Driving the Maserati Levante with “Mr. Maine” Bill Green

CUMBERLAND — In 1914, two very disparate events occurred that would make large impacts on society in American as well as automobile styles, performance and general attitudes about luxury motoring.

Event one was Henry Ford gathering several friends, including at the time Thomas Edison, Firestone tire magnate Harvey Firestone, naturalist John Burroughs, plus Presidents Warren Harding and Calvin Coolidge, occasionally joining in, the self-dubbed “Vagabonds” essentially created the summer road trip.

While the group openly boasted about its “auto-camping” (they rarely roughed it, even over 100 years ago), the regular feature stories in prominent newspapers across the country created the emphasis for Americans to get out and explore and savor everything the still young country had to offer.

These annual car trips — in Model T Fords naturally — went on for 10 years, until 1924. This summer, pundits have estimated that 50 million Americans hit the road for July 4. Talk about starting a trend!

Across the globe, five Italian brothers founded a car company in 1914 to build Grand Prix race cars to compete across Europe. The Maserati boys found success, yet didn’t start to build street-going cars until 1926. Through a succession of ownership by other automakers, Maserati remains, to this day, the only Italian car company to ever win the Indy 500.

With many owners struggling to realize the premium asset that they acquired, Maserati suffered through several lean years until rival Ferrari acquired the brand in 1998, creating a luxury marquee for the sports car builder. In 2005, Fiat acquired both brands, which are now all owned by FCA — Fiat Chrysler Automobiles.

In a stretch of imagination, it only seemed fitting that the man who is most visible representing the best and brightest assets of Maine in our living rooms every Saturday night, as well as many other contributions to Maine’s televised media, should play the role of a “Vagabond” and sample the virtues of one of the world’s most-storied automotive brands.

So, out of the blue, Bill Green got the call. He was gracious to accept the offer, openly telling his wife, Pam, in the background that “some guy wants me to drive his Maserati!”

To be clear, there have been two stories about individuals who could easily be considered to “have the best jobs in Maine.” Terry Towne of Lamoine openly boasted to me that he had “the best job in the world” after spending a day on his boat working the various islands comprising the vast holdings of the Maine Coast Heritage Trust network near MDI. Terry clearly loved every part of his job — in the fog, in the heat, in the cold, summer or winter. Seems like a trait that Mainers hold dear.

Bill Green didn’t state anything like the best job boast. He needn’t make that claim; anyone who watches his reports or stories on his popular television show already knows that Bill has met and talked to more significant people than anyone else in the Pine Tree State. He’s been to more fascinating places than virtually anyone in the state, plus he has done more fun, interesting activities than most people could ever dream of. All while extolling the numerous practical virtues of our state. That earns the title “Mr. Maine,” our ambassador to the people from away, our “Uncle Bill” to everyone else.

The Maserati Levante is the brand’s first SUV. Like countless luxury automakers who once eschewed the prospect of selling some kind of “truck,” market forces now dictate that you will build a competent SUV/crossover or your business will wither and die.

The Levante, available in four trims (Levante, S, GTS, Trofeo) defined by four different engines (345-hp turbo V-6, 424-hp twin-turbo V-6, 550-hp turbo V-8 and 590-hp twin-turbo V-8) fights for marketshare against the Mercedes GLE, Porsche Cayenne, BMW X6, Land Rover Range Rover, Audi Q8, plus some shoppers might consider the high-end versions of other brands. At 197 inches long on a 118-inch wheelbase, the Levante is within tiny measurements of each competitor.

Pricing starts at $75,980, climbing to $171,475 for the Trofeo. Our sampled S GranLusso started at $91,980 before adding 21-inch triple-five-spoke Helios sport wheels, Bowers Wilkins Audio with AHA, Apple and Android compatibility, Trident accent stitching to the heated and cooler leather seating, plus the driver’s assist electronics and the Rame colored mica-paint that brought the sticker to $103,285.

Maserati also builds the Ghibli and Quattroporte sedans as well as the GT Convertible and Gran Turismo coupe.

The snarling twin-turbo V-6 is hand-built by Ferrari. It does not disappoint when prodded. It barks at redline and delivers on the audible sensations that have always been a signature statement of Maserati. AWD is standard with an eight-speed automatic plus an automatic five-way active air-suspension with selectable modes. The chassis is also polished, composed, compliant and generally spectacular.

In Part II, Bill gets behind the wheel plus we talk about the cars in his life, plus the impact that driving all over Maine has had on him.

Next week: Part II

Tim Plouff

Tim Plouff

Columnist at The Ellsworth American
Tim Plouff has been reviewing automobiles in the pages of The Ellsworth American weekly for nearly two decades.
Tim Plouff

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