A little tickle of the column-mounted down-shift paddle plus a prod of the surprisingly long throttle later, and a howl is sent thundering down the length of the rocky tunnel. God, I’d forgotten just how good this V8 sounds.
The eight-banger in question is fitted under the vented carbonfibre bonnet of the Maserati Gran Cabrio MC, a car which really shouldn’t be in production still. Maserati’s sporting GT turned 10 this year and the Cabrio version seven, but rather than kill it off, the Italian firm has actually given it a facelift, extending its life by a good two to three years.
It’s long overdue a replacement - and one is in the works - but the old girl sticking around for a few years is no bad thing, as it effectively grants its fabulous 4.7-litre, naturally-aspirated V8 a reprieve. It’s only a matter of time before it’s entirely replaced by the 3.8-litre twin-turbo lump currently doing service in the Quattroporte, but given that it’d be too costly to re-engineer the Gran Turismo to take the thing, the 454bhp N/A engine stays. Can I get a hell yeah?
Snaking up and away from northern Italy’s preposterously pretty Lake Iseo, the MC proves itself to be a car that really doesn’t need a tunnel to make itself heard: it’s spectacularly, rudely and almost painfully loud, with the Sport button opening up a set of valves to bypass the rear silencers entirely.
Along with the noise, the lack of turbochargers also brings with it something painfully absent on most modern performance cars we’ve tested lately: super sharp throttle response. Booting it out of a particularly tight hairpin in first gear, there’s no painful pauses while you wait for a blower or two to wake up and spool. Nope: just an instant, shouty reply from the V8, which soon after smacks into its 7600rpm rev limiter before a tug at the right-hand paddle sees another cog shuffled into place.
Ah yes, the gearbox. All UK-bound MC Stradales had an automated manual gearbox, and I quite liked it. Oh, it was hilariously bad around town as it lurched the car around during each change, but when you were truly on it in Race mode and leaving the shifts to the last possible moment, it hammered home each cog with an addictive brutality. But, that transmission option is no more.
As Maserati seeks to simplify its newly updated range (there are Sport and MC versions of the coupe and drop top, and that’s it), all cars now get a six-speed ZF automatic gearbox mounted directly behind the engine rather than on a transaxle gearbox like the old semi-auto, shifting the weight distribution from 50/50 to 49/51. And yes, ‘six-speed’ is not a mistake: the GT is indeed still using ZF’s six-speed - the last car in production to have it fitted - since it’s just not worth putting in the development work needed to slot in the now ubiquitous (and slicker) eight-speed.
The sixer isn’t bad though, and other than a few ponderous moments, it’s generally meeting my constant shift demands with little fuss. And being an engine-noise obsessed child, I’m making a lot of demands.
I pull the MC Gran Cabrio into the car park of a little cafe which I should imagine is normally rather quiet, but today it’s crammed full of Maseratis and curious onlookers. Why? Because the police have rather kindly closed a two mile section of road for us to drive up and down jolly swiftly, taking all the necessary because racecar lines without the chance of causing a painful and horribly expensive accident.
My weapon of choice for this is the tin top Gran Turismo MC. As soon as I set off, I’m missing the extra sense of theatre lost by the tin roof. But hey, I’ll always take a extra bit of rigidity, something I appreciate particularly on a fast, third-gear right-hander.
Even in sharper MC trim the GT doesn’t betray its, err, GT-ness. It’s a seven-tenths car, this: start to push toward the limits and you’ll find body roll and - if you have the ESP turned on, at least - a tendency to understeer if you plough into a tight corner with a little too much enthusiasm.
The MC’s stiffer fixed-rate dampers (adaptive units are available) never stray into crashy territory, while giving more than enough body control for this sort of car. The steering’s peachy too: it’s nicely weighted and feelsome, helped by the fact the power steering is still a hydraulic setup. This feels like a car from a dying era, and is all the better for it.
It feels sufficiently fast rather than dramatically so - 0-62mph happens in 4.7 seconds, and if the local law had closed off a long straight road rather than a twisty one, we’d be able to hit 187mph.
On the return run, I’m gurning like an idiot. I haven’t smiled this much driving a new car since… well, the last time I drove a Gran Turismo, actually. The old MC Stradale has remained a firm favourite for me ever since my first drive in one, despite its foibles and technical inferiority. I’m enjoying this new version no less.
The best bit is, it has fewer irritations, mainly because they’ve finally replaced that ancient, clunky infotainment system with a modern touch screen. It’s a particularly mid-table affair that’s good rather than brilliant, with a logical layout and a reasonably responsive surface. There are better systems out there, but it’s lightyears ahead of what it replaced.
There are refreshed front and rear bumpers plus new clusters too (which I’m not entirely keen on down to the fake vents at the front and the bigger clusters at the back), and a whole load of new trim, colour and wheel options to give well-heeled Gran Turismo buyers a little more in the way of personalisation.
"By virtue of sticking around, the Gran Turismo has become more alluring than ever. Nothing looks or sounds quite like it"
None of this can entirely stop the GT from feeling as old as it is, and Maserati do expect you to pay at least £91,090 for the privilege of owning this dated slice of coupe, and that’s just the slightly softer, quieter Sport - if you want the MC it’s £106,725 for a cheapest coupe.
But by virtue of sticking around a while, the Gran Turismo has become more alluring and different than ever. Nothing looks or sounds quite like it, and the next one will have its work cut out to have anything like the emotional appeal of this loveable chunk of metal.
The last few miles of my drive in the MC are joyous but tinged with sadness. I’ve no doubt what finally replaces the Gran Turismo will be - as we’ve seen with the newly turbocharged Audi RS5 compared to its predecessor - far superior from a technical standpoint. But will it make up for the loss of what is one of the most captivating N/A engines of the modern era? I’m not so sure.
I put all that to the back of my mind and shift down a couple gears. There’s another tunnel incoming…