I’ve got a surprise for you, my friend’, said Akis in his congenial tone and that enamoring Greeko-Italian accent. He had a mischievous grin splattered across his face as he uttered those words. I witnessed that distinct chirp to his voice and an apparent radiance on his visage every time he talked about the said surprise – ever since we started talking about my trip to Italy. He has been cooking something wicked, or he wouldn’t have mentioned it so many times. And every time he mentions it, I anticipate a gratifying conspiracy.
Akis, by the way, has to be one of the nicest human beings you would ever come across. And I say this after having travelled the world and seen mortals of all shapes, sizes, colors and intents. He’s a man who has traversed the entire globe on his Land Rover Discovery over a period of three years, with little money and a mountain of sheer will. A rare few would have seen the world as closely as he has, and even rarer few would manage to be as grounded and considerate as him after having achieved what he has. A genuine guy worth his weight in diamonds!
He wants me to meet Franco, the man at Maserati he asserts has helped him tremendously settling down in Modena. We’ll have a tour of the Maserati factory, and see exponents of unadulterated Italian excellence in design and engineering such as the Maserati GranTurismo, GranCabrio and the laser sharp Alfa 4C being made. What a fantastic idea! For what a monumentally wrong day! Its wife’s birthday on the same day, and she’d likely feed me to dogs if I tell her that I’m trading my time with her for a tour in a car factory.
A conspiracy, with Akis’ wife Vula in full connivance is hatched, dispatching wife for shopping in a nice mall, and I get about half a day. The consequences of this felony may be dire, but good things in life don’t come easy.
As we enter the hallowed gates of Maserati factory at Viale Ciro Menotti in Modena, I see a Quattroporte parked in the open area –resplendent in blue and adding marvelously to the façade of the factory’s immaculate exterior. What a view!
Inside the lobby, we are greeted by Franco – a tall, fair, middle-aged and incredibly knowledgeable man who’s waiting to pounce at all sorts of questions about cars – Masers or otherwise. Articulate, with profound knowledge about the art of automotive design and engineering, Franco comes across as a deeply professional man from the very first moment I meet him. One wouldn’t expect anything less from someone who has worked alongside the likes of Giorgetto Giugiaro.
He presents to me a paper to sign on at once. I wonder to myself as to what indemnity do I need to provide for taking a tour of a car factory. As I read the contents of the high-quality paper, I realize that it’s essentially a license to drive a V8 powered, 530bhp Maserati Quattroporte in Italy for as long as I intend to. The car is filled up, cleaned, scrutinized and ready to roar on the streets of Modena and beyond. What the hell!?
I look at Akis, who’s is trying to put a straight face. But I can clearly see the puckish sparkle in those eyes. He smiles, I get handed the key to the super saloon by Franco, and then I pinch myself. I have the stupidest look ever on my face for those few moments. I don’t know how to thank this bountiful Greek enough. Only yesterday, he took me out for a tour of Maranello, showing me around the Ferrari factory, arranging for a ride in the Ferrari F458 Italia, taking my family to the delightful town of Emilia–Romagna, and now, provisioning for a 2.2 crore rupee car to be driven on the sanctified streets of Modena. Damn! Suddenly my being away from wife on her birthday appeared a 100 times more justifiable.
Now make no mistake, even with all those flouncing Italian Stallions underneath, and boasting credentials for being the most desirable super saloon on the planet, the Quattroporte is a proper luxury limo. Once behind the steering wheel, the bonnet seems to be ending at the horizon, the width of the car is enough to deter you from taking to narrow lanes and the less you talk about its girth behind your back, the better. And yet, it doesn’t take more than a few yards worth of movement before the exquisitely crafted limousine, which intimidated you from the outside, tightly wraps you in its loving arms. There is an uncanny feel to the steering wheel, it’s perfectly weighted and the communication through the leather wraps onto my palms is intriguing to say the least.
You can choose from manual, ICE (Increased Control and Efficiency) and sport modes. Then there is the unique Skyhook adaptive damping system, which stiffens up affairs at the mere press of the button, readying this near 2.0 ton saloon for some hardcore action. For the next part of our entire journey, I’ll have the manual mode chosen (of course the Quattroporte features shifter pedals behind the steering wheel) and Skyhook damping system stiffened up.
Now, the Quattroporte is available in two guises – this one here under our bums is the wilder, crazier, bloodier version with a 3.8 liter bi-turbo V8 engine, top speed is rated at 307 km/h. 0-100 comes in a little over 4 seconds and double ton shows up in about 12 seconds. What numbers for a big four door saloon!
Drive the car gently in ICE mode, and you’ll barely hear the engine humming and pulling the heavy machine with disdainful effortlessness. For someone who doesn’t know cars, the Quattroporte can easily be driven by a chauffeur and in the backseat the unfortunate fellow wouldn’t ever know about the savage beasts chuckling underneath and hauling it in a hushed manner.
Put the right foot down, though, and the ferocious instincts of the V8 beast, having drawn its character from a certain prancing horse living nearby come to the fore. Anything above 3000 revs results in a brutish snarl, which reaches its yowling, intimidating crescendo accompanied by plentiful crackles all the way up to 8000 revs. The way the engine reacts to every dab of the throttle is menacingly feral to say the least.
In conjunction, the engine and the exhaust make the enthusiast in you listen to the aural orgasm build up over and over again. It’s what Bob Dylan was to Steve Jobs, it’s what Pink Floyd is to the potheads, it’s Kishore Kumar’s soulful voice for all us Indians’ dads, it’s Survivor yelling ‘Eye of the Tiger’ – it’s what makes the blood in a motor enthusiast’s veins rush twice as fast. It’s a drug for inducing adrenaline discharge, a climactic sensation through the ears, a loud war cry – that’s what it is! And trust me you all, not one of the letters I have used here is untrue or exaggerated. You need to drive this beauty on the streets of Modena through the tidy rolling hills covered in vines of Lambrusco grape to know the intensity of the subject. It’s the coming together of a wet childhood dream in an all-encompassing, overwhelming, mind numbing manner. Its nirvana!
Through the pristine Italian countryside, draped in sprawling greens and peppered by exponents of medieval architecture we drive over one of the SuperStradas (second fastest Italian highways after the heavily tolled AutoStrada) to the charming town of Castelvetro di Modena. It’s illegal to drive above 100-120 km/h on these highways and we abide (ROTFLMAO) the law to the tee.
Riding up and rolling down the gentle hills surrounding Modena, offering mild curves all through the way, I surrender to the elegantly veneered, yet compelling allure of the Quattroporte. All along I witness gestures of respect from the local residents – a Fiat Panda flashing its headlamps, a cyclist waving his hand, the odd pedestrian winking – driving this car in this region, or anywhere else in the world, represents that you are a man of taste and class, in addition to being filthy rich.
As we drive along, I experience firsthand what makes this piece of Italian art and machinery so unique. Sure, the interior isn’t the most tech-laden, but when you hold that steering wheel, and turn it around a bend, it talks its heart out to you. You goad the bloody thing with your right foot, and it will take you to the moon and bring you back only when you lift off, through a path full of pops and crackles which appears no less magical than a fairyland full of castles and sparkles – it’s the Disneyland of a child’s dream. A car is not about the plastics and digital screens inside the cabin, it’s about the metal under the hood – and this Maserati, while being driven through the numinous countryside of Italy brings the point home in the most emphatic manner ever possible.
Castelvetro Di Modena is an achingly beautiful little castle town with a small but stupefying neighborhood built in medieval style. Driving through the little town, we emerge onto an open area with a chessboard painted on the floor in black and white. A fine-looking old clock-tower stands proud on one end of the square, with the ledge of the castle on the other. The setting overlooks the rolling hills of Modena, offering a breathtaking view of Lambrusco vineyards scantly dotted by buildings proudly representing Italian heritage.
The Maser is parked in the middle of the open area, in all its dazzling blue glory – as though signifying the divine marriage of tradition and technology that the Italians have so flawlessly realized. I soak in the view, I let my senses experience the unusually pleasant weather for this time of the year and I take a moment to let this dreamlike reality sink in. How am I ever going to pay you back, Akis, I ponder…
Images: Akis Tempiridis