Prestige Italian car maker, Maserati, a company with a much longer history of building road and racing cars than even Ferrari, has started a year in profit for the first time since at least 1993 when it was bought by Fiat.

Between 1998 and 2005 Maserati was owned by Ferrari before they split (amicably) and Maserati started working with another Fiat Group company, Alfa Romeo.

One consequence of that move is Maserati building the sensuous limited edition Alfa 8C Competitizone on its production lines.

Officials at Maserati's famous factory in the elegant city of Modena say Maserati turned in a trading profit of EUR10m in the first quarter of 2008 compared to a EUR1m loss in Q1 2007.

"Revenue increased by 15.6% in the first four months of 2008 over the same period of 2007 to EUR193m," said communications director Luca del Monte.

From a low point of building only 3,000 cars in 2003, Maserati expects to sell 8,000 this year, up from 7,200 in 2007.

"We are now selling in 59 countries and we are introducing two new models this year, the GranTurismo and the Quattroporte S which makes its motor show debut at the Paris Salon on 2 October," added del Monte.

"Last year Maserati made a profit for the first time in a long time, certainly since Fiat took control of the company.

"The trading profit was EUR24m in 2007 and we are doing even better this year with EUR22m in the first six months.

"Our sales last year were a record at 7,750 cars.

"Maserati is now in good health. Sales are up in all markets. We are pleased to see we are going against the current trend."

Over the years the company had frequently gone through periods when it looked unlikely the company to survive. Between 1956 and 1958 Maserati made only 10 cars and, from 1964 to 1971, output was just 770 units.

In contrast, Maserati built 5,700 cars in 2006 and the target this year is about 9,000.

Maximum factory capacity is currently 11,000 which will be reached in the next couple of years.

"We will be hiring more people to make more cars a bit faster but we want to remain exclusive and have no plans to make any more," said a factory spokesman, who claimed quality is also getting better.

The factory has adopted the Japanese 'kaizen' method of planning a job, carrying it out, then checking it and modifying practices if necessary.

"We are spending more time on quality control and trying to teach people to solve their own mistakes and so learn to avoid future problems," he said.

The emphasis is on careful, hand building with no robots in sight, though suppliers do use some to help build large assemblies.

A mix of models can go down the two, highly flexible assembly lines. When just-auto visited, GranTurismos and Quattroportes (one earmarked for the October Paris motor show) shared space with the occasional Alfa 8C.

Maserati bodyshells are made in Turin and then shipped to Ferrari at nearby Maranello for painting. Ferrari also builds Maserati's engines on dedicated production lines.

It takes nine hours for a car to naviagte its way down the assembly line. Each work station is timed for 21 minutes compared to around 30 seconds for a mass production line.

Maserati says there are 4m possible parts combinations to build a Quattroporte to order so it's impossible to have them all in stock. A computer ensures the required parts are ordered to arrive on time.

The current Quattroporte, launched in 2003, has arguably been Maserati's saviour. The first Maserati designed by Pinnfarina since the A6 in 1947, it won 46 international awards and has notched up a record 15,000 sales.

The next most successful car was the Coupe which sold 10,000.

Russell Bray