ULTIMATE BARN FIND: MYSTERY MASERATI A6G
In 2015, the Maserati A6G Frua Coupe from the Baillon collection ventured back into the public gaze after 55 years. Chassis #2140 emerged from its slumber in France (where it shared a garage with the ex-Alain Delon Ferrari 250 GT California Spyder) in the most incredible patinated condition, from blistered remains of black paint revealing the gently oxidizing aluminium body beneath, to the threadbare carpets and moth-eaten (or worse) interior. Yet the car was complete and basically sound. This was a genuine timewarp and the barn find we all dream of discovering.
However, even before the car came to auction via Artcurial at Rétromobile, the discussion had started. To restore, or not to restore? The preservation of historical artefacts is a responsibility that all restorers have, whether it be paintings, sculptures, buildings, or cars. Yet the real preservation of the latter is a relatively new phenomenon. Until quite recently, restoration was the name of the game. Not that diligent restorers were oblivious to the need to retain originality, it’s just that the accepted wisdom was that, once a car’s condition dropped below a certain point, it was time to restore it. This is still the right approach for most cars, which will have lost the majority of their original elements over the years anyway. However, for the few that haven’t, there has been a change in attitude. Originality is now valued more highly than condition and some important cars are being preserved ‘in their juices’ (or ‘dans leur jus’ as they might say at Artcurial).
The new American owner of #2140 certainly subscribed to this point of view and, having successfully bid for the car at auction, took it back to California where it was gently recommissioned before being exhibited at Pebble Beach in 2016 in the new ‘Preservation’ class.
For me, the emergence of this car was another significant part of a jigsaw I had been trying to put together for some years. I was as excited as every other Maserati enthusiast, but then I realised that something didn’t quite make sense. In all, between 1952 and 1957 Frua bodied seven A6G 2000 cars, one with the single-cam engine (chassis #2028) and six with the later twin-cam engine (also then known as A6G/54 because the twin-cam engine was introduced in 1954). The first of those was chassis #2063. It was painted white and featured in the factory-produced book Vittorie Maserati with the Eiffel tower, having been displayed at the 1954 Paris Salon. It appeared in a road test by Hans Tanner soon afterwards. The body style was distinctly different to the single-cam car, especially the lower, more aggressive-looking nose with a very stylised concave grille and large chrome slats plus a full-width bumper. To my knowledge, the whereabouts of this car have been unknown for years.
The second car (chassis #2103) has been well documented. It was the original brochure car and spent a lot of its early life in the UK before going to Monaco in the 1980s, when it was restored by Hans Wulfers. I first saw #2103 in 1996 at a concours at the Hurlingham Club. It’s been restored again in Italy and now resides in the USA. This car had a similar grille to #2063 but convex, not concave. It also had quarter bumpers and a very distinctive ‘fly screen’ mounted on the bonnet, the only Frua Coupe so equipped.
The coupe that followed was #2114, which McGraths restored between 1999 and 2002 for Andrew Green, and then subsequently sold to Jay Kay. Pre-restoration, that car was in poor condition, while the original grille had been modified and the bumpers removed to make the car look more sporting. In addition, the colour had long since been changed from the original black to red with a white band. It was during the research into the restoration and exactly what this car should look like that I first took notice of an intriguing photograph.
I first saw it in the 1980s Maserati history by Jürgen Lewandowski. It’s a small black-and-white photograph taken at a Motor Show of a dark-coloured car with a concave grille and quarter bumpers. The former meant it couldn’t be #2103, the latter meant it couldn’t be #2063. Better than that, it had a French number plate and I knew that #2114 had been sold new in France.
This must be ‘our’ car, I thought. But as the restoration progressed and the paint was removed from #2114, I began to realise that there were inconsistencies. For instance, the car in the photograph had a chrome moulding at waist height which stretched from the front wheelarches to the door handles. #2114 did not have these on arrival at McGraths and now the paint was off the front wings, it was clear that a) they were the original wings and b) they had never had holes drilled for fixing studs for these trims. Also the bonnet vent on #2114 had a central fin that extended up the bonnet, whereas the car in the photo did not.
Dejected, I did what I should have done in the first place, which was to check back through the documentation for #2114, including the original French registration document, which of course showed a different number to the one in the picture. Ho hum, back to the drawing board.
In the end, I never did find a period photograph of #2114 but what I did find buried in the boot of the car was a small box with two original grille slats, from which the original grille design was reconstructed. At the time, I concluded that the car in the photo was probably #2140, which was the next Coupe in the list of chassis numbers, but without any proof and with #2114 now nearing completion, I closed my file on the Frua cars.
It was to stay that way for a decade, until another Coupe, chassis #2181, arrived at McGraths in 2012. This car was the fifth of the twin-cam coupes and its styling was very different, much more like the later Frua Spyders. In fact, for many years, it had been assumed that this car was a Spyder, as it had been incorrectly listed in the Orsini and Zagari history of Maserati (which was the only comprehensive resource available at the time). Another small red herring in the fishpond of Maserati history! However, the emergence of this car proved that the styling of the later cars was updated again from the look of, say, #2114: much lower bonnet line, longer, sharper tail and vertical slats set back into a slightly less ‘toothy’ grille. This meant that if we count the unique single-cam car, there were three different series of Frua Coupes.
To recap, the first series was just one car, the unique single-cam example. The second series was #2063, #2103, #2114 and #2140. The third series was #2181 and #2194. A period photo of this last car exists from a cameo role it had in a French film in period but its current whereabouts are unknown. When I saw the first pictures of the Baillon car being removed from the barn in winter 2014, my immediate thought was that this looked like a third series car, and therefore must be #2194. However, when more pictures emerged showing incontrovertibly that the chassis number was #2140, the confusion really started. If this was what #2140 looked like, then which was the car in the Motor Show picture?
Artcurial was able to piece together some of its history in its auction catalogue. #2140 was completed in August 1956 and sent to the French Maserati importer, Thepennier, in Paris. The first owner, Jacques Fildier, loaned the car back to Maserati a few months later for its stand at the Paris Salon. The following year it was sold to another Parisian, Marcel Chalas. In turn, he owned the car for two years before selling again, this time to Roger Baillon, in whose collection it then remained until 2015.
There were conflicting implications arising from this information. It seemed likely that it was the car in the photograph because it was French registered and at a Motor Show, but that car was clearly a second series car. And yet, the car had been in a private collection, supposedly untouched since 1959. The number plate on the car now is still French, but different to the one in the photo. Artcurial did acknowledge that the grille had been changed at some point but could only speculate about the reason for that.
The last reference made was that the car had been featured in a magazine advert in May 1959, a few months before Roger Baillon bought it. The magazine was an American one, Ladies’ Home Journal, and the car appeared in an advert by the cosmetics firm COTY for Rue De La Pink lipstick. Although today COTY is an American company, its origins are French and in 1959, it still had a base in Paris. A copy of the advert is reproduced (pic left). It clearly shows the car with the same front grille as it has today and at the same time, crucially, it has the same registration number as it did when on show at the Paris Salon three years before. In fact, the only difference between then and now is the colour of the roof, meaning that the blue roof the car has today was done later during Baillon’s ownership.
But while this is definitely the same car, close comparison of the original front end shows more than just a change of grille. The fog lights were originally larger, the bumpers protruded more, and the lower section of the grille appeared nearer the ground in relation to the bumpers. There is no doubt that whoever carried out these changes was attempting to update the car to the later, third series style and the obvious next question is, could Frua have done this work? It was quite a common thing to do at the time and certainly the grille mesh looks the same as that used in the later #2181.
Fortuitously, the new owner of #2140 decided to ship it to Europe last year for Villa d’Este and booked it in with McGraths to fettle it. I would finally get a chance to examine the car in detail and Michael Ward could photograph it. When looking at the front in the metal, there are no obvious signs of changes to the panelwork and I began to wonder whether it had been cleverly done without resorting to reshaping the body. The bumpers look original because those gorgeous scalloped edges, which are very distinctive, are clearly visible on the Paris Salon photograph. But the fog lights are completely different and the grille has an inner surround that #2181 didn’t have and misses an oval around the ‘Trident’ badge. If the car had gone back to Frua to be updated, surely it would have used the same parts?
Then another car came on to the scene to confuse me further. This one, however, was 1:43 scale. A black A6G Frua coupe, this model had the big grille, the quarter bumpers and even the chrome strips behind the wheelarches. By process of elimination, this could only be a model of #2140. Crucially, the back was quite different to how it is now and much more like #2114, which is what I would have expected for a second series car. I couldn’t believe it! I had now spent the best part of 20 years looking for information on these cars and here it all was, available to buy on eBay for 15 quid!
I had to find out more so, having asked the everhelpful Fabio Collina at Maserati Classiche, I was put in touch with the model makers, Leo Models, and received a very helpful response from Gabriele Guidetti, the model developer. But Fabio had warned me that I may not like the answer and he was right. Gabriele explained that in the construction of the model, they looked at pictures of more than one car and then made a hybrid of all the best bits. He even included some pictures they had used in their research, one of which was the Paris Salon picture and the others were of, wait for it, #2114. Another one for the fishpond…
Although this latest cul de sac hadn’t really proved anything, it did concentrate my mind on the back of the car. I had fixated on the front because of the Paris Salon picture but what I was missing was the fact that #2140 today has trim strips along the top of the rear wings. Looking at the picture, you can just see that it didn’t have those at the Paris Salon. And looking closely at the shape of the rear wing, it appears longer and sharper now than at Paris. All of this follows in terms of updating from rounded series two rear to more angular series three. I then compared the rear of #2140 now to #2181. The latter does not have trim strips along the top of the wings (nor did any others that I have seen) and has the same rear lights as the third series Frua Spyders, which #2140 does not. And come to think of it, all the third series cars I can think of had complete, rather than quarter, bumpers.
You may be wondering why this has fascinated me so. Well, it is all about the question of whether to restore or not. If the car had been totally original, then it would be easy – it should be preserved as a genuine example of a 1956 Maserati A6G Frua Coupe. But it isn’t completely original because, as we have proved, it has been modified. Now, if the modifications had been done by Frua (and this is unlikely to ever be provable), there may still be an argument for preserving it, but I believe there are enough discrepancies in the front and rear between this car and later Frua ones to suggest that the modifications were done elsewhere. And if that is the case, then the car should be restored back to original ‘Paris Salon’ specification because at the moment, it is misleading. The auction catalogue merely stated that the grille has been changed and implied that the rest of the car is timewarp original. As time goes on, that ‘implication’ will become fact, if not checked. But of course, while there is still some speculation as to exactly what the changes were, the current owner is right to leave the car as is, because to restore it incorrectly would be the biggest tragedy of all.
Of course, if your father or your grandfather visited the 1956 Paris Salon and just happened to have his camera to hand when he walked around the back of the Maserati stand, you will let me know, won’t you?
Chassis number 2140 still has that prized ‘preservation patina’. Its mysteries may now be solved... Now that’s a barn find! Car emerged from a 55-year long storage to raise more questions than it answered.
“When the Baillon car was removed from its barn in 2014, the confusion really started”
TOP LEFT: Factory photo of the A6G/54 Frua Coupe #2063 showing the second series grille for the first time. ABOVE: The first twin-cam A6G/54 Coupe, as featured in the 1954 factory annual ‘Vittorie’. LEFT: Frua Coupe #2103 in later years at a Hurlingham Club Concours in 1996. The convex grille is unique. LOWER LEFT: The Frua Coupe #2114 post restoration by McGrath in 2002. TOP: Many differences between Baillon car and #2181’s third series front ABOVE: Rear views show contrasting #2114 second series and third series. Engine is a 1985cc straight-six twin-cam with three Weber carburettors and 150 horse power.