Historic Grand Prix Cars

The Maserati firm of the brothers Alfieri, Ernesto, Bindo and Ettore was always involved in Grand Prix racing, though they were never able to dominate the scene like Alfa Romeo did in the nineteen-thirties. They had to rely on income from customers for their sports and racing cars to keep them solvent, but nonetheless they always managed to be about the place where Grand Prix racing was concerned. They had a neat little single-seater 1½-litre “voiturette” with 4-cylinder engine which passed from the semi-elliptic leaf spring chassis to the 6CM chassis with torsion bar independent front suspension. This engine had the head and block in one (like the latest Hart Formula One engine today, with two valves per cylinder operated by twin overhead camshafts and with a single supercharger on the front. For the new Grand Prix Formula for 1938 they doubled-up on this basic design to produce an inline 8-cylinder 3-litre engine. Students of history will find various references to this engine being a V8 but that is totally wrong: Maserati did make a V8 but that was for the previous Formula. This supercharged straight-8 engine proved to be very powerful and was mounted in a chassis using similar front suspension to the “voiturette” and a one-piece rear axle mounted on splayed-out quarter-elliptic leaf springs, a system that was to pass down to the 1939 “voiturette” model. The new Grand Prix car was designated the 8 CTF, the 8 being the number of cylinders. C for corsa (racing) and TF for tests fissa (head fixed), to differentiate from the earlier 8CM (corsa monoposto) of 1934 which had a detachable cylinder head. Two of these new cars were ready for the Tripoli Grand Prix on the very fast Mellaha circuit in Libya in 1938 on May 15 and it is the second one with which we are concerned here.

Maserati 8 CTF 1938
Chassis No. 3031

Engine No. 3031

The two cars taken to Tripoli were 3030 driven by Achille Varzi with racing number 10 and 3031 driven by Count Carlo Felice Trossi with racing number 28. The car featured in this article is 3031 which Trossi drove for 15 laps at Tripoli until the gearbox broke. For its first appearance it had proved to be pretty fast and was able to hold on to the tail of the new Mercedes-Benz, and Auto Union opposition. It did not appear again until August 7th for the Coppa Ciano at Livorno (Leghorn), again driven by Trossi and this time he actually led the German cars, albeit briefly. After nine laps the engine spluttered and Trossi stopped at the pits. There was trouble with a carburetter and after returning to the race for six more laps it was retired with what was described as carburetter trouble. On the front of the 8 CTF engine there are two Roots type superchargers, one mounted above the other, and each has its own Mann, MA 12 carburetter. The two superchargers feed into a common manifold for the eight cylinders; twin super chargers but not two-stage supercharging. One week later, on August 14th, the Grand Prix teams were on the other side of Italy on the Adriatic coast for the Coppa Acerbo at Pescara, but Maserati fielded only 3031 for Trossi. In the previous race Geoffredo Zehender had driven the original car in place of Varzi. In the Coppa Acerbo Trossi was unable to challenge the German cars and while trying too hard he spun off the road. In pushing the car back onto the road and push-starting it he pulled a muscle and stopped at the pits in great pain. Watching from the Maserati pit as reserve driver was young Luigi Villoresi, who that morning had won the 6-lap “voiturette” race round the 25-kilometre circuit, and he was invited to get in the 8 CTF and have a go. He had never driven in a Grand Prix before and set off with some trepidation having had only two practice laps in the rain with the 8 CTF the day before, but soon found that 3031 was merely a bigger and more powerful version of the 1½-litre Maserati with which he was familiar. He took to the big car so well that he recorded fastest lap of the lace before the engine started misfiring and he stopped at the pits. A change of plugs was tried and Trossi returned to the driving seat, but after one more lap the engine was still running badly and the car was withdrawn.

On its three appearances 3031 had shown good promise, challenging the Germans in its first race, leading them in its second race and recording fastest lap in its third race. The factory gave the Swiss Grand Prix a miss and concentrated on the Italian Grand Prix to be held at Monza on September 11th, completing a third car in the meantime and all three were entered for the race with Carlo Felice Trossi in 3031. It was disaster day for the new car was crashed, Villoresi retired 3030 after 29 laps with engine trouble and though Trossi finished 5th in 3031 he was disqualified for receiving assistance from a mechanic away from the pits.

In 1939 the Italians concentrated on “voiturette” racing, limiting the events at Tripoli, Livorno and Pescara to 1½-litre cars and even threatening to demote the Italian Grand Prix to “voiturette” status, all aimed at preventing German teams from monopolising the scene. With all their interest centred on 1½-litre racing the factory team only ran the 3-litre cars once in 1939. They sold the third car to the USA, where it won the Indianapolis 500 Mile race, and 3031 appeared for the German Grand Prix on July 23rd at the Nürburgring, in company with the original car. 3031 was driven by Paul Pietsch, a driver who not only knew the Nürburgring extremely well, but had been racing Maseratis as a privateer for a number of years. The excitement that we Maserati enthusiasts experienced when we heard that the courageous Pietsch had “done a Trossi” and given the 8 CTF its head and charged past all the German cars was immense. It could not last unfortunately and the sparking plugs could not stand the heat. After a pit stop for new plugs Pietsch drove the race of his life to finish third behind a Mercedes-Benz and an Auto Union, but it was the end of the short but gay life of the 8 CTF Maserati as a factory car. The two cars were sold to the Frenchman Laury Shcell, who together with his American wile Lucy O’Reilly ran the Ecurie Lucy O’Reilly-Schell. The cars, now painted blue in place of their Italian red, were entered for the Swiss Grand Prix on the Bremgarten circuit at Berne, with “Raph” in the original car 3030 and Rene Dreyfus in 3031, The original car suffered engine trouble practice and did not start, while Dreyfus drove 3031 cautiously to finish 9th in his Heat and 8th in the Final. They were then entered for the proposed race in Zurich but the outbreak of war put paid to that event.

In October 1939 Laury Schell was killed in a road accident, and with France involved in the British versus Germany contest Lucy O’Reilly moved back to America and took the cars with her. Rene Dreyfus and Rene Le Begue also went to America and she entered them for the 1940 Indianapolis 500 Mile race, for the attack on Pearl Harbour had not happened yet and the United States of America were still in a normal state of peace. In the 1940 Indianapolis 500 race Le Begue qualified 3030 but Dreyfus could not qualify 3031 so he borrowed his team-mate’s car to try again, and promptly blew the engine up. For the race 3030 was fitted with the engine from 3031 and the two Frenchmen drove it into 10th place. Both cars were they sold to the Elgin Piston Company and 3031 was driven in the 1941 Indianapolis race by Mauri Rose. He claimed pole position in qualifying, the car running as the Elgin Piston Pin Special but in the race did not live up to expectations and was classified 26th. After the war 3031 was acquired by R. A. Cott and Russell Snowberger drove it for him, running as the Federal Engineering of Detroit Special. It ran with various owners at Indianapolis until 1953, never doing anything spectacular and not always qualifying. It stayed in the United States until 1968 when Cameron Millar acquired it and brought it to England. Apart from having a nose cowl like a post-war Ferrari and a bonnet to match, the whole car was remarkably original, repainted Italian red, and everywhere Millar looked he found the number 3031 marked with Maserati factory stamps. Rear axle, suspension parts, brake springs, engine, gearbox, steering and so on were all entirely original. The superchargers were badly worn and one of them had to be replaced, but otherwise 3031 was in fair condition. Millar had a new bonnet and radiator cowl made by an English panel-beater, using photographs to work from, but the end result was not very satisfactory. Somehow English panel-beaters seem quite incapable of reproducing a Maserati radiator cowl and grille that looks as though it were made in Italy. There have been attempts at Maserati 6CM, 8CM, 4CL, 4CLT, and 250F and none of them look right and the cowl that Millar had made was no better, but at least it was better than the Ferrari-like nose the Americans had made. In 1972 Cameron Millar was in the USA buying another Maserati and in conversation someone said the original cowl and bonnet for 3031 was still up in a loft in the mid-west. Joel Finn, the American Maserati enthusiast, ferreted out the loft, found the cowl and bonnet and dispatched them to Millar in England. They fitted the car “like a glove” and inside the cowl was stamped 3031, so Millar now had a totally original 8 CTF Maserati, the middle one of the three that were built in 1938 by the Maserati brothers. The original car is still in America in private hands and the third car, 3052, is in the Indianapolis museum which is most appropriate for it won the 500 Mile race in 1939 and 1940.

Cameron Millar runs his 8 CTF in Historic racing getting enormous satisfaction and enjoyment from driving this famous Grand Prix car, the only one to ever challenge the Mercedes-Benz and Auto Unions during 1938 and 1939. When Millar got the car I went to see it and he let me sit in the cockpit. It was a fine feeling sitting in the actual car that led the Coppa Ciano in 1938 and the German Grand Prix in 1939. A truly Historic Grand Prix car. — D.S.J.

NB Acknowledgement is made to Luigi Orsini and Franco Zagari for information supplied from their book “Maserati — una storia nella Storia” and supersedes the article that appeared in Motor Sport in April 1968.