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Driving Range: Along Came a Spyder

The name Maserati has long been a symbol of the best of the Italian automotive industry: ferocious performance, sophisticated engineering, elegant and provocative styling. And the worst: questionable reliability, dubious management and financial instability. Founded in Bologna in 1914, Maserati made its name in motor sports. Until 1926 it made only race cars, and later made the 1939 and '40 Indianapolis 500-winning roadsters driven by Wilbur Shaw. Relocated to Modena in 1939, Maserati became one of the top teams in Formula One, fielding cars for such legends as Stirling Moss and Juan Manuel Fangio, who won the world championship in 1957—the company's last year as a factory race team. But by the 1960s and '70s, high-performance street cars were its stock-in-trade. The Quattroporte, made from 1964-69, was the world's fastest four-door sedan, while the mid-engined Bora of 1971-78 was one of the most outrageous two-door coupes of all time.

Then Maserati lost its way. Alliances with Citroën in France, Chrysler in America and Fiat in Italy failed. The Biturbo of the 1980s and the infamous 1989-91 Chrysler TC nearly ruined the company, leading it to pull out of the U.S. market. But in 1997 Ferrari bought Maserati and now, after a twelve-year absence, the brand is back on the American road.

This is a strong start: Maserati has unveiled a pair of 2003 models—the two-seat Spyder convertible and the 2+2 Coupe. Each is powered by a 390-horsepower, 4.2-liter V-8 that delivers performance worthy of the Maserati name—zero to sixty in less than five seconds and top speeds of 176 m.p.h. (The Coupe, thanks to a slight aerodynamic edge, tops out 1 m.p.h. faster.) You can opt for a six-speed manual gearbox or a semiautomatic six-speed Cambiocorsa (that's Italian for competition gearbox). As company officials point out, these are grand touring, or GT, vehicles, high-performance machines that are also long on luxury. In that way they're like Italian Jaguars.

My test Maseratis—one Spyder and one Coupe, each with the Cambiocorsa gearbox—proved to be eager performers. The Maserati V-8 has a wide power band and an almost erotic sound to it. Mash the throttle and the engine goes instantly from purr to roar as g-forces flatten you into your seat. You can even induce wheel spin in third-gear redline shifts.

The cars' handling more than matches their acceleration. On tight, twisty roads in California's Marin County, both the Spyder and the Coupe were delights to drive fast, whether in tight second- and third-gear turns or long sweepers at high speeds. Their nearly even front/rear weight distribution helps give them neutral and balanced handling. Pirelli P-Zero tires ensure that the Spyder and Coupe hug the road tenaciously, while huge Brembo racing disc brakes make stops short and sure.

These models' Giugiaro-designed bodies feature such touches as leather trim on the Spyder's twin roll bars. Buyers can choose from sixteen exterior colors, ten upholstery hues, five carpet colors, monogrammed doorsills and interior trim in either brierwood or carbon fiber. Maserati will also make you form-fitting leather luggage to put in the trunk, which will otherwise accommodate two sets of golf clubs. And with only thirty-two U.S. dealers offering them and worldwide production of just 3,500 cars, you won't have to worry about seeing too many other 2003 Maseratis on your block.

Time will tell if Maserati regains its former gloria. But I'll tell you one thing: I can't wait to drive the new Quattroporte, which hits our shores late this year.

Scorecard: Maserati Spyder
BASE PRICE/AS TESTED: $90,015/$93,215 MPG: 11/17
ENGINE: 4.2-liter v-8
HORSEPOWER: 390
TORQUE: 330 lbs. per ft.
TRANSMISSION: 6-speed F1-style paddle shift
ZERO TO 60 MPH: 4.9 seconds

Tee Time: Perpetual Motion
By Alec Wilkinson
Ulysse Nardin is a 157-year-old Swiss company that makes timepieces of extravagant complication. Some of its styles are playful, gaudy and impractical, and some, like the Acqua Perpetual, are more subdued and meant to be worn. None of them is demure. The Acqua Perpetual is like a monument on the wrist, with the weight of a small piece of sculpture. Why is it so hefty?Because, by means of mechanical sleight of hand, it tells the day, date, month and year perpetually; that is, once set it doesn't need adjusting. And in the year 2100, as everyone else with an heirloom perpetual watch is returning it to the factory to be reset, the Acqua Perpetual owner will need only to turn the crown once, setting the watch for the next hundred years.

Such machinery does not fit into a wafer-thin case. The Acqua Perpetual case is the size of a silver dollar and about as thick as an Oreo. Its cream and silver art-deco hands and boxy hour points contrast handsomely with a coal black face. The display is asymmetrical yet orderly and pleasing to the eye. An imposing watch for sailing, diving, bull-riding or high-stakes golf.

Scorecard: Ulysse Nardin Acqua Perpetual
DIAMETER: 42.5 mm
HEIGHT: 13 mm including crystal
MOVEMENT: Self-winding perpetual
DEPTH RATING: Water-resistant to 300 meters
PRICE: $21,800 including rubber strap and stainless-steel bracelet
CONTACT: 561-988-8600 or ulysse-nardin.com

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