A Rare Reunion

Collapse Show info

01 Apr 2019 in Article, Motorsport

Author : Charles

Image courtesy of Tom Shaxson

The Goodwood Revival is rich, fertile ground for motorsport headlines. The event bursts at the seams with motorsport‘s greatest machines, stories, legends and memories and myth alike pour from the packed paddocks. It should then come as no surprise that some stories get lost in the spectacle and excitement. In 2018 a remarkable reunion took place that may have passed you by, a reunion of two excruciatingly rare Grand Prix Maseratis that raced against one another for the first time in almost 70 years.

The story began as the 1930s drew to a tragic close. Grand Prix racing in Europe was by then utterly dominated by the well-financed, well-organised and well-equipped Mercedes-Benz and Auto Union teams. The two leviathan teams took all but three victories in official championship races between 1935 and 1939. In 1937 from 12 races the Mercedes-Benz team alone scored six outright victories, nine second places and six third places. Despite not enjoying quite the same dominance, the Auto Union team managed to take 25 victories between 1935-1937. The remarkable run of victories should perhaps come as no surprise as by 1937 the startlingly bold Mercedes-Benz drivers were playing with almost 650bhp in a 750kg car, good for almost 190mph in GP specification, upwards of 250mph in record-breaking spec. The story of the mighty Silver Arrows is familiar Grand Prix legend.

The appeal of most competition though, motorsport or otherwise, is the drama and excitement of an underdog outfit taking an unlikely win or an inspired driver snatching victory from the jaws of defeat. A noble but ultimately failed attempt is sometimes more celebrated than a runaway victory. Grand Prix racing in the 1930s was teeming with noble failures.

There were bold efforts to defeat the mighty German cars. Bugatti opened the 750kg formula with the Type 59, which despite its sublime balance and poise was woefully underpowered and under-braked for the class, and became the marque’s last GP car produced in any significant number. Once its 8CM quickly became obsolete, Maserati struggled to score victories with the 6C-34 and the wild V8Ri. Alfa Romeo’s glorious Tipo B ‘P3’ managed to hang on a little longer, despite its ageing design. Tazio Nuvolari’s dogged victory in 1935 at the German GP has been described by some as the greatest victory of all time, such were the odds against him and his ageing P3. Alfa Romeo fared better than most with a series of bigger machines designed to cope with the challenge; the Bimotore, the 8C-35, the 12C-36, the 12C-37 and the 308C and 312C. The Alfa Romeos kept the Germans honest but were unable to clinch meaningful victories. Delahaye’s ungainly 145 GP scored a win against Mercedes-Benz at Pau in 1938, but not much else.

It seemed that there was little that could be done to stem the tide, by 1938 Nuvolari’s heroic victory at the Nurburgring had become a distant memory. Organisers sought to level the playing field by crafty rule changes and in 1938 the sport’s governing body – the AIACR – set a maximum weight limit of 750kg and capacity limits of 3 litres with supercharging or 4.5 litres for naturally aspirated engines. Mercedes-Benz and Auto Union continued to use their existing chassis with a new supercharged 3 litre V12 engines and instantly set the pace. Delahaye and Talbot-Lago fielded 4.5 litre unsupercharged cars, Alfa Romeo C-Types appeared with three different engine types; V16, V12 and 8 cylinder engines and Bugatti introduced the stunning 59/50BIII, but the big surprise came at the Tripoli Grand Prix in May with the return of Maserati to Grand Prix racing. 

Emboldened by investment from the wealthy industrialist Adolfo Orsi, a revitalised Maserati team entered the new 8CTF, a 3 litre supercharged car based on their successful 1.5 litre voiturette cars. The design of the 8CTF chassis didn’t break new ground, built as it was around a channel-section steel frame with independent front suspension and a conventional one-piece rear axle. The engine was derived by fusing two 1.5 litre 4 cylinders together, it had twin overhead camshafts and twin Roots superchargers. Just like its voiturette progenitor the block and head were one piece, giving the car its ‘TF’, testa fissa derivation (head fixed). Innovative it was perhaps not but fast it certainly proved to be. At the Tripoli Grand Prix Achille Varzi drove chassis #3030 with Count Felice Trossi in the sister car #3031, they both qualified well and their outright pace on the fast Tripoli circuit kept them in contention, indeed Trossi set the fastest lap and led the race at one point. Gearbox and axle problems, however, brought their respective races to an end. 

Trossi was back in #3031 at the Coppa Ciano with Goffredo Zehender in chassis #3032. Auto Union did not field any cars, after a comprehensive beating in the German Grand Prix, but there were three Mercedes-Benz driven by the experienced Lang, Caracciola and von Brauchitsch. Despite the tough competition Trossi was able to set the fastest time on both days of practice and found himself comfortably on pole for the beginning of the race. Trossi had a bad start and dropped to fourth but was able to quickly retake his position at the front of the pack and this is where it gets interesting, because he soon started opening a gap between himself and Caracciola’s Mercedes-Benz. Since 1934 drivers, teams, indeed entire countries had invested huge amounts of time and money in a titanic effort to try and answer the dominance of the Silver Arrows and now it looked liked there might be a contender; Trossi, in a Maserati 8CTF, was opening up a gap against a Mercedes-Benz W154 with one of the all-time greats at the wheel Rudi Caracciola. However the unavoidable truth that to ‘win a race, one must first finish’ became painfully evident as Trossi retired with engine trouble, handing the race back to the three-pointed stars.

A familiar and frustrating pattern developed; fast qualifying, good grid positions, fastest laps, periods out in front and then brake failure, piston trouble and carburettor failure. At Coppa Acerbo, an injury forced Trossi to hand his 8CTF to a young Luigi Villoresi who despite being unfamiliar with the car posted a fastest lap but was then thwarted by a misfiring engine. Victory in a championship race came tantalisingly close at the German Grand Prix in 1939. Chassis #3031 was piloted by Paul Pietsch who qualified 8th and drove hard to put himself into the lead early on in the race in front of the 250,000 people, two Zeppelin airships and the might of the Third Reich, excited memories of Nuvolari’s win in 1935 began to resurface but alas problems with the spark plugs demanded a number of pitstops that denied Maserati an historic victory. Pietsch did at least get his 8CTF to the finish line achieving a respectable third position in the punishing crucible of the ‘Green Hell’.

Despite the promise of the 8CTF’s remarkable turn of speed, the cars proved fragile and unreliable and apart from the German Grand Prix Maserati didn’t enter the 8CTF into any championship events in 1939, concentrating its effort on dominating the 1.5 litre class. It did however enter a developmental car in the Swiss Grand Prix. This was known as the 8CL which boasted a new 32 valve engine based on the 4CL unit. Unlike many of their peers, whose racing careers were stunted by the outbreak of war, the racing lives of the promising 8CTF and the new 8CL were just beginning.

In 1936 and 1937 European teams dominated the Vanderbilt Cup in America. Wilbur Shaw, by then an Indianapolis 500 veteran, was convinced that he could win the race with a European car. The Germans wouldn’t sell their cars and Alfa Romeo wouldn’t sell current machines so Shaw, with help from the Indianapolis entrant Micheal Boyle, turned to Maserati. After a botched attempt in 1938, Boyle and Shaw took delivery of 8CTF #3032 in 1939 and promptly went out and won the Indianapolis 500. The ‘Boyle Special’ was born.

Meanwhile Frenchman Laury Schell and his American wife Lucy O’Reilly had purchased two 8CTFs, #3030 and #3031, for European competition that were shipped to the States when Laury was tragically killed in a road accident. An Argentinian concern, intent on entering Raoul Riganti in the famous 500 mile race beat Shaw and Boyle to the purchase of the 8CL #3034. So in 1940 all four of the three litre Maseratis contested the Indianapolis 500, Shaw in the ‘Boyle Special’, Rene Drefus and Rene Le Begue in the Lucy O’Reilly cars and Raoul Riganti in the 8CL. Shaw won again, becoming the first driver to win in consecutive years.

The exciting Italian cars were entered again in 1941. The two Lucy O’Reilly 8CTFs had been sold and now appeared as the Elgin Piston Pin Specials driven by Mauri Rose (#3030) and Duke Nalon (#3031). Shaw was still campaigning his 1939 winning 8CTF (#3032) hoping for an unprecedented hat-trick. Mauri Rose and Shaw started the race from the front row but Rose had to retire from the race with engine trouble and Shaw had a huge crash in what became his last Indianapolis 500 race. 

The 8CTF had proven itself fast in European GP racing and sealed its legacy as a sure winner in American oval racing. This was motivation enough for the Maserati factory to finish building the second 8CL (chassis #3035) ready for the 1946 season. The new 8CL was entered by Scuderia Milan for Luigi Villoresi to drive in the Indy 500 alongside a 4CLT driven by Duke Nalon, against the three veteran 8CTFs, it finished a respectable 7th place. Europe was well represented in 1946 as Louis Durant piloted an Alfa Romeo 308C and Hal Cole the P3-based ‘Don Lee Special’. Rudi Caracciola had also been invited to race but suffered life threatening head injuries in time-trials, there were even rumours that someone had shot him with a rifle because of his nationality! Of the 5 Maseratis that started, three finished in the top ten. This gaggle of unlikely Italian machinery continued, in different guises, with different entrants and occasionally different engines, to qualify for the 500 race until 1951. Joe Barzda’s team attempted to qualify in 1952 and 1953 but the 15 year-old design was now out-classed on the oval circuit. 

You would be forgiven for thinking that a respectable Grand Prix career taking the fight to the mightiest cars of the Third Reich and a victorious streak at Indianapolis, that not only spanned the Atlantic Ocean and a World War but also shaped the design of a generation of Indy cars, is legacy enough for any racing car. However in 1946 and 1947, the hillclimb legend Louis Unser took a Maserati 8CTF, chassis #3031, to the unforgiving dirt-road hillclimb at Pikes Peak and won, on both occasions. It’s also worth noting at this point that Shaw’s 1939 winner, chassis #3032, is rated by the American Historic Vehicle Association as ‘the most successful automobile to compete at the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race’ having won twice, finished third twice and fourth once.

The 8CL too proved its capacity to win against strong competition away from the Brickyard. In 1948 at the Mar del Plata Grand Prix in Argentina, racing against the likes of Varzi in an Alfa Romeo 12C-37, Villoresi and Fangio in spritely Maserati 4CLs and Jean-Pierre Wimille in the powerful Alfa Romeo 308C, Nino Farina took #3035 to a satisfying victory for a car that had perhaps missed its true calling as a Grand Prix racer. Chassis #3034 meanwhile was driven to 3rd in the Buenos Aires GP in the same year.

So from these five cars alone, Maserati were able to leave an indelible stamp on both pre- and early post-war racing in three different disciplines on tracks across the globe, in a way that none of its contemporaries did – even Alfa Romeo with their effective 8C-35 and powerful 308C. The impact of the 3 litre Maseratis, especially the 8CTF, is perhaps understandably diminished in the shadow of the Silver Arrows and obscured by our distance from racing in the States. However at Goodwood we are privileged to so often glimpse rare metal with real history reappear, and at the 2018 Revival Maserati 8CTF #3031 and 8CL #3035 not just appeared together but raced together for the first time since 1950. Note that chassis #3031 was the car that Pietcsh snatched 3rd place at the German Grand Prix, that contested seven Indianapolis 500s and that posted FTD, twice, at Pikes Peak. To see a car with that sort of provenance racing is a rarified treat. To see it racing against its even rarer brother is simply jaw-dropping. These magnificent machines took to the circuit for the Goodwood Trophy and as their howling straight-8s tore down the Lavant Straight they brought to life a moment of motorsport history that may have missed the front page. With the help of our photographer Tom Shaxon we took the opportunity of creating a centre page spread instead. 

They raced in good company too, alongside one of only two existing Alfa Romeo 308Cs, ERA GP1 (the only one ever built) and one of the two Maserati V8Ris. All we need now is a few Silver Arrows.

8CTF 3030

1938 dnf GP Tripolis Achille Varzi

1938 dnf GP Italy Monza Luigi Villoresi

1938 dnf GP Donington Luigi Villoresi 

1938 dnf GP Germany Nuerburgring Luigi Villoresi

1939 8th Swiss GP Bremgarten Rene Dreyfus

1940 10th Indianapolis 500 Rene LeBeque/Rene Dreyfus

1941 15th Indianapolis 500 Duke Nalon

1946 14th Indianapolis 500 Emil Andres

1948 35th Indianapolis 500 H. McQuinn

1951 dnq Indianapolis 500 B. Sennett

8CTF 3031

1938 dnf GP Tripolis Trossi

1938 dnf Coppa Ciano Leghorn Trossi/Villoresi

1938 dnf Coppa Acerbo Pescara Trossi/Villoresi

1938 disqual. GP Italy Monza Trossi

1939 9th Eifelrennen, Nuerburgring Paul Pietsch

1939 3rd GP Germany Nuerburgring Paul Pietsch

1939 dns Swiss GP Bremgarten “Raph” (Raphael Bethenod Count Montbressieux)

1939 dnq Indianapolis 500 Rene Dreyfus

1940 dns Indianapolis 500 R. Dreyfus

1941 dnf Indianapolis 500 M. Rose

1946 dnf Indianapolis 500 R. Snowberger

1946 1st Pikes Peak – Louis Unser  15 min. 28.7 sec.

1947 dnf Indianapolis 500 R. Snowberger 

1947 1st Pikes Peak – Louis Unser 

1948 dnf Indianapolis 500 P. Russo 

1948 7th Pikes Peak  Louis Unser 

1949 dnq Indianapolis 500 H. Banks 

1949 9th Pikes Peak Russell Snowberger

1950 20th Indianapolis 500 S. Webb 

1951 dnq Indianapolis 500 J. Barzada 

1952 dnq Indianapolis 500 J. Barzada 

1953 dnq Indianapolis 500 J. Barzada 

8CTF 3032

1938 dnf Coppa Ciano Leghorn Freddie Zehender

1938 acc. GP Italy Monza Freddie Zehender

1939 1st Indianapolis 500 Wilbur Shaw

1940 1st Indianapolis 500 Wilbur Shaw

1941 dnf Indianapolis 500 Wilbur Shaw

1946 3rd Indianapolis 500 Ted Horn

1947 3rd Indianapolis 500 Ted Horn

1948 4th Indianapolis 500 Ted Horn

1949 dnf Indianapolis 500 Lee Wallard

1950 dnq Indianapolis 500 Bill Vukovich

8CTF 3033

engine built for Cotton Henning, Mike Boyle’s racing mechanic

8CL 3034

1940 acc. Indianapolis 500 Raoul Riganti

1947 3rd Buenos Aires GP Puopolo

8CL 3035

1946 7th Indianapolis 500 Luigi Villoresi

1946 dnf GP Spain, Penya Rhin Luigi Villoresi

1948 1st Mar del Plata Giuseppe Farina

1949 acc. Indianapolis 500 Fred Agabashian

1950 25th Indianapolis 500 Henry Banks

1953 dnq Indianapolis 500 Roy Neumann

Leave a Comment!

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *