Really fast and exciting cars are apt to be exceptionally thirsty, so that in this age of austerity Motor Sport gets fewer opportunities for sampling them than was once the case. Consequently, when Mr. R. Dutt, of Prima Motors, suggested a run in a supercharged 2.9-litre Maserati two-seater we accepted with alacrity, conscious that for too long we had driven all too few really satisfying motor-cars.
Quite which car was being presented was — and remains — something of a problem, despite the very few sports-equipped Maseratis in this country. Crampton is known to possess a very choice “2.9,” while just before the war we spent a distinctly damp day at Brooklands putting the watch on a similar car owned by Lt. Torin. R.N. This latter car was reputed to have been dismantled and the components stored at a London garage during hostilities. There seemed a strong possibility that the car Dutt proposed to introduce to us was, in fact, the ex-Torin Maserati. It was a very stark two-seater with the same style of quite-generous fixed cycle-type wings and the same type of radiator cowl. True, the car with which we were confronted had a small rev-counter in what looked to be the original location in place of the large affair favoured by Torin, while small but very effective headlamps were found, whereas the Torin car had normal lamps. But such changes could easily have resulted during re-assembly, and the car had certainly been registered, commanding the £10 annual tax. Whatever this present car’s history it was unquestionably a very intriguing road car, which looked, sounded and smelt very good to us.
The engine was the familiar twin o.h.c. straight-eight Maserati unit, businesslike rather than showy, with a Roots supercharger sucking from a carburetter on the near side. A starter at the rear on the near side operated on a flywheel ring, the battery being centrally placed under the scuttle, while the dynamo drove the magneto on the off side. Equipment consisted of the aforementioned sturdy wings, those at the rear with a decidedly sporting flare, the lamps, a horn actuated by a pushbutton set centrally beneath the scuttle cowling and two aero screens, but, at the moment, no hood. Not that one would ever erect it, had it been there! Nor were there doors, the cockpit being distinctly a 1 1/2-seater. The wheel came more than into one’s lap, the rigid central gear-lever moved decisively with almost a heavy action and short travel, yet as quickly as one could push it about; the pedals, with accelerator central, were close set, but not dangerously so, and the ratchet-less handbrake was outside the car.
At first we had some bother with starting the machinery, but transference of the rather wet plugs to a domestic gas-oven and subsequent vigorous towing behind a long-suffering Standard Fourteen did the trick. We had planned to repair to the Denham By-Pass for our motoring, but starting operations rather delayed matters and the return of the previous day’s fog, together with slow-moving traffic, a woman in white shirt-sleeves conducting infants across the highway, restive horses and a bicycling policeman rather hampered operations still further.
However, after Dutt had shown us how and attained 4,000 r.p.m. in top past his girl-friend and the parked Standard, we took off a rain-coat in order to get into the driving seat and proceeded to discover how badly out of practice we were. For this Maserati is a real motor-car and demands to be treated like one! The revs. rise like lightning to 4,000 r.p.m. or more in the gears, the upward changes — or downward for that matter — going through most satisfactorily. The acceleration, too, is most inspiring and, getting into top at around 4,500 r.p.m., the engine noise is dominated by a truly joyful yowl of the straight-cut rear axle gears, which ceases the moment one lifts one’s throttle foot, returning, as one opens-up again, as if to encourage more and more throttle, for it is a grand sound. The steering is high-geared and calls for considerable concentration, a certain chassis-flexibility for’ard making really fast cornering sometimes hectic — perhaps more the car for Prescott than for Shelsley Walsh. The hydraulic brakes, with separate master-cylinder front and back, could be stamped-on and were effective. But, although this was real motoring and no mistake, the Maserati, taxed, by the way, for road use, was unexpectedly trustable, coming down to 1,000 r.p.m. or less in top gear without protest and not calling for particularly careful attention in keeping up the revs. when one was turning the car — that is, if long flickers of yellow flame from the fan-tail didn’t alarm; otherwise some throttle was desirable to “put out the fire.” Those who saw Whitney Straight’s car in action will recall this feature, although it was discovered subsequently that we had almost straight-benzole in the tank in place of the intended 50/50 mixture, which probably accentuated the firework display, and could explain the lack of enthusiasm for starting. The Maserati gave no trouble, apart from a tendency for second gear to jump out at high r.p.m., during our all too brief experience of it, and we put it away with reluctance.
The boost gauge registered up to about 5 lb./sq. in. and fuel pressure needed no attention when the engine was running, while the hand air pump is properly built into the facia and not hung on as an afterthought. Incidentally, reverse gear is selected by a tiny lever to the left of the gearbox, after the main lever has been put in neutral. A good deal of oil collected about the gearbox, but one doesn’t drive a car like this in nylons. The oil-tank for the dry-sump lubrication system lives under the seats. The car was shod with racing Dunlop tyres, 19 by 5.25 on the front, 19 by 6.00 on the back wheels.
A check proved the gear ratios to be approximately: 1st: 8 to 1; 2nd: 5.9 to 1; 3rd: 6 to 1; top: 3.6 to 1; calculation showed that during his drive Dutt had achieved 103-104 m.p.h., while your Editor had contented himself with slightly over 90 m.p.h. In third gear approximately 83 m.p.h had been attained. Certainly, whoever is the next owner of this Maserati will possess a very real motor car.