Thursday, June 26, 2014

Maserati's Hot Rod

Maserati does a muscle car: the 450 S.

Stirling Moss has said that the 3 liter straight six Maserati 300 S was his favorite racing sports car of the 1950's because it was such a balanced, tossable, car.  It punched above its weight, but couldn't contest overall wins with the Ferrari 290 MM or the Jaguar D-Type.  The 450 S was Maserati's hot rod for 1957.  It was intended to win the Mille Miglia, LeMans, and the unlimited sports car championship.  A target competitor was the (specialist) LeMans-winning D-Type.  But the real target was Maserati's cross-town rival, Ferrari.

How would Maserati beat Jaguar's 3.8 liter six and Ferrari's 3.5 liter V-12?  With 4.5 liter V-8 powah.  I searched the internet for a claimed horsepower figure for the 4.5 and didn't find one.  But certainly it was over 400 and, if Maserati followed Ferrari's 1950's practice of optimistic claims, it might have been 450.  Either way, the 4.5 had a 10 to 20% advantage over its competition.

The Maserati d.o.h.c. 4.5 liter V-8: one of the largest postwar European race engines.

The 450 S was essentially a super-sized 300 S.  But something was lost in translation.  While it had a top speed of 190 m.p.h. (important for the Mille Miglia and LeMans), it handled poorly with that big
V-8 over the front wheels.  But it got Enzo Ferrari's attention: he punched the 290 MM's 3.5 liters out to 3.8 liters (the 315 S) and then 4.0 liters (the 335 S).  On paper, the 450 S remained a Ferrari-killer, especially with Juan Fangio and Stirling Moss behind the wheel.  But in an era when race cars were unreliable, Maserati had an unusually star-crossed season, leavened with both Keystone Cops and gallows humor.  Here's the record:

Buenos Aires 1000 km's: Fangio/Moss retired when the clutch and then the gearbox failed.  The Ferrari 290 MM of Masten Gregory/Eugenio Castellotti/Luigi Musso won in a trot from a Maserati
300 S driven by Jean Behra/Carlos Menditieguy.

Sebring 12 Hours: Fangio/Behra did 190 m.p.h. on the long straights, winning easily from Ferrari 315 S's.  Everybody ran out of brakes, but the Ferraris ran out sooner.  And a lot of people were surprised when the 450 S lasted so long on Sebring's bumpy runways.

Mille Miglia: The Moss/Jenkinson 450 S challenge fizzled when the brake pedal pad snapped off the pedal lever at the weld, only 7 miles after the start.  But Ferrari would have given them all they could handle.  The Peter Collins/Louis Klementaski 335 S led early and was beating the legendary Moss/Jenkinson time of 1955 when the differential failed late in the race.  Piero Taruffi won in a 315 S. The best Maserati could do was Giorgio Scarlatti's distant 4th in a 300 S.  Alfonso DePortago's fatal crash in a 335 S ended the Mille Miglia.

Nurburgring 1000 km's: The 3 liter Aston Martin DBR1, driven by Tony Brooks/Noel Cunningham-Reid, won easily.  This was the DBR1's first major international victory, foreshadowing its dominance at the 'Ring and showing that superior handling could beat big power there.  The Aston was followed home by two Ferraris.  Moss's 450 S broke a wheel while in the lead, having chased Brooks down from 4th place.

LeMans: Jaguar swept the first four places in the D-Type's last appearance at a major international race.  Fangio refused to drive Moss's brainchild (below) and was paired with Behra in a 450 S Spider. Behra muffed the start and had to work his way forward from mid-pack to second.  Moss's coupe could only manage 4th in the early going with a duff engine.  Both 450 S's retired around 10% distance with broken differentials.

Sweden 1000 km's:  Jean Behra won in a 450 S, followed home by Phil Hill in a 335 S.

Venezuela 1000 km's: The Collins/Hill 335 S won, followed home by the Mike Hawthorn/Musso ditto.  Moss had an accident in his 450 S.  He took over Jean Behra's 450 S after it suffered a minor fire, but burned his butt because the seat was still smoldering.  This car had another accident with Harry Schell at the wheel.  Two more DNF's for the 450 S.

Ferrari won the sports car championship again in 1957 with 48 points.  Maserati was a distant second with 28, followed by Jaguar with 17, Aston Martin with 8, and Porsche with 7.  Sports cars would be limited to 3 liters in 1958, so 450 S and the big bore Ferraris were obsolete at the end of the season.

Above and below: the Stirling Moss-inspired, Mike Costin-designed, Zagato-built, one-off 450 S LeMans coupe.
Costin already had a reputation for slippery shapes like the Lotus Eleven and the Vanwall Grand Prix car.  Moss
was looking to capitalize on the 450 S's power on the long Mulsanne Straight.  But the coupe proved to be a
turkey.  Costin said that Zagato failed to follow his drawings, and cut holes in the bodywork, increasing drag.
This may have been true, as far as it went, but the sauna-like cockpit needed better ventilation than Costin
had provided.  Also, as these "before and after" pictures show, the as-designed windshield wiper failed to
clear the screen.  So Maserati's LeMans mechanics added a supplemental wiper pivoted at the top of
the screen and a "bug deflector" to the cowl to disturb the airflow and let the wipers do their job.

The 450 S coupe as restored in recent years.  It was converted to a road car after the 1957 season, substantially as it
appears here.  That is, the compound-curved windshield, quarter windows, bright metal side vents, and enclosed/
muffled exhausts.  It was offered for sale out of Toledo, OH in the early 1960's, apparently without takers, because
classified ads for it ran in Road & Track off-and-on for several years.  Since then the color has changed (from red)
and the interior may have been upgraded.  I hope it has air conditioning.

Despite its wins at Sebring and Sweden, the 450 S was not popular with its front-rank drivers.
Two 450 S's went on to some success in big-bore sports car racing in the States, driven most notably by Carroll Shelby.  But in 1958-59 the hot set-up over here was Lance Reventlow's new Scarab, with a 5.4 liter small block Chevy doing what the 4.5 liter Maserati V-8 had been intended to do.

Carroll Shelby had successes in a 450 S imported and entered by Temple Buell in road races in the U.S.  This picture
is of a win at the Virginia International Raceway inaugural event in August, 1957.  Aston Martin, Ferrari, and Jaguar
were financially secure compared to Maserati.  So their factory racers typically had a technical edge or two, and were
not sold until the end of the season.  Maserati was sometimes in the position of selling one race car to finance the
building of the next one.  Thus a front-rank Maserati showed up in Virginia in the middle of the '57 season.

Scarab at a modern vintage race.  The entire point of the Scarab, from Lance Reventlow's viewpoint, was that the
Southern California hot rod engineering and fabrication traditions could build a better unlimited racing sports
car than the Europeans.  And he was right, at least when it came to sprint races.  But another way to think of
the Scarab is a Maserati 450 S done right.

No comments:

Post a Comment