Racing car development

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When the Bira/Chula “White Mouse Racing Stable” was reformed in 1946 Prince Birabongse raced again with his 1936 ERA “Romulus” and the ex-Whitney Straight Maserati 8CM, but once racing really got underway in Europe a new car was needed. Prince Chula negotiated with the Maserati factory to run a 4CL Maserati to start with and then in 1948 when the new 4CLT/48 model appeared one of these was acquired. Prince Chula had discovered that it was not possible to run a team in the way he was used to, and rather than do a half-hearted job he retired from motor racing and came to an arrangement whereby he took possession of the ERA “Romulus” and Bira took over the Maserati. Bira teamed up with Enrico Platé and his Scuderia until the end of 1950 and then went on his own. The 4CLT/48 Maserati engine was now well past its prime, and the Maserati brothers had severed all contact with the Orsi family, who had bought the Maserati firm. Leaving the trade name Maserati with the Orsi empire in Modena, Ernesto and Bindo Maserati returned to Bologna, from whence they had come, and formed the Officine Specializate Costruzione Automobili Fratelli Maserati, or OSCA for short.

Their principal efforts were directed to small sports/racing cars, but their hearts were still in Grand Prix racing and they designed and built a 4½-litre unsupercharged V12 engine to comply with the existing Formula rules. This was designed to fit into the same space taken up by the two-stage supercharged 4-cylinder 1½-litre engine in the 4CLT/48 Maserati, the idea being to offer this new engine as a substitute for the ageing Maserati engine, but it all came too late. By 1951 the Maserati was sadly lacking in brakes, suspension and road-holding compared to its contemporaries, so interest was negligible. However, Bira though it an idea worth trying so he had his Maserati altered to accept the new unblown V12 OSCA engine, which necessitated a larger radiator and a new front to the car. By the time it was running Formula One was dying and though the car raced in 1951 the project was really two years too late. Bira took it out to Australia in 1955 for the Tasman winter races and sold it to Alf Harvey. During its sojourn in Australia it was rebuilt and given a new nose cowling and lower profile and raced quite a bit, until the mid-sixties when it was sold back to the United Kingdom and it appeared in VSCC events, but deteriorated into a sorry state. Eventually it underwent a complete rebuild and Tom Wheatcroft acquired it for his Donington Collection. When new it was painted in Bira’s racing colours of blue and yellow, the International racing colours of Siam (or Thailand as it became), but it was later painted red. When it was resurrected for the Donington Museum a new nose cowling was made and it was repainted blue and yellow and can still be seen in the museum, accompanied by an original 4CLT/48 Maserati. — D.S.J.