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Design Review: Maserati Birdcage 75th Concept (2005)

A dream car in prototype form combining fluid organic shapes, a racing chassis and futuristic technology.

Italian design house, Pininfarina, stunned attendees at the 2005 Geneva Motor Show, taking the covers off the Maserati Birdcage 75th Concept, a futuristic hypercar design study commemorating the 75th anniversary of the company while also being a fitting tribute to the Italian Renaissance of car design between the 1950s and '70s.

'This is not the first time we cover a concept car marking an important anniversary milestone for Pininfarina, with the Maserati Birdcage 75th (2005) sitting right in between the likes of the Ferrari Rosa (2000) and the Alfa Romeo 2uettottanta (2010). In that context we can expect another prototype in 2020, marking Pinifarina's 80th anniversary.

The Birdcage 75th Concept’s name was inspired by the Maserati Tipo 60/61/63 race cars of the late '50s and early '60s engineered by Giulio Alfieri. Those models were nicknamed 'Birdcage' due to their innovative space-frame chassis consisting of tubes in triangular formations. Besides being ultra-light, the racing cars were known for their unusually low bodyline, protruding wheel arches and tall but steeply inclined windscreen complying with the technical regulations of the time.

Fast forward to 2005, the Birdcage 75th Concept shared its underpinnings with the Maserati MC12 (2004) limited edition supercar and its relative, the Ferrari Enzo (2002) - including the carbon-fibre monocoque chassis and the mid-mounted naturally aspirated V12 6.0-litre engine tuned to produce 522kW.

Pininfarina engineers made several modifications to the chassis, removing the roof and reinforcing the sides, in order to achieve the concept car’s low stance. The running prototype unveiled in Geneva was completed in just two months, following a fast-paced design phase heavily relying on digital 3D models.

The concept was designed under the guidance of Ken Okuyama, Pininfarina’s creative director at the time, and Lowie Vermeersch, who was the chief designer for the project. The exterior theme was based on a proposal by Jason Castriotta chosen from four concept designs, and the interior by Giuseppe Randazzo with input from Motorola - Pininfarina’s technological partner.

The Maserati Birdcage 75th Concept is characterised by its ultra-low and aerodynamic form, which resulted in unconventional proportions. The main theme combines the shapes of a 'teardrop' canopy reaching from the front to the back of the car and the 'inverted wing' body with heavily protruding wheel arches.

At the front, the low nose is characterised by the large grille bearing the Trident emblem, slim LED headlights enclosing two inlets and a splitter under the single lower air-intake. The windscreen, which is part of the tinted one-piece glasshouse made of plexiglass, starts from ahead of the front-axle allowing a cab-forward look and a very smooth shape for the canopy.

From the side, the roofline looks like a natural continuation of the bonnet, interrupted only by the large-diameter wheels (20-inch at the front and 22-inch at rear) designed exclusively for the concept. The dark shade of the lower openings and the glasshouse, makes the white-painted body look like a beautiful dress caressing the sultry curves of the body with smooth surfacing. The low waistline and the shape of the side sills - a continuation of the theme found on the front bumper - makes the profile look lighter and more athletic.

Moving over at the back, the transparent engine cover is a natural continuation of the glasshouse, allowing a great view of the mid-mounted V12. The integrated roof scoop improves cooling and removes the need for intakes on the body panels. The dark plexiglass becomes thinner at the back, merging with the carbon-fibre diffuser and housing two centrally positioned and vertically arranged tailpipes. The clean look is highlighted by the dual active rear spoilers, the elongated LED tail-lights again enclosing air outlets, and the large opening on the rear bumper bringing visual lightness while also improving aerodynamics.

By now you have probably noticed the lack of doors and side windows, with one continuous panel gap running the length of the car from the headlights to the tail-lights and another one cutting through the middle of the car. Those lines betray that half of the front of the car opens up and moves forward in order to provide easy access to the two-seater cabin. The futuristic opening is a signature design element of the Maserati Birdcage 75th Concept, reminiscent of Pininfarina’s Ferrari 512S Modulo (1970).

Inside, the seats - upholstered in blue suede with three-point seatbelts - are integrated into the chassis. Between them, the central tunnel hosts a metal gear shifter and a few buttons. On the dashboard, there is a tubular arrangement reminiscent of the Tipo 60/61 frame, covered by a futuristic head-up display. A digital instrument cluster is projected in this organically shaped panel, together with the traditional analogue clock that characterises every model bearing the Maserati emblem.

The rectangle multi-functional steering wheel has an array of buttons and a central screen, while the driver can use it in conjunction with wearable technology designed by Pininfarina’s Extra division and Motorola. The multinational telecommunications company was also responsible for the state-of-the-art infotainment and connectivity technology of the concept car (by 2005 standards) proposing the theme of 'Seamless Mobility'. Features included several cameras allowing the driver to record and share his or her driving experience.

So, what happened next?

On its debut at the 2005 Geneva Motor Show, the Birdcage 75th Concept attracted a lot of attention for its dramatic styling and unique proportions, helping both Pininfarina and Maserati become the talk of the show. It was voted Best Concept Geneva Motor Show (2005), L’automobile più bella del mondo (2005) and received the Louis Vuitton Classic Concept Award (2006).

The running prototype was tested on the road by a few automotive journalists who were allowed to drive it carefully due to its rarity and extremely high worth. In the same year, a 50-minute long documentary called Sleek Dreams was released, highlighting the whole design process, from first sketch to the final full-scale prototype.

In August 2015, the Birdcage 75th Concept was shown at the 55th Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance in California, together with its ancestor - the Maserati Tipo 63 Birdcage (1961) - and many other beautiful classics. Today it resides in Torino, Italy, as an important part of Museo Pininfarina’s collection.

The rumours that Pininfarina could possibly build a handful of units for special clients and collectors didn’t materialise, and the car remains a one-off.

Verdict

The Maserati Birdcage 75th Concept is a futuristic design study of an exotic hypercar, showcasing a strong flair of Italian coach-building. While it doesn’t follow a retro approach, it managed to merge beautifully the essence of Maserati’s racing cars from the late 1950s together with looks and technology of the future. A true dream car for the new Millennium that takes its place in Pininfarina’s rich history.

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