Some like it yacht: driving a Maserati to Monaco

Published: 25 November 2016

► The brief: drive from Goodwood to the Monaco Yacht Club in 32 hours
► 923 miles in Maserati’s Centennial Edition GranTurismo
► The boss is launching his super yacht – so don’t be late

After the Lord March’s show. The air is damp and cold, a thin mist of dew coating the ground, thick black mud churned up across previously pristine lawns, advertising hoardings, once so stylishly immaculate and monotone, curling up like three-day-old sandwiches as dozens of men in heavy hi-vis jackets rip and chip away at stands and signs. The Festival of Speed is in the grips of grim entropy.

Not for us the glee of the waving crowds or the glamour of roaring ascents up the hill, basking in sunshine, champagne and petrol fumes. We’re at Goodwood in a chilly dawn on the Monday after to pick up a £119,000 Maserati GranTurismo MC Centennial Edition and deliver it to its next job, its next appointment with fame and fortunes. In Monte Carlo, with some sailor and his Maserati-sponsored yacht.

I make my way to the car, still replete with its Goodwood accreditation and number 773 stickers, dodging JCBs heading out to do their destructive duty, and it seems an age away from 12 hours before, when this car was part of the supercar parade, making arcing powerslides for the crowd’s enjoyment. Poking my nose into the scene, I’d been surprised by reaction to the Maser. It’s not exactly new, despite this being a limited edition model to celebrate Maserati’s centenary in 2015, yet the knowing hordes of Goodwood gave it a tremendous welcome, despite the other louder, brasher, more expensive attractions of the supercar runs.

2016 Maserati GranTurismo MC Centennial Edition

This is a limited-edition version of the GranTurismo MC, a car built off the platform of Ferraris now found in the pages of Auto Trader, and it comes brushed in special paintwork, Magma Red, which even in this dull light seems to throb and shimmer. It’s a gorgeous-looking thing, on special gunmetal alloys featuring ‘100’ logos with that low-slung nose and bonnet festooned with gaping vents.

Starting it up, the 4.7-litre V8 barks and then settles into a thrum, and a few workmen look up from their destruction to see what the fuss is about. I imagine Lord March is upstairs in bed moaning about the noise at this ungodly hour. Even he’s probably sick of the sound of V8s by now, so we creep as slowly and quietly as we can out of the estate, across roads smeared with mud from all the machinery, trucks and vans, and sprinkled with a veneer of moisture to turn them into mile-long skidpans.

2016 Maserati GranTurismo MC Centennial Edition

We’re taking this car to Monte Carlo where it will form the centrepiece of a display at which Fiat-Chrysler chairman – and grandson of Gianni Agnelli – John Elkann will unveil this new boat. I’m told sailing is a passion of his, and this event is very personal to him. So, the premise is: enjoy the car, but don’t bugger his event up.

A Maserati, on Italian plates, wearing Goodwood stickers, now covered in a layer of mud. There can’t be a cooler person in Europe than me at the moment, I decide, and lots of appreciative smiles from fellow slaves to the Monday morning commute suggest that’s the case. We’ve been given instructions to be at the Monaco Yacht Club, at the exit of the famous tunnel, by 3.30pm on Tuesday. This sounds like a typically laid-back Italian timetable, with plenty of time for resting with an espresso and long lunches in the sun. Easy peasy. Or so we thought.

The problem with a gentle pace is that the GranTurismo’s gearbox hates it. While Ferraris might get a multitude of gears and clutches that swap ratios in billionths of seconds, Maserati is still making do in the MC with a six-speed auto that changes gear painfully awkwardly.

2016 Maserati GranTurismo MC Centennial Edition

The resulting lull and jolt see photographer Charlie and I looking like octogenarian headbangers, our conversation punctuated every now and again by a desultory rock back and nod forward as the car shifts. I try lifting off the throttle as if it’s a first-gen Smart, using the paddles, changing at every stage of middling revs, in Sport and Race mode. The effect is principally the same. We’ve got about 800 miles of this. It might get tiresome.

Add in the fact that neither of us can get the decrepit infotainment system to acknowledge the existence of iPhone 6s, and sat-nav graphics and jerky scrolling which might have come from a Chrysler Voyager at the turn of the millennium, plus the high gearing of sixth that means at 80mph there’s a constant whine in your ear, and it would be easy to get a bit down on the Maser. And especially so as we cross the Channel and are faced with that soul-destroying grind across the featureless, flat landscape that is northern France.

And yet, I find myself warming to it. It’s all a bit old school, certainly imperfect, and clearly handbuilt, but while people may think of Ferraris as showy, McLarens as clinical, Porsches as too numerous, a Maserati, and especially one so long, lithe and coltish as 773 (as I have taken to calling it), are things to be loved.

2016 Maserati GranTurismo MC Centennial Edition

Nth-degree engineering, shapes honed scientifically for airflow, technology actively managing your experience at every turn: they’re all well and good in the pursuit of ultimate speed, but the Maser feels like it has been built in an artist’s studio, not a scientist’s laboratory. The cabin is dressed in thick, beautifully stitched leather and finished with carbonfibre, the seats hold you in place but don’t clamp uncomfortably, and the ride is surprisingly compliant.

Nothing happens all the way to Burgundy. The autoroutes are quiet, we stop every now and again for fuel and a wee, and I think this is what the life of a delivery driver must be. Just get the thing from A to B, no drama, hand the keys over, don your hi-vis tabard and your piece of cardboard with ‘home’ on it, thumb a lift with a friendly trucker and the job’s done.

2016 Maserati GranTurismo MC Centennial Edition

Charlie takes over control for a stint and I decide to try to find out about our sailor man and his boat. Giovanni Soldini is an Italian sailor who has raced single-handed around the globe on numerous occasions, and once while leading such a race, turned round in the Southern Ocean and sailed back 200 miles in the wrong direction to rescue a fellow competitor whose yacht had capsized. He then pulled her on board, turned round and carried on round the world. Now, in this new Maserati Multi70 trimaran, he’s going to take the technology of America’s Cup boats, lifting clean out of the water on great aerofoils, and adapt it for the high seas, so that he can race across the great oceans of the world, nearly flying, at more than 40 knots. I may not be the coolest person in Europe, after all.

Still not much is happening as the slopes of the Beaune ridge hove into view and our overnight stop is due. Being delivery drivers for Maserati, they have booked our accommodation rather than leaving it to us. If CAR had been on booking.com, we’d be facing a fleabitten Formula1 by the side of the road with a man behind the front desk who looks like he’s going to rob and murder you in the middle of the night, and steal your flash car. But no. We roll up to one of the finest hotels in Burgundy, with a restaurant boasting more stars than a night at the London Palladium and a helicopter pad where, so I am informed, French presidents have been known to land their mistresses while the Premier Femme sits at home in the palace. You don’t get that in an Ibis.

2016 Maserati GranTurismo MC Centennial Edition

Over an excellent glass or six of Montrachet that we assume might get expensed to Maserati, Charlie and I discuss our plans the next day. It’s 400 miles on that great reverse-hockey-stick shaped autoroute that goes south past Avignon, above Marseille then skirts the Cote D’Azur. Even averaging 70mph, which is easy in France, that’s less than six hours, which means we can leave about 9.30am and cruise it. But we’ll be bored witless.

Another plan develops at about glass three. Get up super early, bomb it down past Lyon and then go straight at Monaco, across Provence, over the hills and far away. Very simply, I say at glass four, it’s a shorter route, and although slower, the two things will cancel each other out, and it will be more fun. Yes, I say at glass five, we can slash Provence right through the middle, and find out if this car is any good. Glass six. It doesn’t look that far on the map on my phone. We’ll easily make it by 3pm if we leave at 6am. Time for bed. It’s an early start, and I might need a few coffees to get us going.

Sitting in rush-hour traffic jams at 8am in Lyon with 300 miles of A and B roads to do I’m not entirely convinced by our plan, and I really don’t want to bugger their lovely event up.

But we spear off the autoroute and into the lowlands of Provence. As with most of Europe, there’s been an inordinate amount of rain this year and instead of fields burnt by the sun and scrubbed clean by the wind, there are lush green grasses, riotous blocks of colour as flowers and crops have yet to ripen and be harvested. It’s really unusual to see it this verdant. It’s really unusual to see it this busy, too.

2016 Maserati GranTurismo MC Centennial Edition

Every town is clogged with traffic. Carpentras is gridlocked and we try to dive down some side streets, only to hit more traffic, have a post van back out of a side street and require massive and persistent hornblowing to stop him a foot short of our nose, followed by more buggering about to end up where we started. The sat-nav refuses to believe we’d be so stupid to be going this way and will only head back to the motorway, and Charlie is now navigating by plotting us from village to village on his rapidly expiring phone. Two hours later, we’ve done barely 50 miles.

The dread starts to flow back again. I’m trying to pick off cars and vans that all seem to be chugging along without a major press event featuring Very Important People to get to, and the powertrain of the Maserati is such that it can only be used strategically. If a gap suddenly appears, it’s not an instantly usable mash-pedal-and-go type thing. The band of peak power, an acceptable rather than bonkers 451bhp at 7000rpm, is fairly limited because the six gears are relatively long to get it to its 188mph top speed. Consequently, you must time your change down perfectly, giving enough time for the gearbox to have a think and then deliver you to the ideal moment. Get it wrong and you will be either bogged down, a sitting duck in the wrong lane, or bouncing off the limiter the second you pull out.

2016 Maserati GranTurismo MC Centennial Edition

And yet, after a while I start to really enjoy the challenge and forget about how rudely late we might be. This isn’t PlayStation driving. It requires thought and timing and, dare I say it, skill. Switched to Sport and Race mode, the engine unleashes a top-end howl which is magnificent and utterly Italian, and the gearbox changes become faster, banging home rather than huffing and shuffling.

We head through the Vaucluse, past blurring violet stripes of lavender field in full bloom, spear between avenues of trees and zigzag up and down hills lined with vines. 773 (I’m getting comfortable calling it that) is a completely different car in this environment. The carbon ceramic brakes, which make such a fuss of stopping when they are cold and in proletarian environments that you find yourself doing driving test emergency stops to avoid rear-ending small Renaults, are mighty on the charge, and show no signs of fade, even after three or four hours of hard driving.

2016 Maserati GranTurismo MC Centennial Edition

We start to sweep past traffic and climb into the mountains around the stunning turquoise Lac de Sainte Croix, the howl bouncing off the stone walls. Tourists gape at us as we blast past, this weird, muddy, fly-stained spear of ruby beauty.

At the top of the rev range, gears slam home in a blink and the V8 howls its way through to the limit again. The perfectly synced steering requires no corrections, and the balance of the car is quite remarkable. Corner after corner after corner after corner come racing at us and every single one requires one precise turn of the wheel before being spat out the other side. We’re keeping up a stupid pace, yet all with no fuss and the chassis never unsettled. The Maser is not ridiculously fast, or brutally noisy or full of showy moves. It’s just immensely classy at this kind of cross-country high-speed touring.

2016 Maserati GranTurismo MC Centennial Edition

Charlie is making rough calculations on distance and time which seem to get less positive with each update, and the odd frantic phone call to Monaco to find out if there’s any leeway on delivery. I’m utterly stressed. And I am bloody loving it.

About 2.30pm we pick up a biker somewhere in the twists and blurs of the Route Napoleon, and he tries to keep pace, but 773 is just too unremittingly quick. After about 20 minutes of hard driving, he starts to lag from the effort of staying in touch. We can’t – we have to keep going.

Finally we pick up the road to the Col de Vence and I feel, after five hours of ceaseless effort, we’re getting close. We stop to have a break, knowing we’re only 45 minutes away at the top. The car is boiling like a kettle from the hot sun and hours at high speed, the Goodwood mud now baked to it. It’s not quite in show condition. Ah…

2016 Maserati GranTurismo MC Centennial Edition

Finally, we roll into the traffic jams of Monaco. Only an hour late – surely that’s fashionable, I hope? As we chunter up to the door of the Monaco Yacht Club the chap who takes our keys looks horrified at the state of the car. Muddy, filthy, supercars aren’t really a Monaco look, and the valeters might have a bit of a job on.

But true to our word, CAR magazine has proudly delivered it undamaged and, nearly, on time for Mr Elkann. And I’ve loved it. The GranTurismo MC has eccentricities and imperfections, and you could probably make a case for all manner of other supercars instead of this. But there is so much soul in this car, and it takes time to draw out its talents. Once you do it really is quite magical.

Lots of very tanned, ludicrously fit and dashingly handsome sailors from the Maserati boat are milling about among yacht club members who seem to ooze money from every scrupulously kempt pore. Not really our environment, this. Time to get my hi-vis tabard and bit of cardboard out, and get home. Job done. 

2016 Maserati GranTurismo MC Centennial Edition

Delivery instructions

We’re not exactly FedEx or DHL, so we don’t have a snappy slogan. When Maserati asked us to pick up the GranTurismo from Goodwood and deliver it to the Monaco Yacht Club we didn’t breezily say ‘consider it done.’ But 923 miles in 32 hours, including a flat dash across northern France and a cheeky thrap through Provence we did achieve, consuming only 58 gallons of fuel and 150cl of Montrachet.

2016 Maserati GranTurismo MC Centennial Edition

A sailor’s life

Born in Milan, Giovanni Soldini has been sailing since he was a small boy, and has set a number of long-distance sailing records. He’s twice sailed single-handed round the world, and has completed more than 40 ocean crossings.

‘I have always loved to sail, but I am an explorer. I sail to travel the world, to find new experiences and see new places. And we hope this revolutionary yacht will allow us to sail faster across oceans than before,’ he says.

The Maserati Multi70 trimaran will compete in the Rolex Middle Sea Race and RORC Transatlantic Race this year, and Soldini hopes the America’s Cup-style foils will lift it out of the water and allow even more speed. But the smaller America’s Cup yachts race on calmer water, not oceanic swells.

Soldini is sure it can work, once the technology and shape of the foils has been perfected. ‘I believe the foils will work even better on long swells, allowing us to skim over the top.’

Maserati boss John Elkann is convinced: ‘I’ve had the opportunity to sail this yacht and it is a fantastic experience. You feel as though you are flying. It is a perfect match for Maserati: the competition and the challenge of doing this, the speed and the beauty. Maserati, with its trident symbol, has always had associations with the sea, and this wonderful boat is the latest symbol of it.’

2016 Maserati GranTurismo MC Centennial Edition

Maserati Granturismo MC Centennial Edition

Price £119,000
Engine 4691cc 32v V8, 451bhp @ 7000rpm, 383lb ft @ 4750rpm,
Transmission Six-speed automatic, rear-wheel drive
Suspension Double wishbone front; multi-link rear
Performance 4.5sec 0-62mph, 188mph, 18.2mpg, 360g/km CO2
Weight 1800kg
Length/width/height 4933/2044/1343mm
On sale Now

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2016 Maserati GranTurismo MC Centennial Edition

By Steve Moody

Contributing editor, adventurer, ideas pitcher, failed grower-upper

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