Maserati V8 RI-Part Three

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Maserati V8 RI Part Three

At the end of part two of this story we had reached the point where the four Maserati V8 RI cars had reached the end of their useful life in open International racing, having had varied and chequered careers since they were built in 1935/36. But this was by no means their complete end and it is interesting that unlike some Grand Prix cars that got broken up or destroyed the four V8 Maseratis survived.

There were lots of unusual things about these cars, some of which have already been touched upon, like being the first (as far as I can trace) Grand Prix car to use a V8 engine; the only Maserati racing car from the drawing board of the Maserati brothers, to have independent rear suspension; possibly the first Grand Prix car to have the gearbox mounted behind the differential unit, with a low drive-line running under the rear axle; the only Maserati racing engine designed from scratch with single overhead camshaft operating the valves, and one or two other interesting details of design.

Apart from an experimental torsion-bar independent front suspension adapted to a 6C/34 Maserati, there was nothing in the design of the V8 RI that stemmed from previous racing Maseratis, and more surprisingly, very little that was carried on into subsequent racing cars from the Maserati brothers. About the only thing that comes easily to mind is the wishbone and torsion-bar front suspension with its double-worm steering box with independent drop-arms and drag-links for each front wheel. As I remarked at the beginning of this long story, the V8 RI was a very interesting project, even if it was not successful in the purpose for which it was designed.

From the end of their Indianapolis days the four cars went off in pairs (quite unintentionally) in two distinct directions, even though they were all involved in American club racing under the banner of the Sports Car Club of America, a distinctly amateur scene in stark contrast to the “roundy-round-boys” of the American professional racing scene, with its pinnacle at the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race. 4501 had been modified by Maserati in the winter of 1935/36 to a torsion-bar suspension at the rear, still independent, but using a trailing link geometry rather than the original swing-axle geometry. It Was also rebodied, with distinctive radiator cowl, and had low-level exhaust Pipes. Outwardly this car is the same today. In 1950 Phil Cade of Massachusetts bought the car to use in SCCA events, Which he did almost right through to this day. In its Indianapolis days the supercharger had been removed and carburettors substituted, and a new crankshaft With shorter stroke, reduced the engine capacity from 4.8 litres to 4.5 litres, in conformity with the Indianapolis rules. It stayed this way through Phil Cade’s racing activities until it became effectively “used UP”, the owner running out of parts. With no possibility of finding any more spare

parts, and wishing to go on using the car, he removed the Maserati engine and replaced it with a Chrysler V8. This was some 30 years ago, when people bought old racing cars to go club racing in, not to restore as museum pieces. As they had no intrinsic value at the time there was little point in spending huge sums of money on making a new Maserati engine, when a Chrysler V8 would do quite a satisfactory job.

The car hasn’t changed to this day, and when Phil Cade takes it out for an occasional event or demonstration the purists get very upset, but it doesn’t worry the owner. I like his healthy attitude to this situation. The other car that went through a “continuous history” to the present day is 4504, the one that was built for “Raph”. It was active at Indianapolis up to 1940, the only major change being to reduce the engine capacity down to 3 litres. The supercharging system and layout was retained, thus complying with the second .part of the Formula rules for Indianapolis (and Grand Prix racing as well, incidentally). It was bought by George Weaver, in the same way that Phil Cade had bought 4501. Not as a famous, or historic Grand Prix car, but as a usable racing car for SCCA events. Weaver kept it very much as he bought it, racing it in supercharged 4.8 litre form, and when Cade put the Chrysler engine in his car, some of the engine parts from 4501 went into Weaver’s stores to keep 4504 running. In the original design of the V8 RI the dry sump oil tank was under the driver’s seat and had open-ended tubes running through it, like a Bugafti sump, through which cooling air from under the

car could pass. On 4504, during its USA life, this was changed to a separate oil cooler mounted on the left of the water radiator, outside the bodywork with a cowling around it. One of the reasons for this was that the cockpit floor was lowered to give more leg room, and this modification blanked off the flow of air to the cooling tubes through the Maserati tank.

George Weaver christened 4504 “Poison Lil” and it was painted black and red in a fairly striking fashion. In the world of SSCA racing it passed into legend, among the TC MGs, Jaguar XK120s, Allards and so on. When Weaver died, some twenty years ago, his widow Barbara kept the car. Eventually she loaned it to an American historic racing enthusiast to have him restore and rebuild it. It was stripped right down and rebuilt and came to England to run in an historic event at Donington Park. Unfortunately serious engine trouble caused a cylinder block to be destroyed, and though a new one has been cast it has yet to be fitted. Meanwhile the car rests in the Donington Park Racing Car Museum.

The other two cars, 4502 and 4503, followed incredibly complex careers, but thanks to enthusiasts in England and the United States most of the details have been gathered up. Though both cars had seemingly been destroyed, this turned out to be untrue and already 4503 has been seen complete and in action again, while 4502 is making good progress. Principally the eleven year saga of the resurrection of 4503 is the real reason for this complete story of the V8 RI cars, but before going into that we will deal more briefly with 4502.

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