIFICATIONS 1963/1964 SAN MARCO RUNABOUT
ENGINE Maserati 3500GTI tipo 106 with Lucas injection
MAX POWER 290bhp @ 5600rpm
MAX TORQUE 299lb ft @ 3900rpm
DESIGNER/BUILDER Oscar Scarpa, Cantiere San Marco, Segrate (Milan)
HULL CONSTRUCTION Laminated and mahogany plywood on members
DRIVER Mario Bernocchi, European champion runabout class 3 – 1964
PRODUCTION One with this engine
PERFORMANCE Top speed 57mph
From above left Finished in glorious mahogany in the style of the period, the 1960s runabout used its Maserati engine to superb effect. A young Mario and Michele Bernocchi competed with great success; today, the craft remains a perfect tribute to the brothers’ memory. Above and right Maserati’s definition of a true GT: an airy, comfortable cabin for long distances. Launched in the same year, the Mistral and the San Marco raceboat – a European class champion – share the six-cylinder engine developed for Fangio’s 250F Grand Prix car.