Magnifico Maserati
When I was growing up in Reno, Nev., I had one of the coolest friends ever.

His father worked at the Harrah's Automobile Collection (now the National Auto Museum ), which had one of the premier antique automobile and race car collections in the world.

After closing time, my friend's dad let us climb in and all around the cars.

I remember walking around in the back of a custom Rolls that Queen Elizabeth II gave Bill Harrah for the collection, and a powder-blue Ferrari that Harrah was giving his bride-to-be, Bobby Gentry. (It had a small silver plaque on the dash that said: "To Bobby with love, from Bill.")

But the real thrill was getting close to the exotic European racing cars, like Bizzarini, Lamborghini, Alfa Romeo and Maserati.

And now, decades later, I have the chance to drive a modern day descendant of such a car.

Over the past few years, there's been a trend to bring consumer versions of autos with a vintage racing lineage into the U.S. One of the most recent contributions is from Maserati.

An Italian Job

Fiat ( FIA) took controlling interest in Maserati in the early 1990s, eventually selling the Maserati company to Fiat's Ferrari division.

In 2002, the Maserati brand returned to the U.S. market with its flagship sedan, the Quattroporte.

This auto was first designed by Pietro Frua in 1963, as a high-performance car melded with a premium sedan.

The Quattroporte may be called a production consumer automobile, but it bears no similarity to mass-produced vehicles: Each car is made at the Maserati factory in Modena, Italy, using low-volume production techniques which combine high-tech process with traditional handcrafting.

The current American incarnation of the Quattroporte comes in three flavors: Quattroporte, Quattroporte Executive GT and Quattroporte Sport GT, and retails for roughly $120,000.

Sergio Pininfarina designed the exterior -- a sleek, stylish Italian body -- and the interior has all the treats you'd expect in a European luxury auto.

I'm 6'3", and the cockpit still felt comfortable and spacious, and all controls are within easy reach. Amenities -- such as full-leather tray tables for laptop use, and heating, cooling and massage settings for the front seats -- would help make even sitting in traffic relaxing.

And if you feel that you need to make a more personal statement, the Officine Alfieri Maserati personalization program lets you create your own interior from a choice of four million color and material combinations.

But of course, the raison d'etre for this car is the power plant.

All three variations of the Quattroporte use the same 4.2 liter 32-valve 390 hp engine, a direct descendant of the V8 used in Maserati's 450S racer (driven by teammates Juan Manuel Fangio and Stirling Moss in countless races in the '50s). Even though you're in a luxury sedan, you can definitely hear and feel that ancestral engine roar.

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