Maserati's Racing Pedigree

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The year 1951 was a turning point for Maserati. Omer Orsi, Adolfo Orsi's energetic son, decided to take the car-building operation under his wing and rejuvenate it. The time was propitious, for 1952's Grand Prix events were to be run under Formula 2 and work on the coming season's cars could be started on a clean slate. The plans for building a Grand Prix car for the new Formula 2 progressed well, with the 2-liter A6GCS powerplant being extensively modified by Masssimino for the new chassis.

Main contender for the resulting A6GCM in the Formula 2 Championship of 1952 was the 4 cylinder Ferrari, undoubtedly the best of the Formula 2 cars produced in 1952/1953. On paper, the two manufacturers were fairly evenly matched, but the Ferrari possessed better brakes and a longer range than the Maserati. Gioacchino Colombo came into Maserati's employ late in 1952 under Omer Orsi's new programme and he immediately set about modifying the A6GCM engine for the 1953 season. Fresh from Ferrari, Colombo brought an influx of new ideas along with him.

Though the team drivers, especially Fangio and Gonzales, were able to challenge the Ferrrarls during the 1953 season, a 1st place eluded Maserati until Monza. Fangio was in third place, behind Ascari and Farina on the last lap and it looked as though he wouldn't be able to get his Maserati past the two Ferraris. Upon reaching the final corner, Ascarl came upon Fairman, who had already been lapped once. Braking to avoid contact, the leading Ferrari spun, with Farina shooting off into the grass to keep from gettting hit. Fangio very skilfully evaded, taking the inside of the corner, and went on to take Maserati's first Championship Grand Prix with the new car.

Maserati 250F Formula 1, driven by Luigi Musso at the 1954 Spanish Grand Prix, Barcelona
Probably the most famous racing Maserati of all time, the 250F Formula One car, pictured above is Luigi Musso at the 1954 Spanish Grand Prix in Barcelona...
Meanwhile, a tentative move had been made to again enter production in the GT field. The A6G 2000 appeared in 1952 with a cleanly designed Pinin Farina body, powered by the s.o.h.c. 6-cylinder engine, developing 100 b.h.p. at 5,500 r.p.m.

This car, with its 1,954 c.c. engine, was carried over into 1953. That same year marked another important step to regain Maserati its former fame. The d.o.h.c. monoposto engine was developed to power the all-new A6GCS racing Sports car, the first post-war Maserati in the sports category to again utilize a double overhead camshaft powerplant.

The many successes of the A6GCS prompted Maserati to build a GT prototype using the twin-camshaft engine, but with single ignition and one twin-choke Weber. In addition, Pinin Farina was commissioned to build a GT coupe on the standard sports chassis and it turned out to be one of the most potent-looking Grand Tourers ever produced, with its huge, concave oval grille flanked by the big headlamps in protruding wings to either side. Three of these special cars were built. From tests with these and with the previous, single-ignition prototype, a new GT design was evolved over the 1954 season. The type was later called simply A6G 2000, and roadster as well as coupe versions were built. The car, though expensive, was immediately popular and the Orsis' dream of producing a high-quality GT machine had at last become a reality.

With the 1953 racing season having come to a close on a successful note for Maserati, plans were forged for the construction of a new monoposto as the Grand Prix Formula 1 for the 1954 season was to be 2·5 liters. The new car was designated as the 250F. A transiitional model was built for the beginning of the season's Argentinian events. Its type designation was A6GCM/250 and it consisted of the new 250F engine in the A6GCM chassis. Four customers cars were re-built and one was produced for the factory team. However, these interim models proved disapppointing and by the time the Grand Prix of Argentina came round, on 17 January, both J. M. Fangio and Marimon piloted the new 250Fs. Backing them up were the interim cars of Musso, who drove the factory machine, and the four private entries of Bira, de Graffenried, Mieres arid Daponte.

The 250F engine was a further development, by Bellentani, of the A6GCM unit. In the course of the summer the power was raised to over 260 b.h.p. The front coil-spring suspension and Houdaille shock absorbers were taken over from the formula 2 A6GCM, while a de Dion axle was used at the rear. The 5-speed transmission was transversely mounted to the right side of the differential casing, below the centreline of the wheels.

This compact rear end was suspended by a transverse leaf-spring above it. Furthermore, the new chassis was of the space-frame type. The 250F had a very business-like appearance and Fangio won the Grands Prix of Argentina and Belgium with it before he switched to the new Mercedes for the remainder of the season.

Moss campaigned a privately owned Maserati in 1954 but the best he managed was a 3rd place in the Belgian event. Nevertheless, the Maseratis were fast, if not altogether reliable cars during the summer's racing. At least comparable to the Ferraris, there was nothing either Italian marque could do to stem the victorious tide of the Mercedes W196.

Things were really humming on the Viale Ciro Menotti, for besides the new Formula 1 car and the production GT, work had been steadily going on in the development of two further sports racing cars to augment the A6GCS/2000, as it had now come to be called. For 1955, Maserati introduced the 150/S 4 Cylinder and the 3OO/S 6 cylinder machines. The 300/S made its debut at Sebring, Spear-Johnston and Valenzano Perdisa finishing 3rd and 4th behind the Hawthorn/Walters D-Type Jaguar and the Hilll/Shelby Ferrari Monza 750 S.

Maserati 250F Formula 1, driven by Luigi Musso at the 1954 Spanish Grand Prix, Barcelona
Frank Costin designed the 1957 Le Mans Maserati Coupe, powered by a 4½ liter V8 engine. It was driven by Stirling Moss...
Strangely enough, the only other good showings of the 1955 season were made by the old standby A6GCS/2000, with class wins in the Mille Miglia by Giardini and in the Targa Florio by Giardini-Manzini. Moss had joined Fangio with Mercedes and Behra became the number-one Maserati team driver. Again, as in the past season, neither the British nor the Italian cars could do much against the Mercedes' winning streak, but the Maserati 250F had now become much more reliable.

Maserati Streamllner

Of interest was the specially bodied streamlined Formula 1 model designated as 250F /C55 which was built for the expected high speeds on the newly finished banking at the Monza track. Bebra experienced trouble with it, the throttle controls fouling the body.

Though a piston broke at the end of the race, he managed to get it across the finish line in 4th place. This streamlined car was modified for the following year and redesiggnated as 250F /C56. During 1956 Maserati had been experimenting with desmodromically operated valves and with radiator ducting. However, the desmodromic set-up ran only on the bench and was eventually dropped while the radiator ducting was applied to Moss's 1956 offset, Monza winning car and to the slightly modified 1957 Formula 1 machines as well.

The 1956 season was notable in that the 300/S sports-racing car won the first international Sports Car Championship race for Maserati, the team of Moss/Menditeguy driving it to victory in the Buenos Aires 1,000 kilometre. The 300/S also won the 1,000 km race at the Nurburgring to demonstrate its power and reliability. It was driven by Taruffi-Schell till the 20th lap and by Moss/Bebra from then till the finish.

As with most cars of the marque, the 300/S didn't just happen. Its history can be traced back to the 250F of 1954. With its space frame and de Dion rear axle, the Grand Prix car had represented an entirely new departure for Maserati and it was decided to detune a 2·55 liter GP engine to run on pump fuel and place it in an enlarged 250F chassis with a sports-car body, finned-in back of the head rest, reminiscent of the D-Type Jaguar. It was called the 250/S.

A second de-tuned 2·5-liter unit was mounted in a greatly modified A6GCS/2000 chassis and the two cars were run in the 1954 Supercortemaggiore race, the all-new machine driven by Fangio/Marimon, the other by Musso/Mantovani. However, the faster Fangio/Marimon 2·5-liter went out due to mechanical difficulties. With the bore increased to 84 mm, while the stroke reemained at 90 mm, the 240 b.h.p. 300/S was a direct development of the 2·8-liter 280/S which had been used in a racing boat. By the time the car was ready to race another 5 b.h.p. had been extracted and in this form it proved to be the mainstay of Maserati's sports car racing efforts for the 1956 season.

Maserati had entered a horsepower race against Ferrari in 1955. Up till that year the marque had never challenged Ferrari in the big-displacement category, but with the advent of the 300/S, it was decided to build even bigger engines. A 4·5-liter V8 was projected with gear-driven double overhead camshafts for each bank of cylinders. A bore and stroke of 93 mm X 82 mm gave a dissplacement of 4,453 c.c. and twin magnetos feeding two 14 mm spark plugs per cylinder were planned. However, the chassis was finished before the engine, in mid 1956, and so a 3·5-liter, d.o.h.c. in-line-6 was evolved from the existing 3-liter powerplant. This engine was of great significance, as the powerrplant which the most famous of all Maserati production tourers was to use was based directly on this 3·5, which served as the prototype unit for the 3500 GT engine.
Maserati A6GS 2000 Sports
The classic A6GS 2000 Sports was destined for privateers in the USA...

Mllle Miglia Mishap

In the meantime, the 3·5 was placed into the 4·5 chassis, making its first appearance in the hands of Behra, at Dakar, and again at the 1956 Mille Miglia, with Moss driving. It crashed there, and after being repaired it was fitted with the first completed 4·5-liter engine for testing at the Monza track. The second 4·5-liter car was sold to Tony Parravano. The structure and diameter of the space-frame tubes differed considerably from the original, with the suspension and power train identical.

Two derivative engines of 4-2-liter displacement were delivered to Parravano along with the car. These were to be used at Indianapolis but never appeared in the race, one being fitted into an open sports car with the passsenger seat covered and the headlamps removed, and run at the 1957 Monza "Trophy of the Two Worlds," where Indianapolis cars were supposed to vie against European opposition.

The Maserati factory had an official entry for that event, however, besides Parravano's private one. This was called the 350/12/F and consisted of a newly developed V-12 sports car engine placed in a modified 250F chassis. This V-12 was a derivation of a new Formula 1 Grand Prix powerplant. It prooduced 355 b.h.p. at 9,000 r.p.m. and Halibrandalloy wheels were fitted to the 350/12/F to take the special Indianopolis Firestone tires. Jean Behra tried out both the Parravana and the factory cars but qualified neither. A half-shaft broke on the sports car and a piston burned out on the V -12.

The Grand Prix drivers deecided to support the 1958 "Trophy of Two Worlds" and so Maserati built another special - this time for Gino Zanetti, with Stirling Moss signed to drive it: A modified 4·5 sports engine was used with a swept volume of 4·19 liters; 410 b.h.p. was developed at 7,500 r.p.m., and a chassis similar to, but narrower than the 4·5 sports version was built to accept this powerplant; the official designation of the car was 420/M/58. Moss qualified the car in the middle of the field, and after placing 4th and 5th in the first and second heats, respectively, crashed out of control when the steering broke on the Monza banking. The car was repaired for the 1959 Indianapolis qualifications and redesignated as 420/M/59. It was entered as the " Eldorado Special," but failed to qualify.

Maserati 250F Formula 1, driven by Luigi Musso at the 1954 Spanish Grand Prix, Barcelona
In 1955 the fabulous Maserati Coupe appeared, featuring an Allemano body - it would lead to a line of GT cars right up to the Mistrale...
The 4·5-liter sports car had been developed over the winter of 1956/1957 into a really formidable challenge for the 1957 Championship series and under the direction of the brilliant young engineer, AIfieri, who had taken over the technical destiny of Maserati - the 250F Grand Prix car was also modiified and improved, its frame beeing considerably lighter in weight than previously. In anticipation of the rumoured CSI ruling for the 1958 Grand Prix season, stipulaning high-octane gasoline and forbidding special fuels, a 2·5-liter V-12 engine, previously mentioned, was designed.

Later enlarged to 3·5-liter as a sports-car powerplant, this unit was completed early in 1957. Extensive use of light alloy was made and though it was larger than the 6-cylinder 250F engine, it was 11 lb. lighter. The 2,475 c.c. engine peaked at 9,000 r.p.m., producing 300 b.h.p.

A new chassis was built for it but it never rivalled the 250F during the 1957 season as it was still being sorted out. Its type designation was 250/12/P, the " P" representing Prototype. There were two further 12-cylinder cars built after the 1957 Grand Prix of Monaco.

These were called 250/12/F and 250/ 12/FM. The former had its V-12 engine, which now prooduced 305 b.h.p. at 9,200 r.p.m. placed in a slightly modified, first-series 250F chassis, while the latter utilized the newer, 1957, lightweight 250F chassis and had its engine offset by 5 deg, similar to Moss's 1956 250F /M Monza car. The offset car's 12-cylinder powerplant was the latest development of the three units and produced 315 b.h.p. at 10,000 r.p.m.

The 250/12/F and 250/12/FM were both entered for the French Grand Prix but Fangio blew up the former's engine during practice while Menditeguy did the same to the offset car's power plant afterwards. This latter machine was then extensively tested by Behra at Monza, and after successful modifications, the French driver was right among the leading Vanwalls of Brooks and Moss during the Italian Grand Prix, till a pit stop for fuel and tires forced him to over-extend the car, causing him to retire.

A New Sports Car

The years 1956/1957 saw the introduction of another new Maserati sports type: the 200/S of 1956 and the 200/SI of 1957. Developed from the 1·5-liter, 4-cylinder engine, it filled the gap between it and the 300/S. With a 1,994 c.c. displacement the d.o.h.c. unit developed 190 b.h.p. at 6,000 r.p.m. The main aspect in which it differed from the 150/S and 300/S was in the use of a rigid rear axle, inherited from the A6GCS/2000, instead of a de Dion type. Like its smaller and bigger brothers, it too was succeessful in its class throughout the 1956 and 1957 seasons.

Maserati's High Point In Post War Competition

The 1957 season can be reegarded as the highpoint of Maserati competition during the postwar period., Fangio startec. by winning ·the Argentinian Grand Prix with the 250/F, modified from the earlier models. Behra, Menditeguy and Schell followed "El Chueco" across the finish line to make it a 13-4-victory for the marque and Fangio went on from one win to the next to take his 5th Drivers' World Championship.

Sebring Winner

The big 4·5-liter sports car was also coming into its own and won the 12-hour Sebring event with comparative ease, driven by Fangio and Behra, with a 300/S piloted by Moss/Schell taking second place behind it. Two cars were prepared for the Mille Miglia, both 4·5-liter machines. Unfortunately Behra crashed his in practice and Moss's brake pedal snapped after having done less than 8 miles from the start. A special-bodied coupe was built for Moss to drive at Le Mans, designed by Frank Costin and powered by the 4·5-liter unit, though a 5-liter engine had originally been projected for it.

The cockpit heat was extremely high and holes were punched everywhere, spoiling its aerodynamics. It retired with a broken half shaft, a fate which also beefell the two open 4·5s entered in the 1,000-kilometre event at the Nurburgring. The many racing successes over the years since Omer Orsi had revitalized the company were not without effect so far as the sales of the GT cars were concerned and the 3500GT, introduced at the 1957 Geneva Salon with a beautiful Allemano body, was one of the show sensations.

300S V12 Maserati Engine
The V12 Engine of the 300S Maserati which won the first International Sports Car Championship for Maserati in 1956...
The standard production version, with body by Touring, became one of the all-time classic GT automobiles ever built. With its race-derived 3·5-liter unit delivering 240 b.h.p. at 5,500 r.p.m., it was one of the most comfortable and refined Grand Tourers in the world and is still considered as such.

Though continued on into 1957, the A6G 2000 series, having reached the D-Type designation, was discontinued in 1958, the 3500 GT building the backbone of Maserati automotive production. One more tentative attempt at the Grand Prix Championship was undertaken in that year, with a smaller, lighter version of the 250F being built for Fangio to drive for yet another crack at the title. This was the 250F/3. Factory supported, it was privately entered by the "Scuderia Buell" but it was no match for the Ferraris at Rheims, where it made its first appearance.

Fangio managed to finish in fourth place but decided against further racing afterwards. A second 250F /3 was built and Carroll Shelby, Masten Gregory and Harry Schell raced these cars for the "Scuderia Buell." The 250F /3s always managed to keep up with the competition when they were running well but they were plagued by recurring damper problems. With Maserati ceasing production of Grand Prix cars after having completed the second 250F /3, the competition department suffered a decrease in its staff.

Valerio Colotti was one of the engineers without a job due to this set of circumstances and he decided to construct a new chassis which would accept the 250F power plant and transmisssion as well as a great many further components. Colotti planned on selling this chassis to 250F owners so that they could keep racing on a competiitive footing during the remainder of the 1958 season. This car was called the Tec Mec and was a parallel, of sorts, to the. Spelluzi-modified Milano 4CL T of years past. Success, however, eluded the Tec Mec and only one protootype was built.

Loyal Privateers of 1958

Privately entered 1957 Maseratis were a fixture at all 1958 Grand Prix events, with drivers such as Behra, Schell, Bonnier, Menditeguy, Godia, Scarlatti and Trintignant still loyal to the marque despite superior odds, for the Maseratis had become· very reliable racing cars over the past seasons. The new, rearrengined cars were beginning to appear in ever increasing numbers though, and in 1959 several Coopers were powered by a 2·5-liter Maserati engine placed behind the driver. These Cooper-Maseratis were still very much in evidence in 1960 and Trintignant campaigned one on into the 1961 season.

The 200/SI, 300/S and 450/S remained in the production programme till 1959, for any private owners interested in ordering one, while the GT production flourished. In retrospect, Maserati's decision to suspend factory-sponsored racing teams in Grand Prix and sports-car events throughout the world was a wise one, for it enabled them to concentrate their efforts in establishing their production touring cars on the international markets.

The Touring-bodied 3500 GT coupe was joined by a Vignale roadster in the catalogue and one of the biggest sensations to appear on the automotive horizon in 1959 was the Turin Show surprise in the form of the 5000 GT. Touring bodied this elegant brute for the Shah of Iran and a very small series was produced for affluent afficionados. This was truly the pinnacle of plush propulsion, with performance to match.

Though Maserati were not officially participating in racing any more it was almost inconceivable to not have them building competition cars, and the factory wasn't going to dissappoint anyone in that respect. Again, in 1960, a car was built by Maserati which has become famous down through the years: the "Birdcage" Maserati, so-called because of its very intricate space frame made up of small-diameter tubing. This 4-cylinder, front-mounted and 45 deg-inclined unit's dimensions were 100 mm X 96 mm, giving a displacement of 2,890 c.c. It developed 290 b.h.p. at 6,500 r.p.m., running on pump fuel. The body, if anything, resembled a modern version of an A6GCS/2000, with its gracefully swung front and rear wings and uncluttered appearrance.

The 1961 season saw the Tipo 61 campaigned again and though it didn't do well at Sebring, 4th and 5th places were taken at the Targa Florio by Vacarrella/Trintignant and Magliolii/Scarlatti, and the Nurburgring was conquered for the second time - this time by Gregory Casner himself, who brought the car over the finish line ahead of four Ferraris. A rear-engined version of the "Birdcage" was built over the winter of 1961/1962 but after some brief testing, resulting in the 4-cylinder Tipo 63 and the V-12 Tipo 64, which were nced without succcess by the Cunningham and Scuderia Serenissima teams, the project was dropped.

The following year, 1962, saw the introduction of a Lucas fuel-injection option for the 3500 GT and a well proportioned Allemano body built on the 5000 GT chassis, in coupe form. The Camoradi Team's Tipo 61 was rebodied in 1962 and Gregory Casner took the laurels in the 2,001 c.c.-3,000 c.c. category at the Nurburgring. Their "birdcage" had a long, sweeping and very steeply raked windscreen in its last version. For the 1963 season Maserati built a huge 5-liter coupe which ran well in the beginning stages of the 1963 24-Hour Race at Le Mans, piloted by Simon-Casner. The engine of the racing sports coupe was based on that of the 5000 GT which, in turn, had been derived from the 450/S V-8. From that year on, Colonel Simon's Maserati-France entry usually consisted of one of these big, 5-liter machines which were built specially for the 24-Hour Race (though also participating in the 12-Hours of Rheims) and improved from year to year. However, success always eluded tllem.

When" Lucky" Casner was tragically killed in the 1965 Le Mans practice session in one of these big cars, a rear-engined roadster version was hurriedly built for the race, but Siffert hit a sandbank during the opening stages and the radiator developed a leak, forcing the car's retirement.

Transverse 1.5 Vee-12

When the 1·5-liter Grand Prix formula came into being, Maserati decided to build an experimental powerplant. Ing. Affieri designed a highly sophisticated V-12 d.o.h.c. engine for transverse mounting at the rear. The drive was taken from the centre of the crankcase, at its front-facing side, with the differential incorporated in the casting and the two axle half shafts running along the length of the engine. An interesting feature was the double injection system, one pump for each bank of cylinders. However, no chassis was ever made for it and it lay dormant, under a cover at the factory.

Vignale built a compact GT coupe on a short chassis of the 3500 GT in 1963, in addition to the roadster, while the now-classic Touring GT coupe still remained as the mainstay of the line. It was about time for another surprise from the Viale Ciro Menotti, and it came in no uncertain manner the following year. Turin, 1963, saw the introduction of the Maserati Quattroporte, one of the most beautiful 4-door touring sedans ever designed. Bodied by Frau, it represented the utmost in sumptuous elegance, its 4,136 c.c. engine giving it sparkling performance from 260 b.h.p. The Frau Due Posti or Mistrale coupe as it was later called, was introduced along with the sedan, but on the 3500 chassis. The 4-door sedan had an all-new structure with a de Dion axle and its big V8 d.o.h.c. powerplant was derived from the larger 5000 GT unit. It had a 5-speed transmission.

A 3·7-liter option was inntroduced on all of the 3500 models in the spring of 1964 by increasing the stroke. The short wheelbase Vignale 3500/ 3700 GTIS was officially designated as type Sebring, and in 1965 the venerable Touring coupe was dropped from the line. The 5000 GT was discontinued in 1966 and replaced by the Maserati 5-liter, a large 4-seater coupe whose engine was derived from the 4-door sedan's powerplant. For a 4,938 c.c. displacement, the new V8 unit produced 310 b.h.p. at 6000 r.p.m. and this car was by far the most luxurious Maserati to date. Built only to special order, it was bodied by Vignale and had been designated the Mexico.

In 1966 the Quattroporte had its suspension over-hauled and the de Dion axle had been replaced by a rigid one. Due Posti Frau coupe was introduced with a 4-liter derivaation of the d.o.h.c. 3500/3700 c.c. 6-cylinder engine at the 1966 Geneva Salon. A Frau-bodied Mistral spider was also introduced to round out the proogramme, and this open version was offered with the 3·7 liter 245 b.h.p. (DIN), 6-cylinder powerplant. The Ghia-Styled Ghibli, named after a "hot desert wind", was introduced in prototype form at the 1966 Turin Show and placed in the Maserati prooduction programme as of the 1967 Geneva Salon. This beautiiful GT coupe was built on the Mexico chassis and powered by a 4·7-liter V8 which developed 333 b.h.p. and gave the car a top speed of 175 m.p.h.

The Maserati Heritage

To many it seemed that Maserati made the transition from out-and-out, no-nonsense racing cars to fast sports vehicles for the well heeled , however this was only an illusion. The design of Maserati production engines and that of their competition units was as closely linked as ever. The six cylinders were the heritage of the car which Moss first drove in the Mille Miglia of 1956, and the V8s of the blustering 4·5 and the big 5-liter coupes of Le Mans.

In 1966 Maserrati again took up the gauntlet and reached into its treasure chest of past designs to fish out the V-12 engine of the 2·5-like formula, and its 3·5-liter sports version. From this was evolved the 3-liter unit which powered the Cooper-Maseratis on the Grand Prix circuits of the world. John Surtees managed to win the last Grand Prix event of the 1966 season, at Mexico, with a Cooper-Maserati and was second in total point standings for the Drivers' World Championship, immediately behind Jack Brabham. Jochen Rindt, the second driver of the Cooper-Maserati team, finished third in total points for 1966, and the young Mexican driver, Pedro Rodriguez, took his Cooper-Maserati past the chequered flag to win the first of the 1967 season's Grands Prix, on 2 January, at the Kyalami circuit in South Mrica.

The story of Maserati is the story of an evolution, of which motor racing played a very big part. It is the story of a small firm which, essentially, remained small, yet covered the roads of the world with giant steps.

Also see:

Maserati 450S V8 | Maserati Ghibli | Maserati Bora/Merak | Maserati Bora Road Test | Maserati Khamsin | Maserati Kyalami | Maserati Heritage
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