The article in the October issue about the 450S Maserati sports car brought back some happy memories. A. H. mentions the acceleration of these cars, and I still recall vividly the last test-run I did with Stirling Moss in 1957 before the 31-fated Mille Miglia.
On the prototype car that we used for practice a simple two-speed gearbox had been fitted behind the clutch, thus providing two sets of ratios for the 5-speed box in the back axle. Although there were actually ten speeds available there was no point in trying to use them all as there was a certain degree of overlapping on the ratios. The idea was that we would have 5-speeds with a high axle ratio for the opening stages on the fast section to Pescara, then we would engage “low” on the two-speed box and have 5-speeds with a low axle ratio for the mountainous bits to Rome and back to Bologna. Naturally, on testing, we experimented with this device, finding that “high” second was virtually the same as “low” third and so on, but what we did find was that “high” fifth was ideally calculated in relation to “low” fifth, so we tried the idea of going through the gears in “low” and then changing the two-speed device, which gave us “high” fifth following on from “low” fifth, and the big V8 engine pulled it beautifully. A few alterations to the operating lever allowed Moss to change the two-speed gearbox by reaching forward and pulling a control ring.
Accelerating away in first, and going through the normal Maserati box until fifth was reached soon got us up to peak in that gear, whereupon Moss pulled on the ring control and changed into what was in effect a sixth gear, and the r.p.m. went on building up, the overall ratio not being too high for the 400 b.h.p. engine to pull. This was not what the Maserati designers had intended, but as it worked all right we were told we could use it for the race and the new car being built was fitted with this two-speed unit behind the clutch. The new car was terribly late in being finished and arrived in Brescia on Saturday afternoon, we being due to start the race at 5.34 a.m. on Sunday morning. Early on Saturday evening we had a one and only test-run in the brand new car, taking it onto the Autostrada for a maximum speed test. From the entrance gate we had a clear road and Moss took the big 450S up to 7,000 r.p.m. in first, changed into second, again to 7,000 r.p.m., into third, peak again, into fourth, peak again and into fifth. This new car was going so well that socin reached 7,000 r.p.m. in fifth gear, whereupon Moss reached forward and pulled on the two-speed control and snicked into “sixth”, and the revs climbed tip to 7,000 r.p.m. again almost instantly. It was acceleration from rest to 180 m.p.h. like we had never experienced before, and as “sixth” went in and 7,000 r.p.m. came up on the tachometer we hugged ourselves with glee, both thinking “Ker-rist, what a fantastic car”.
After a while we turned round and did another similar run back to Brescia, there being little or no traffic about in those days, and when we got to the Autostrada exit there was Bertocchi and the mechanics looking a bit apprehensive, but we said “It’s fantastic, put it away, and we’ll see you at 5 a.m. With this car we can’t fail to win”.
By 5.40 a.m. next morning we were out of the race, only Stirling’s skill preventing us from having a monumental accident when the brake pedal snapped off at the root! I often wonder what would have happened had we decided to do another test-run up the Autostrada and back. We would probably have gone through the pay box at the exit at 150 m.p.h. and I would not be here to recount this story.
Hampshire Denis Jenkinson