we often think of cadillac's history providing official limousines to u.s. presidents as dating back decades, with no gaps, but in reality, cadillac has only been doing so uninterrupted since the first clinton administration—george h. w. bush used a lincoln limousine during his one term in office, although a cadillac xts hearse was used at his state funeral in 2018. lincoln sedans and limousines have also popped up during other presidents' terms in office, most notably during the nixon and kennedy administrations.
italy's state cars in the modern era, on the other hand, have tended to be maseratis. and earlier this month, the italian automaker marked 40 years of providing official sedans to italy's presidents.
we should probably mention right away that in italy's system of government, the president is the head of state but not the head of the government—the prime minister plays a much more active role in politics than the president, whose role is mostly ceremonial.
anyway, what maserati model kicked off the tradition?
it was the third-generation quattroporte sedan that was presented to italian president sandro pertini on december 14, 1979. and alejandro de tomaso, who owned maserati at the time, was in attendance.
the third-gen quattroporte itself debuted earlier that same year, and it was the first maserati model designed under de tomaso ownership. styled by giorgetto giugiaro and powered by a 4.2-liter v-8, the quattroporte took cues from the first version of the model, which debuted all the way back in 1963, but it evolved into something plusher and more businesslike. the big, boxy sedan featured what seemed like acres of leather into which one sank rather than sat, striking a contrast to the era's german sedans.
the first quattroportes delivered to pertini served him until 1982, when the president's general secretariat ordered armored versions of the same car. a year later, that car was completed, featuring manganese steel plating and ballistic glass 1.2 inches thick—a relatively light armor specification by today's standards.
"one of the car's original features was a large ashtray with pipe holder between the rear seats," maserati notes. "this was requested by the president himself, and maserati modified the rear bench to create it. the car also featured a bar cabinet, a telephone system, and an intercom for communication with people outside the car."
despite armoring the car, maserati also kept the electrically operated roof, from which pertini could wave to passing crowds during public events—a rare item for most armored limousines at the time. the automaker also kept all four electric windows, fitting them with ballistic glass, instead of just keeping working windows for the two front seats per industry custom. coachbuilders had to make certain compromises when it came to electric windows in armored cars, and most did not bother to make the rear windows go up and down because of the glass's weight and the required motors, in addition to safety considerations.
enzo ferrari breaches etiquette
"the head of state used the quattroporte third generation on all public occasions, including his historic visit to the ferrari factory in maranello on may 29, 1983," the automaker notes. "on that occasion, ceremonial etiquette demanded that once the car had entered the plant, the host, enzo ferrari, should approach the presidential vehicle. however, ferrari remained motionless about 10 meters from the car. the elderly president pertini got out of the quattroporte and walked over to the ferrari boss.
"enzo ferrari did not move because of the long-standing local rivalry between the prancing horse and trident brands," the automaker adds.
the third-gen quattroportes (pictured above) for the italian president's use were updated once again in 1986, with royale versions featuring a slightly redesigned interior, a small folding table for the rear seats, and a radio/telephone system. the powerplant also received an upgrade, as by this time the third-gen quattroportes were fitted with 4.9-liter v-8 engines good for 300 horsepower in royale tune.
with plush leather and burr walnut interior details, as well as relatively modest exterior proportions, the quattroportes were still very stylish by the end of the 1980s, though the cars were not big sellers. the italian automaker produced just 2145 examples of the model from 1979 till 1990, an average of just under 200 examples per year. if that seems like a small-volume effort, well, it was—the quattroporte was an offbeat choice at a time when mercedes, bmw, opel, and audi were dominating europe's executive-sedan market. so the quattroporte might have been a somewhat popular choice for italian industrialists and some government officials, but that's about the only captive audience it had in its decade on the line.
maserati's tradition of providing quattroportes to italy's heads of state continues today with president sergio mattarella. that car, pictured at top in a 2019 motorcade, features a unique exterior color, blu istituzionale, created specifically for the president's sedan, while the interior features full-grain pieno fiore leather and piano-black wood.