Behind the Logo is an original recurring series from Highsnobiety, exploring the history, design, and evolution of the biggest trademarks in the industry. This episode delves into the evolution of Maserati's iconic trident logo, an instantly recognizable emblem of automotive excellence.
Neptune's trident is a symbol of strength, vitality, courage, and command of the seas, and it has been for millennia. But the ancient Roman deity had interests besides the whole Aquaman thing, as indicated by his other name, Neptunus Equester, the god of horses and patron of racing. With that kind of pedigree, it's no wonder why the mythic three-pronged spear instantly conjures a certain image of automotive excellence in the eyes of car enthusiasts around the world: Maserati.
The Italian automaker has been in the game for more than a century, crafting elegant, high-octane race cars and luxury vehicles that are emblematic of quality, power, and prestige, not to mention unparalleled performance and style. Every step along the way, Maserati’s legion of god-tier, head-turning automobiles—from the iconic Quattroporte to the recently unveiled MC20—has proudly repped their signature trident logo.
So, how exactly did Neptune’s weapon of choice become synonymous with motoring excellence? It all goes back to Maserati’s hometown of Bologna, Italy.
But first, a little background. The Maserati story is one of near-mythic proportions at this point, and it goes like this: three brothers — Alfieri, Ettore, and Ernesto Maserati — started out by manufacturing spark plugs in 1914 but parlayed their mutual passion for engineering and motorsports into crafting bespoke race cars that quite literally changed the game. By 1926, they had created their first original design, the Tipo 26, which bore the Maserati name and a newly minted chrome logo on its hood. During its remarkable debut run, the Tipo 26 won its Grand Prix class in the grueling Targa Florio, and the rest is history.
The trident emblem was designed by another Maserati brother, Mario, whose passions leaned more toward the arts rather than engines. Inspiration struck thanks to the Late Renaissance-era Fountain of Neptune in Bologna's Piazza Maggiore, a city landmark that stood for strength and vigor. The logo has changed very little over the last 105 years of the brand’s existence, a testament to the power of the trident's symbolism and an apt banner considering Maserati’s ability to part a sea of rivals and brazenly stand out in an intensely competitive market.
By 1933, the logo underwent its first update while still retaining its core elements. The trident became red and was placed inside a pointed oval, which was segmented at the lower third, right above the Maserati name in sans serif lettering. The signature red, white, and blue colorway served as another nod to their Bologna roots. This format would carry through the next eight decades with varying degrees of color and detail evolving ever so slightly.
In 1937, Italian industrialist Adolfo Orsi purchased Maserati and eventually moved the company headquarters to Modena, where it has remained ever since. It didn’t take long for Maserati to earn another monumental achievement: back-to-back wins at the Indy 500 in 1939 and 1940, cementing its status as a racing force to be reckoned with.
In yet another pioneering milestone, Maria Teresa de Filippis, a works driver for Maserati, became the first woman to race in a Formula 1 championship in 1958.
A high-water mark of racing innovation came in 1959 with the Tipo 60, more commonly known by its nickname, “Birdcage.” An engineering marvel at the time, the Birdcage introduced an entirely new chassis housing an intricate web of 200 steel tubes. Though it faced a polarizing response from critics and competitors, the caliber of performance was undeniable, winning its debut race in 1959.
Maserati also made waves off the track when they unveiled the 3500 GT at the Geneva Motor Show in 1957—a moment when production and demand reached a fever pitch—and the Quattroporte at the 1963 Turin Motor Show, creating an entirely new class of cars: the luxury sports sedan.
As a brand built upon a foundation of engineering innovation, it’s no surprise Maserati made an epic return to the racetrack after decades of redefining the luxury performance market with masterpieces like the Quattroporte, Ghibli, Bora, and perennial GT Line. The MC12 catapulted Maserati back into the racing circuit in 2004 after a 37-year hiatus, winning a series of consecutive titles and securing its status as one of the most successful GT race cars of its generation.
While Maserati honed in on their competitive heritage, they continued to produce top-of-the-line performance vehicles for the road. Their latest Trofeo collection channels every ounce of racing prowess in sharp, powerful luxury cars that flex their Italian craftsmanship, ranging from a new iteration of the legendary Ghibli to the Levante SUV.
These cars repped the familiar, more modern logo that was first introduced back in 1998, featuring a round elliptical frame, brighter colors, and sophisticated serif type.
Now, Maserati is ushering in a new era with the highly anticipated MC20, a supercar packing a Maserati-built 630 horsepower twin-turbo V-6 “Nettuno” engine (named after Neptune, remember him?) that can go from 0 to 60 mph in 2.9 seconds and hit top speeds of 200 mph thanks to technology that was once found only in Formula 1 cars. The hallmarks of Maserati are on full display across every inch of the vehicle, from the impossibly sleek curves of the carbon-fiber frame and the impeccable, driver-centric interiors to the satin chrome finish of the trident on the grille. Fully electric and convertible versions are on the way, too, a testament to Maserati’s ongoing legacy of innovation.
Those with an eye for the finer points will notice an updated version of Maserati’s logo and wordmark throughout the MC20. The badge on the front hood features a stripped-down take of the timeless oval icon that now boasts a simplified white-and-blue colorway. The script logo is more crisp, contemporary, and streamlined. Same goes for the trident itself, resulting in a bold and balanced design system that is the epitome of elegance.
The Maserati story comes full circle with the arrival of the MC20 and its homegrown Nettuno engine, marking the dawn of an audacious new chapter in their ongoing epic. As the brand embarks on this journey, there’s no question their signature trident and all that it represents —power, performance, luxury, heritage—will endure for generations.