The generation that brought the Quattroporte back to its roots

The third generation of the Maserati Quattroporte debuted in 1979 while Maserati was under De Tomaso ownership. It was a return to the classic RWD setup and the V-8 engine which were trademarks of the original Quattroporte full-size sedan of the ’60s. The Quattroporte III was designed by Giorgetto Giugiaro of Italdesign.

It’s widely considered that the niche class of the fast full-size sedans was created once Maserati unveiled its first Quattroporte - which means ’four doors’ - at the 1963 Turin Auto Show. With that being said, other manufacturers like Facel in France and Lagonda in the U.K. also built fast sedans in the late ’50s and early ’60s.

But Maserati was the only sports car manufacturer that stuck to the idea of building fast and luxurious sedans for more than just a few short years. As such, in 1979, the third generation of the Quattroporte finally went into production, three years after it was first shown at the 1976 Turin Auto Show. It featured Italdesign styling and was revigorated as it got a V-8 again, compared to the second generation model which was only available with power coming from a lousy V-6.

1979 Maserati Quattroporte III Exterior

  • The lines of the body are based on that of the Italdesign Medici II concept
  • It features a modern boxy design with a high waistline
  • Similar in design to the two-door Maserati Kyalami Coupe
1979 Maserati Quattroporte III
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Due to the big gaps between the launch of each new Maserati Quattroporte generation, none of them are similar.

The first dropped back in 1963 and was based on the design of the 5000GT luxury 2-door coupe. Then, seven years after the production of the Series II Maserati Quattroporte I had concluded, Maserati unveiled the second generation. It was based on an enlarged Citroen SM chassis and was front-engined. While it offered the customary smooth ride of a Citroen, the performance figures were very un-Maserati-like.

Therefore, when the third generation was ready, in 1979, it again looked different and had a different architecture. The changes in design had a lot to do with a couple of design studies signed by the famous Italian designer Giorgetto Giugiaro who worked at the time for Italdesign. Giugiaro presented the Medici I prototype in 1974, the first year that Maserati themselves debuted the Quattroporte II.

Based on the Maserati Indy’s underpinnings, the Medici I was conceived as a four-door fastback executive sedan. It is precisely the two-box design that made the Medici I stand out, Giugiaro later using the idea of the wide C-pillar on other hatchback models he designed subsequently, like the Lancia Delta.

1979 Maserati Quattroporte III
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The perfectionist that is Giorgetto Giugiaro, though, considered that the Medici I could be bettered and he fancied another go at the design. As such, two years later, the Italdesign company presented the Medici II. This second iteration had a shorter hood and the pop-up headlights were replaced by a pair of two headlamps on either side of the narrow front fascia. A more traditional-looking grille was inserted between the headlights, although with a slanted frame to match the line of the nose.

The Medici II was the key inspiration which Giugiaro used when he was contracted to design the Quattroporte III.

That’s how the Italian designer was able to present a design draft that turned into the first Quattroporte III prototype that same year. Alejandro De Tomaso presented the prototype to the press on November 1st, 1976 before being unveiled officially in front of the whole world at the Turin Auto Show. But this kind of hurry would not be replicated in the development process of the final production-ready version since the Quattroporte III only became available in 1979.

By the time it reached the production phase, the Quattroporte regained the three-box design. However, the high waistline of the Medici II was carried over. In fact, the car’s profile seems taller than that of the prototype because of the straight-cut rear wheel arches.

1979 Maserati Quattroporte III
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Up front, you’ll notice the rectangular grille which is very similar to that of the Kyalami. The Quattroporte is different in that the headlights feature nearly square headlamps fitted inside the polished sockets. The grille, with its straight-angled mesh, is home to the Maserati trident.

Below the grille, there’s the hefty plastic wraparound front bumper to which the indicators are attached. Also attached to the bumper are the two Bosch fog lights. In the lower part of the front fascia, on the reclining area below the plastic bumper, there are two wide air inlets. Lower down there’s also a lip with a rubber add-on fitted to its edge. The hood has two creases as it follows the perched-up line of the front grille.

The car's profile is very modern for the late '70s. It is an abundance of straight surfaces and hard angles which very much defined the upcoming '80s.

Along the side of the body, there’s a side crease, which runs past the front wheel arch and directly above the rear wheel arch, and the car’s waistline which flies underneath the door handles.

The rocker panels are black, separated from the rest of the body by a chromed bar. The window frames are also chromed as is the Maserati trident which sits within a circle on the C-pillar.

1979 Maserati Quattroporte III
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At the back, you’re greeted by the sight of two dull-looking rectangular taillights. Just above the left taillight, there’s the Maserati lettering followed by ’4Porte’ since the third generation Quattroporte was originally sold as ’4Porte’ until 1981 when the Italians reverted to the Quattroporte moniker. Again, a bulky bumper completes the look. Underneath it, there are four chromed exhaust tips that stick right out.

1979 Maserati Quattroporte III Exterior Dimensions:

Wheelbase: 110 inches
Length: 193 inches
Width: 74 inches
Height: 55 inches

1979 Maserati Quattroporte III Interior

  • Briarwood and Italian leather created a cozy environment inside
  • Generous rear seat comfortably fits three adults in the rear
  • The adequately-bolstered front seats are comfortable on longer journeys
1979 Maserati Quattroporte III
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The third Quattroporte is a properly luxurious car. It comes as no surprise to find out that Italy’s president at the time, Sandro Pertini, used one as his means of transport. Other important statesmen around the world chose the Quattroporte as well which is why Carrozzeria Pavesi built a few armored examples.

There was also a stretched version built by Salvatore Diomante which was 25.6 inches longer and which cost over $390,200 in today's money!

With that in mind, even the standard Quattroporte was very well equipped and lavishly finished. There’s leather aplenty and Briarwood to top things off. The dashboard itself has a low line, apart from the high-rise gauge cluster behind the steering wheel which looks like the ultimate afterthought. I mean literally, take a look at that crude box added to the driver’s side of the dash. It’s as if the Italian designer presented Maserati with the interior sketches and they agreed on it only to later realize that they had no place to throw in all the necessary gauges so they quickly conceived a brash housing for the gauges and covered it in darker leather, to make it stand out even more.

Well, since I bothered to rant about how hideous the box-of-gauges looks, at least let’s look at what it houses. For starters, there’s the odometer which redlines at 6,500 rpm. The tachometer is to the right and then there are two more gauges further to the right. There’s the oil level gauge with the fuel gauge just below. To the left, there’s a group of smaller dials. They tell you about your oil pressure, oil temperature, water temperature and how well the battery’s doing. All on a blue background and from behind a glass that must be annoying when the odd reflection hits it.

1979 Maserati Quattroporte III
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The center panel of the dash, which is otherwise covered in tan leather, features a slab of briarwood For some reason, Maserati decided that some tacky plastic buttons and A/C vents would look good on the Briarwood backdrop so you’re stuck with that awkward combination of luxury and your average Toyota Corolla from the ’80s in terms of the materials used. Yes, I’ve said that the car is lavish on the interior but I guess Maserati had to cut corners somewhere. The Maserati name is spelled in black lettering on the passenger side next to the side vent.

The center column is wide and hosts the knobs for the A/C and the radio cassette player.

Just aft of the gear shifter there are the buttons that control the seats. The shifter itself has an elongated knob and is short since it sprouts right up out of the center column. The column continues backwards with an armrest that ends at the rear with the A/C controls for the lucky folks who sit on the huge back seat.

The seats on this car are comfortable although you can’t say they offer the best in terms of side support. The sofa-like rear seat can seamlessly host three adults.

1979 Maserati Quattroporte III Drivetrain

  • Offered with either a 4.1-liter V-8 or a 4.9-liter V-8
  • The only manual transmission was from ZF while the automatic gearboxes came from either Borg Warner or Chrysler
  • It not only had a top speed of 155 mph but could also stop quickly thanks to the use of ventilated discs on all four corners
1979 Maserati Quattroporte III
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The Maserati Quattroporte III came with a choice of two engines: a bigger 4.9-liter V-8 and a smaller 4.1-liter unit with the same amount of cylinders placed in a 90-degree V. The 4.1-liter DOHC 16-valve engine develops 252 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 290 pound-feet of torque at 3,800 rpm. It’s fed by four Weber 42 DCNF carburetors.

In spite of a rather hefty weight, almost 4,400 pounds, the Quattroporte III had a top speed of 155 mph. The car’s body is made out of steel and is designed as a semi-monocoque with the engine sitting inside a steel subframe.

The 250-odd horsepower reaches the back wheels through a 5-speed ZF S5 transmission.

Later, a Borg Warner 3-speed automatic became available before Maserati struck a deal with Chrysler which saw the American automaker ship to Italy a batch of A727 3-speed automatic transmissions of their own device. The worm sector steering system is standard on the Quattroporte.

The four-door luxury sports sedan comes with double wishbones with coilovers and telescopic dampers on all four corners. Also, behind the aluminum 15-inch rims there are ventilated disc brakes.

1979 Maserati Quattroporte III Specifications:

Engine: 90-degree V-8 4.1-liter DOHC 16-valve N/A engine
Fuel feed: 4 Weber 42 DCNF Carburetors
Compression ratio: 8.5:1
Bore x stroke: 3.46 inches x 3.35 inches
Output: 252 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 290 pound-feet of torque at 3,800 rpm
Gearbox: 5-speed ZF manual transmission
Brakes: Ventilated discs all around
Steering: Worm sector
Suspension: Double wishbones over coilovers with telescopic dampers all around
Weight: 4,350 pounds

1979 Maserati Quattroporte III Pricing

1979 Maserati Quattroporte III
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A total of 1,821 standard Maserati Quattroportes were built between 1979 and 1984, with either the 4.1-liter or the 4.9-liter engine. Thereafter, Maserati switched to building only the exquisite Royale which boasted a 300-horsepower output and even more luxury onboard. The Quattroporte III is considered to be the last fully-hand built Maserati.

A Royale originally cost around $184,000 in today’s money with a standard Quattroporte making about $120,000 disappear out of your wallet. However, reliability wasn’t the best and the car’s claim to fame was never bulletproof construction. After all, it was a hand built model. Many didn’t survive the ’80s but, with a rather high production number, you can still find a good example for under $15,000. Really well-maintained ones trade hands for about $30,000-$40,000.

1979 Maserati Quattroporte III Competition

Aston-Martin Lagonda

1976 - 1989 Aston Martin Lagonda High Resolution Exterior
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The Lagonda helped drive Aston Martin out of the pitfalls of economic turmoil in the early ’70s. The Series 1 which was unveiled in 1974 was well received as it was linked stylistically, and chassis-wise, to the existing Aston V8. Two years later, the wedge-shaped four-door luxury sports sedan penned by William Towns arrived in the form of the Series 2 Lagonda. It had a luxurious interior which was where you are going to find the first digital instrument panel employed on a production car.

The Lagonda’s design didn’t change in any meaningful way thereafter until it was phased out in 1990. The Series 2 version, which was produced at roughly the same time as the Quattroporte II took the world by storm since it was such a radical departure from the Series 1 model. The Lagonda first hit the U.S. shores during the Series 2’s production cycle, in 1982. It was one of the most expensive four-door cars you could buy, rivaling the Bentleys and Rolls-Royces of the time.

Aston-Martin’s sedan was powered by a 5.3-liter DOHC V-8 engine which put out 282 horsepower at 5,000 rpm and 302 pound-feet of torque at 3,000 rpm. It had a top speed of 143 mph and reached 62 mph in little over 9 seconds. All that while weighing 4,460 pounds. You can find an S2 Lagonda for about $60,000 but beware that these cars are an utter handful to maintain and out-and-out gas guzzlers.

Read our full review on the 1976 - 1989 Aston Martin Lagonda.

De Tomaso Deauville

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The Deauville was the Quattroporte III’s distance relative. That’s because it was the only 4-door model produced by Maserati’s parent company at the time. The chassis of the Tom Tjaarda-designed Deauville is close to that of the Quattroporte.

The car debuted at the 1970 Turin Auto Show before going into production the following year. It was finally discontinued as an S2 model in 1986. In 15 years, De Tomaso was only able to sell 244 Deauvilles. The sedan was powered by a front-mounted 5.7-liter Ford Cleveland V-8 engine which was shared with the Pantera sports car. It was rated at 330 horsepower and the top speed circled around 143 mph.

Conclusion

1979 Maserati Quattroporte III
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The Quattroporte III brought Maserati’s full-size luxury sedan back to its V-8-powered RWD roots. While styling can be considered a product of the late ’70s and early ’80s, some design cues were carried over to other classic Giorgetto Giugiaro designs. You may argue that it’s ugly but, now, 40 years on, its shape is starting to look quite classy.

The car is touted as the last hand-built Maserati but that has its drawbacks. The build quality isn’t amazing, as you would expect from an Italian car of that vintage but a good example is rewarding when it is running. They aren’t too expensive nowadays but if you want something on a near-identical platform you should go for the Deauville. Why? Because, to me, it looks better and it’s the rarer of the two.

  • Leave it
    • Questionable reliability and build quality
    • Didn’t retain its value terrifically well
    • The Deauville looks better by a country mile

Further reading

2017 Maserati Quattroporte Exterior High Resolution
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Read our full review on the 2017 Maserati Quattroporte.

Source: Rm Sothebys

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