In stark contrast to the visual drama from the outside, the first few minutes behind the wheel of this Maserati 420 Super Monoposto aren’t all that exciting. Because they mostly involve flicking switches while staring at an A4 sheet of paper.
To help auction staff move the car around the lot as necessary, and for its next owner to be able to use the damn thing, there are detailed start procedure instructions to follow. Which I appear to have misunderstood. On the third read-through, I’ve finally cracked it.
The fuel pump is primed via a toggle switch under a red flip-up cover, the key is inserted through a loose plastic hoop tucked in the corner of the tape-covered top section of the dashboard to disengage the immobiliser, and finally, we have some life.
After a prod of the start button, a 4.2-litre, naturally-aspirated V8 awakes to an angry-sounding idle. This Ferrari-built F136 is shouting through its carbon fibre-tipped Ragazzon exhaust, giving a taste of what’s to come. Despite the name ‘Monoposto’, there is actually a second seat in this thing, although no one will be riding shotgun today - there’s a bolted-on tonneau cover blocking it and making the cockpit feel a whole lot cosier.
Beneath my feet are three pedals. Although closely associated with the Cambiocorsa robotised manual gearbox, Maserati did sell some of its Coupe and Spider models with a conventional stick shifter and a clutch pedal.
With the partly exposed cockpit, the livery and the noise, I’m not sure I could be any more conspicuous. That was the original point of the car’s conversion to Super Monoposto spec about five years ago - it was made for something called the Best of Italy Race, in which Jodie Kidd got behind the wheel. Only seven of these were built, a tenth of the number of MC12s made by Maserati. Just in case you’re wondering why you’ve never seen one IRL.
This one started off as a 2003 4200. Currently, it’s showing 42,000 miles on the clock, but it’s unclear how many of those were clocked post-conversion. A remap should have bumped the 385bhp power figure up, but probably only by 10bhp or so. A far more dramatic effect on performance is the drastic weight loss, with around 500kg ditched.
As such, it picks up extremely quickly when the throttle is applied, with the air resistance of my poor face adding to the sensation of speed. There is a little, bubble-like windscreen in front of me, but it doesn’t seem to do a whole lot.
The engine sounds better the higher the revs are, going from rumbly low RPM goodness to a shrieking top end. It’s one of the best-sounding cars I’ve driven in a while, but only up to about 30mph - beyond that, the exhaust note takes a back seat as wind noise comes to the fore. I probably should have brought a helmet. Or at least earplugs.
The manual gear shift is a little notchier than I’d hoped it would be, but self-shifting is still far preferable to the notoriously clunky Cambiocorsa setup. Plus, heel-and-toe downshifts are an absolute joy, so long as you’re going slow enough to actually hear the howling rev spike.
The 420 sits noticeably lower than a standard 4200, but it’s surprisingly comfortable over rough surfaces. Don a lid or at least some retro goggles, and you could easily do some decent miles in this thing.
It’s a nicely sorted chassis, riding well while staving off any kind of serious body roll. Plus, thanks to that low weight figure, it changes direction enthusiastically, helped further by reasonably brisk steering which gives a nice amount of feedback. Not that it needs any of these attributes - it could be a dog to drive and still be great fun, thanks to the noise, the exposure and the mere knowledge of the spectacle you’re causing.
As my brief taster comes to an end, I’m left pondering the slew of roofless, windscreen-less hypercars that have emerged over the last couple of years. Yes, they’re all considerably more powerful and technologically advanced, but would they be significantly more fun to drive? Admittedly I’m yet to try any, but I’d be surprised.
Pound for pound, the 420 is certainly superior. While the McLaren Elva is priced at £1.4 million, this Maserati had an estimate of £37,000 - £45,000 via Historics, which was set to auction the car off last month along with a Datsun 240Z and Hummer H2 we also sampled.
In the end, it never made it to the auction block - someone was taken with it enough to buy it privately ahead of the event. We get why.