Cheese and Maseratis
One of the buildings of the biodynamic farm of the Panini family in Baggiovara, Italy holds a very pleasant surprise; one of the world's finest Maserati collections. This is perhaps a little less surprising when considering that the farm is located in the middle of motoring's equivalent of 'Silicon Valley' between Modena and Maranello. Originally set up by wealthy businessman Umberto Panini to make the finest 'Parmigiano' cheese for his friends and family, the 'Hombre Organic Farm' is now world renowned and produces some of the best cheese of its type. That a Maserati museum was added to the grounds in the late 1990s was as much the product of a long-held passion as a deep-felt necessity but more on that later. Regardless, the end-result is museum that will make any Maserati enthusiast's heart beat faster. Open by appointment only we were fortunate enough to spend a morning in the lovely building that is lined on the outside by vintage tractors. Unfortunately we did not have time to sample the cheese but that is only a reason to pay the farm another visit in the near future.
Saving a collection
Umberto Panini is not the father of the collection that forms the bulk of today's museum. That was long-time Maserati owner Alejandro DeTomaso. When he sold the company to Fiat in 1993, DeTomaso held on to the cars, which were a combination of returned and/or retained racing cars and an example of each of the road cars produced while he was at the helm. A few years later he did decide to part with the cars and he offered them as a package to new Maserati owners Fiat. After they politely refused to acquire the collection, which was still displayed in a museum on the factory grounds, DeTomaso quietly struck a deal with Brooks of London to sell all cars at auction in May of 1997. When news of the pending sale leaked, Maserati enthusiasts around the country were understandably upset about the imminent loss of a part of Italy's motoring heritage. Long-time Maserati enthusiast, Umberto Panini was among them and he swiftly acted and offered to buy the collection in one sweep and display it in a purpose-built museum. An agreement was struck with the DeTomaso and Brooks and the collection was saved.
Soon after the collection was acquired, work started on the construction of the museum. While the exterior of the building followed the style of the rest of the 'Hombre' farm, the interior was clearly designed with its future purpose in mind; the floor features a prominent mosaic of Maserati's famous trident badge. Several racing cars are lined up along the centre line, flanked by Maserati road cars on one side and a selection of rare machinery from other manufacturers on the other side. These, along with several Maseratis and a large number of motorcycles were later added to the original 20-car collection. On one side of the second floor the motorcycles are displayed as well as several single seater racing cars used by Mr Panini's son Matteo in historic racing. Some of the Maseratis have also been exercised at prominent events like the two Goodwoods and the Monaco Historic Grand Prix. The other side of the second level is dedicated to some of the final Maserati projects executed under DeTomaso's reign like the Barchetta racing car and the Chubasco super car. The walls of the facility are lined with posters and photographs, and an assortment of memorabilia is also display, which includes a vending machine for the legendary Panini football stickers.
The real stars of the collection are the competition Maseratis that were originally raced by the works team or later traded back for the latest cars. The most striking of these is no doubt the 420/M58 'Eldorado' that had been built for the 'Race of two Worlds' at Monza. Backed by the 'Eldorado' ice-cream company, the V8-engined single seater was one of the first European racing cars to feature a sponsorship livery. Unfortunately, the Stirling Moss driven machine struggled against the seasoned American opposition at both the 1958 and 1959 editions of the event. Another fabulous machine that has been part of the collection from its inception is one of just four A6 GCS/53 chassis fitted with a Pinin Farina coupe body. This exceptional design has formed the inspiration for many of the current generation Maseratis. Later additions include the ex-Scuderia Serenissima Tipo 63 'Birdcage'. Returned to the factory after just a single season at the end of 1961, it had been tucked away in a corner together with a sister car for decades. Both were restored in recent years and complete with its 'gun-turret' exhausts, it is now one of the most evocative members of the Panini Collection. Also added at a later date was a 250F, arguably the finest of all Maserati racing cars and a much earlier 6C 34, which was under restoration during our visit.
For any Maserati enthusiast, the Panini Collection is a must visit museum. It is accessible by appointment only but visits can be arranged through the Hombre farm directly or by contacting Maserati. Do make sure you have time in your schedule to not only admire the fabulous machinery but also sample the Parmigiano.