Maserati - a Glorious Failure A History in 1/43 scale
My earliest memories of Le Mans are from the early sixties just after we came to Britain from South Africa in 1960. By 1961 I was hooked on the Motoring News and the occasional Motor Sport when pocket money allowed and I began to take an interest in the other Italian sports cars. The 1962 race was the first in which I really took an interest in and it looked as if Ferrari might be knocked off its perch. Maserati had the wonderful 151 GT with its 4-litre V8, Aston Martin had Project 212 and a couple of DB4 Zagato's, Jaguar had three privately entered E types and there was a 5.3 litre V8 Chevrolet Corvette. Ferrari of course were there in force, a 4-litre V12 open 330LM for Phil Hill and Olivier Gendebien and a closed 330GT for Parkes and Bandini, they also had 2 mid-engined cars for the first time, there were 15 Ferraris in all and one of the other interesting cars was the Breadvan. This race was also the last for the 2-litre Bristol engine. The Lotus 23 was not allowed to run resulting in Chapman's refusal to enter a works car again.
New batteries for the tranny and I was set for the race, fully intending to stay up through the night listening to the light programs hourly reports from amongst others Raymond Baxter. In those days the grid was arranged by engine capacity and the Corvette made the most of its 'pole' and was first away but by the first corner Graham Hill had a lead he kept for the first lap, Gendebien was 2nd and Parkes was in the sand. After 6 laps Gendebien lead Graham Hill with the 3 Maserati's next, it was a promising start.. After 3 hours the Aston was in trouble with dynamo trouble and was out after 6 hours which was an hour longer than the Thompson/ Kimberley Maserati which had been 2nd at the end of the 2nd hour. Trintignant /Bianchi in the Maserati France car had been 4th after the first hour and lasted for 9 hours. The Hansgen/Mclaren Maserati lasted till 5 A.M. and by 6 A.M. I was asleep, P.Hill and Olivier Gendebien were into a lead they would hold to the end. This was the start of my love affair with Maserati's Sports Racing Cars which remains today.
In 1963 the Maserati France Car was back again, this time with the V8 up to 5-litres driven by Andre Simon and Lucky Casner, to my great excitement the Maserati lead for most of the first 3 hours involved in a tremendous battle with 3 Ferraris but then the gearbox failed and that was that.
This Maserati France car Chassis 151002 was back again at the test day in 1964 with new lower bodywork and a tiny window in the rear Kamm tail. The car was still in bare aluminium.
By race time the rear window had been increased in size and the bare aluminium was red, in the race Tritignant who shared the car with Simon was timed at 192MPH through a measured kilometer. After 5 hours the car was 3rd but by 9 hours it had retired. This race also featured the first appearance of the Ford GT.
The car was back again for the 1965 test days now white with red and blue stripes but it crashed killing Casner.
In three months Ing. Alfieri and Maserati designed and built a rear engined tipo 65 again with 5-litre V8. Siffert and Neerpasch were the drivers, it was fast but handled badly and Siffert damaged it beyond repair on the first lap and that was the end of Maserati's attempts to win Le MansÖ
Maserati's first Le Mans was almost as disastrous as the last, three cars were entered but two were delayed en route and were not allowed to start. Thus in 1954 the first Le Mans Maserati was the A6GCS of De Portago/Tomasi painted in the Spanish racing colours of black with a red and yellow stripe, the car retired after 11 hours. Its highest position was 14th just before retirement.
In 1955 Maserati was back with two 300S and one A6GCS, Musso /Valenzano retired after 20 hours when in 2nd place with a broken transmission, the other 2 cars were out by 9 hours.
In 1956 the works were not represented but 2 private 150S cars started, the car of Bourillot/Perroud finished 9th. No models are available of the 1956 Maserati 150s.
In 1957 Maserati was back in force with the potent 450S,they entered two 450S cars for Moss/Schell and Behra/Simon and a 300S for Bonnier/Scarlatti. There were also privately entered 200S (no kit available) and A6GCS cars. Maserati had asked Frank Costin to design a special coupe for the race, this was built by Zagato who did not understand the science of the aerodynamics, he added holes were they should not have been, left off the under shield raised the windscreen and many other differences to Frank's design. The result was a car that should have been very fast but it was slow, overheated and bits kept falling off! Despite Zagato's best efforts the car still looked wonderful and was fast enough to run 2nd behind the open car at the start, however both 450S were out after 5 hours and the 300S only lasted another 2 hours. Only the A6GCS managed to reach the finish in 12th place.
1957 was a terrible year for Maserati and the factory was not present in 58, only 2 private cars started, a 300S and a 200S and again neither finished.
In 1959 there were no Maseratis but in 1960 they were back with the semi works Camoradi team of Lucky Casner, three Tipo 61 cars were entered and again Maserati had something unusual. Le Mans regulations stipulated a minimum windscreen height, on the No 24 car of Gregory/Daigh the windscreen started at the front axle line and was nearly 5 feet long and with a long tail the 'Streamliner' was created. The other 2 cars had the long tail with a more conventional windscreen. The streamliner was clocked at 169MPH on the Mulsanne straight, 10 MPH faster than any 3-litre car had achieved before and Gregory intimated there was more to come! Gregory was slow away from the start in 24th position but a blast down Mulsanne saw him take the lead and at the end of the first lap he was 4 seconds ahead which after 2 hours had grown to 4 minutes, the other 2 cars were also going well and at last things looked good for Maserati. However after a stop for fuel at 6PM the car refused to start, a wire had broken in the starter motor a fault that would affect the other two cars as well. The starter was changed and the car recovered 2 of its 6 lost laps before it was the last Maserati to retire after 9 hours.
In 1961 Maserati was represented by Briggs Cunningham (Cunningham was a multi-talented sportsman and also defended successfully the Americas Cup Yacht races in 1958) and Scuderia Serenissima, Cunningham had two mid engined Tipo 63 cars and Serenissima a third, Cunningham also had a 2 litre Tipo 60 birdcage with a unique long tail. The Pabst/Thompson Tipo 63 finished 4th and Cunningham/Kimberly in the Tipo 60 were 8th,the best results achieved by Maserati at Le Mans.
Thus in 26 starts Maserati only made the finish 4 times but surely they produced some of the most exciting cars to appear at Le Mans. Maserati Engines were also used in Talbot and Ligier Chassis but these had no more success.
Le Mans has been the inspiration of many models, and despite Maserati's lack of success many of the cars have been modeled. Those still currently available are;
All the A6GCS cars are produced by Original Miniatures
The 300s cars from 55 are produced ABC
The 300s cars from 57 and 58 are produced by Original Miniatures
The open 450S is produced by Original Miniatures
The Zagato 450S has just been released by SHMR. All the 151 variations are available from Manou or SHMR
The Tipo 65 is produced by Manou
The Cunningham Tipo 60 is produced by Meri Bam
The 'STREAMLINER' as a limited production by MPH Models and in kit by Southern Cross Miniatures.
MPH has produced both of the 450S models as limited editions of 25, they are superb and I sometimes hear of one for sale.
AMR have produced the Streamliner in the past and have also produced some of the 151s and Manou have produced the Tipo 63.
The Ligier Maserati is produced by Original Miniatures and Provence Moulage.
The Talbot Maserati is produced by Manou.