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Spy shot Maserati GT CC

It is accelerating development of an open-air conversion on its two-door GranTurismo coupe to create a car capable of going nose-to-nose with rivals including the Aston Martin DBS, Porsche 911 Cabrio and even the Bentley Continental.

The new Maserati Spider was spotted at Europe's favourite test location, the Nurburgring racetrack in Germany, earlier this week.

The beautiful sister to the hardtop GT already looks good, despite a breadvan-style disguise on the tail end to protect details of the folding roof conversion.

The Spider comes less than a year after Ferrari went topless with its California, a car that Italian sources insist was begun as a Maserati and then snitched to lead a revitalised red-car push into the USA.

The difference is that the GT convertible has a folding hardtop roof and not a conventional canvas top like the California, a major change from earlier Maserati convertibles.

The newcomer also looks likely to be built as a 2+2 open-top coupe, and not just a two-seat roadster, which moves it away from any potential rivalry with Ferrari as well as opening more sales opportunites.

The Spider is expected to have the same engine and mechanical package as the GT coupe, which starts with a 4.2-litre V8 in Australia at $298,800 and is likely to be previewed at the 2009 Geneva Motor show next February.