The numbers game

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Unravelling the mystery of various Maserati 250Fs…

The Maserati 250F is everyone’s favourite ’50s Grand Prix car. It was not a landmark design in terms of technological development, but it was as successful as any in its era, and above all it epitomised the aesthetic appeal of a Grand Prix car in the last days before designers discovered that racing cars worked better with their engines behind the driver.

Uniquely, the 250F took part in the first World Championship Grand Prix of the 1954/60 2½-litre Grand Prix formula, and the last. Less than four years after that the cars were racing in historic events, first in Britain, then further afield, and have continued to do so since. These days, there are enthusiasts who judge the quality of a historic GP race grid on the number of 250Fs it contains.

The universal appeal of the 250F Maserati is such that at least four books devoted to this one model have been published in Britain alone, in addition to countless articles in magazines all over the world.

One of the subjects aficionados like arguing about is which car is which, for — like the ERA of a generation before — individual 250Fs came to be known by their chassis numbers: 2508 was the Stirling Moss car, 2522 the one that won the 1956 Monaco Grand Prix, 2529 Fangio’s 1957 German Grand Prix winner, and so on. Unlike the ERAs, however, there are a number of wild cards in the 250F pack, largely arising from the factory’s habit of giving individual cars new numbers in mid-career. Where this renumbering coincided with the fitting of a new engine, or more often different bodywork, confusion arose, much of it remaining to this day.

No one did more to keep the record straight, from when the cars were new until the present day, than Denis Jenkinson, Motor Sport’s Continental Correspondent at the time the cars first raced. His copious notes formed the basis of all subsequent research, though it is only now that it is politic to delve more deeply into some of the mysteries.

What follows is based on the earlier researches of Jenks and others, with some important additions and a number of variations from accepted lore which are made public here for the first time.

They arise mainly from the detailed research of Canadian enthusiast Barrie Hobkirk which was sparked by his reading in Motor Sport some years ago about the number of 250F mysteries remaining unsolved. Already the possessor of numerous photographs, he has spent the past 10 years adding to his collection so that he now has some 8500 photographs of 250Fs. By comparing these on a race-by-race basis he was able to make a number of detailed alterations to the record.

Setting out his new information in the form of charts which listed every car in every race enabled him to show that many of the cars believed to be one thing in fact now seemed to be something else. These theories have in many cases since been confirmed by examination of the cars “in the flesh” and comparison not only of their external clothing but of factory numbers stamped on chassis tubing and components, and even such detail as individual welds, which of course cannot be duplicated.

Perhaps the most startling of Hobkirk’s revelations is the number of apparently new cars which were not new at all, but rather old ones renumbered by the factory. A lot more cars than was originally realised had more than one chassis number during their active racing careers. Some 26 individual cars were produced, in the five years from autumn 1953, plus two additional chassis in circumstances which will be explained shortly. Of that total of 28, no fewer than 17 are believed to have subsequently acquired a different number.

It was widely believed, for example, that there were two cars which bore the identity 2523 from new. Hobkirk has shown there were actually three 2523s, and possibly a fourth — but none of them raced from new under that number. All were older cars renumbered. There were also three cars numbered 2504, and another three identified as 2522, as well as two each of 2511 (neither of them new), 2507, 2509, 2513, 2526, 2530, 2532 and 2533. Little wonder that even the experts get confused!

On the other hand, there was never a 250F numbered either 2503 or 2517, though to add to the confusion there was a 1953 Formula Two Maserati fitted with a 250F engine and renumbered 2503. Other examples of these A6GCW250 or ‘interim’ cars were given the numbers 2501, 2502, 2504 and 2510.

Of the 250Fs proper, all 28 are believed to exist to this day, though question marks remain over some. Five cars are known to have ended their contemporary racing careers in South America, and only four of them have been brought back to Europe. There is every reason to believe the remaining one is still there, but where, in what state and in whose ownership is not known. And there is one car which disappeared without trace at a time when 250Fs were being robbed for parts; perhaps the unused bits were scrapped, perhaps the car was patched up to join its sisters in South America.

The usual approach to explaining the identities of the various 250F Maseratis is to list them in the order of their chassis numbers, but this is not the best way of explaining the renumbering. Even listing them in the order they were produced (which is not the same thing) can lead to confusion. We have chosen instead to tell the story chronologically, noting changes as they occur. Most of these, initially at least, affect cars which formed part of the factory team, so it seems sensible to treat the ‘works’ and customer cars separately for each year. This will be followed by a summary of each car listed in chassis-number order. In the following list, the numbers of new cars are shown in bold type.

A6GCM/250s:

Customer orders for the new 250F could not be filled before the first world championship race of the new formula, in Argentina in January 1954, but as engine production had run ahead of chassis the factory was able to offer customers a stopgap: a number of 1953 Formula Two Maseratis were fitted with the new 2.5-litre engine. These interim cars can be quickly disposed of before proceeding to the 250Fs proper.

Various reports suggest that up to seven F2/F1 models were sent to Argentina, but it seems in fact that most of these were not re-engined at all, but still relied on the earlier two-litre units. The latest count shows that only four older cars were given 250F engines in the initial batch and numbered in the same sequence as the 250Fs proper. Car 2501 was for the Argentinian Roberto Mieres, 2502 for his compatriot Jorge Daponte, 2503 for Harry Schell and 2504 for Prince Bira. The theory was that as 250F production caught up, the engines would be taken from the interim ours and placed in 1954 chassis, though for a variety of reasons it did not quite happen as planned.

Of the initial batch, Daponte’s car was badly damaged in a testing accident at Monza before the end of 1953, and never in fact raced; the car he drove in Argentina was, contrary to reports at the time, a two-litre Formula Two car. Mieres’s was written off in a transporter crash in the middle of 1954, and at about the same time Daponte finally got delivery of his A6GCM/250. This was numbered 2502, but was in fact Bira’s old car renumbered. A fifth interim car had however appeared by this time: Baron Toulo de Graffenried’s 1953 F2 car had been fitted with a 250F engine and given a new number; by this time the normal 250F run had reached 2510, so that was the number allocated to de Graffenried’s car.

Three cars were still in existence at the end of 1954, of which 2504/2502 had gone to South America, and would reappear in the Argentine GP in 1955 and 1956 in the hands of Alberto Uria. Car 2503 had meanwhile been sold to Australia, while the de Graffenried car was seen in a handful of European events in 1954/56 driven by the Swiss amateur Ottorino Volonterio.

250Fs: 1954 Works Cars

The factory had originally announced it would not be running a works team in 1954, but relented when Juan Manuel Fangio was available for the first races of the year, whilst awaiting the new Mercedes-Benz. They therefore started the season with a two-car factory team, and would add three more before the end of the year. In addition, the private cars of Sergio Mantovani, Stirling Moss and Mieres (see below) would at various times be incorporated into the official team as it expanded during the season.

The original factory 250Fs were 2505 and 2506, though the latter raced in the first races of the year as 2502 (presumably to match the paperwork of the interim car intended for Daponte). Thus, from the very start of the cars’ careers, events have conspired to confuse the student of 250F numbering. It was 2505 which Fangio drove to victory in the 1954 Argentine GP, the car’s maiden race, and again in the second world championship round of the year, the Belgian GP. The other original 250F, 2506, assumed its correct identity when the “real” 2502 was completed (see below) and was raced mainly by Onofre MarimOn.

At mid-season the original two works cars were joined by a third all-new works car, 2512, after which 2505 was sold (see below). The new car differed from earlier examples In that the rear tank was riveted together rather than welded; the other cars run by the works had their own tanks replaced by the new items later in the season. The new car was the one Marimon was driving when he crashed fatally in practice for the German Grand Prix.

The final cars owned and raced by the factory in 1954 were 2514 and 2501, both of which had the now-standard riveted rear tail. Car 2501, which took over the number of Mieres’ scrapped interim car, had a cleaner body, devoid of louvres. It was in effect the prototype of the 1955 cars.

1954 Private Cars

Six new 250Fs had been supplied to customers in 1954, plus a rolling chassis for a seventh, though that was not completed as a GP car until the 1970s, The factory also sold two of its own cars to private owners during the year.

The first five customer cars to be delivered were 2507, to Gilby Engineering for Roy Salvadori (in March), 2502 (the real one) to Mantovani (May), 2508, to Moss (May) and 2504 and 2509 to Prince Bira and the Owen Organisation respectively (June). As can be seen, cars were not produced In strict numerical order: the reason for 2502 being out of sequence has already been explained, and 2504 was of course the replacement for Bira’s interim car.

The last two cars in this batch, 2504 and 2509, swapped owners after an accident in July so that, unbeknown to most people at the time, Bira actually raced the ex-Owen car (2509) with his own number (2504) from the Caen GP in July onwards, while from the Swiss GP Ken Wharton drove the ex-Bira car (2504) for the Owen Organisation with their original number (2509).

The swap was never reversed, so that the car Bira raced into 1955 should perhaps be referred to as 2509/2504 and the Owen car as 2504/2509. This latter car was visually distinguishable from its contemporaries by its Dunlop disc wheels, incorporating disc brakes, which Owen were testing for use in their BRM cars.

Another complication arose later in the year when the Gilby car was crashed at Oulton Park and sent to the factory for repair. The repairs included a new chassis, but because the original was later straightened out and used for another car, it makes the picture clearer if we refer to the repaired Gilby car as 2507B from now on. The designation 2507A will come into the story a little later.

During the season one of the works cars, 2505, was sold to Mieres, and later passed on to Schell. It still ran under the factory banner with both owners, as did Mantovani’s car (2502) and, from late in the season, the Moss car (2508); all three had riveted tanks fitted before the end of the season.

Towards the end of the year the factory sold 2506 (also now with riveted tank) to Louis Rosier. Partway through the year 2502 disappears from the record and 2511 appears: close study of the photographic records shows that they were in fact the same car with different numbers. This car will henceforth be referred to as 2502/2511.

The other number allocated in 1954 was 2513, for the rolling chassis supplied for study purposes to the Vandervell company.

1955 Works Cars

Following their success in 1954, Maserati decided to continue with a fully-fledged works team in 1955, with Gordini ace Jean Behra to lead the team and also retaining the services of Mieres, Mantovani and Luigi Musso.

Three of the 1954 cars (2501, 2512 and 2514) were carried over into the 1955 works team, and the factory built two more — 2515 and 2516 — for its own use. These were of similar specification to the 1954 cars, apart from some modifications to the engine, and shared the louvreless bodywork of 2501.

There was less swapping about of team cars and drivers from one race to another this year than there had been in 1954. Behra stuck largely with 2516 (with which he won the non-championship Pau GP), Mieres with 2514 and then 2515, and Musso with 2501. Of the other cars, 2512 was raced in Argentina, but was then crashed by Mantovani in practice for the Turin race, while 2514 remained unused after Argentina, until it was sold at the end of the year.

Towards the end of 1955 a car numbered 2518 appeared with fully streamlined bodywork, and was raced by Behra and Schell. Its appearance was simultaneous with the disappearance of 2512, but this was not coincidence; the streamliner was the old car rebodied and renumbered.

1955 Private Cars

All the private cars were still in the same hands at the beginning of 1955. After the Argentine races, however, Schell sold his car to Andre Simon, and a little later Bira retired from racing, and his car (now with riveted tank) was leased by Horace Gould. The Englishman later entered into an arrangement to replace this car with the ex-works car 2514, which was fitted with a 1955-type body before its sale, and thus became the first 250F to be rebodied (apart from the streamliner). Mantovani’s own car (2502/ 2511) was acquired about the same time by the private Italian team Scuderia Centro-Sud, and raced by Carlos Menditeguy and Luigi Piotti.

The rest of the pool did not change hands. The Owen Organisation car was driven this year by Peter Collins, and the Moss car by a number of drivers including the owner (when he was uot otherwise occupied in a Mercedes). Both cars ran with disc wheels and disc brakes this year. The Rosier and Gilby Engineering examples were driven exclusively by Rosier and Salvadori.

1956 Works Cars

With the disbandment of the Mercedes team, Maserati was able to hfre Stirling Moss to lead the 1956 team, with Behra and Menditeguy also on the side, and Cesare Perdisa and others available as and when required.

Three new team cars (2520, 2521, 2522) were built for the start of the season, with generally similar bodywork to 2501, 2515 and 2516. Confusingly, for the Argentine races the new cars carried numbers 2512, 2518 and 2516 respectively. In addition to the new stock the factory retained two older cars (2501 and the streamliner 2512/2518). Cars 2515 and 2516 had been sold, and were soon followed by 2520 early in the year and 2521 at the end.

Of the factory cars, 2501 was given a new body, characterised by high cockpit sides and a long sloping nose, before the Belgian Grand Prix.

The streamliner appeared in practice only during the year, but 2507A was revived and refitted with its original bodywork (the later Gilby car having itself now been rebodied). Renumbered 2523, this is the car which earlier authorities dubbed 2523A. Moss raced it several times, also campaigning 2501, though was at the wheel of 2522 when he won the Monaco Grand Prix.

Before the Italian GP two new cars, 2525 and 2526, were built with offset transmission and lower seating positions for Moss and Behra to run at Monza, the former giving the team its second grande epreuve victory of the year.

About the same time the factory created further confusion — which lasted until very recently — when it swapped the identities of two of its cars. On the face of things, it appeared that 2522 had been rebodied, and that a new car numbered 2523 had appeared, this latter being the car subsequently identified as 2523B. But what had in fact happened was that the original 2522 was renumbered 2523, and at the same time 2507/2523 became 2522. Both cars in fact ended the season with new bodywork.

1956 Private Cars

Scuderia Centro-Suds drivers this year (in 2502/2511) were Villoresi, Schell and de Graffenried. The disc-braked Owen car (2504/2509) was driven in Argentina by Hawthorn, after which it was sold to Jack Brabham, while Bruce Halford bought the earlier Bira/Gould car (2509/2504). The other privately-owned cars remained in the same hands as before, namely 2505 (Simon), 2506 (Rosier), 2507B (Gilby/Salvadori), 2508 (Moss) and 2514 (Gould), though Moss’s, now back on wire wheels and drum brakes, was not raced after May. The Centro-Sud, Rosier, Gilby and Moss cars were all rebodied in 1955/56 style at the beginning of the year.

During the year the factory sold four ex-team cars to privateers: 2516 and 2520 found Australian homes (see below), 2515 went to Scuderia Guastalla before the start of the season and 2521 to Ecurie du Puy at the end of the year. Gerini, Villoresi and Maglioli drove the Guastalla car, and Wharton the du Puy entry.

The factory also supplied two new cars to customers. The first of these was 2519, which went to Piotti in time for Argentina (where it raced as 2511), and was driven during the European season by Villoresi as well as Piotti. This car was given a replacement body before the Italian Grand Prix. The other new car, 2524, was delivered to Godia before the Belgian GP.

1957 Works Cars

The Maserati factory lost Moss (to Vanwall) in 1957, but was able to engage the best possible replacement in Fangio. The world champion was supported by his compatriot Menditeguy, who had missed most of the 1956 season after a bad crash with a Maserati sportscar at Sebring; the faithful Behra was also back, joined by Harry Schell.

No fewer than five new cars (numbered 2527 to 2531) were prepared for this season, though not all appeared at the start of the year. They were major departures from the earlier standard design through being constructed from smaller (and lighter) chassis tubing, and are described by some authorities as 12 models; in addition 2531 had the offset transmission layout of the 1956 Monza cars. All were distinguished from earlier 250Fs by having less rounded bodywork, with the rear tank sloping in profile more steeply than on the older cars.

On top of all this the factory kept four of its old cars (2501, 2512/2518, 2522/2523 and the Monza offset car 2526). The streamliner was not in fact used all year, while one of the other cars (2522/2523) became the V12 testbed, in addition to which the new cars 2530 and 2531 used the 12-cylinder engine from the start of their lives.

Of the three lightweight six-cylinder cars, 2529 was Fangio’s regular mount, 2528 Behra’s, and 2527 Schell’s. The ‘hack’ 2501 was allotted first to Menditeguy and then, after he had returned home to Argentina, to Giorgio Scarlatti. The Monza offset car raced just once, with Fangio at the wheel, though its number (2526) was applied to 2501 for the last race of 1957.

Fangio won the Argentine, French and German Grands Prix in 2529, and also the non-championship Buenos Aires GP. He also won the Monaco race in 2528, which had a slightly shorter chassis than the other two cars. Behra succeeded in winning three non-championship races with this car, at Pau, Modena and Casablanca.

The V12s appeared at several meetings but raced only twice, the prototype 2522/ 2523 with Menditeguy in the nonchampionship Reims race and 2531 in Behra’s hands in the Italian GP. The third V12 car, 2530, would not race until much later, and then with a six-cylinder engine.

1957 Private Cars

No new cars were built for customers this year. Of the private stock, Brabham’s 2504/ 2509 was sold to New Zealand (see below). Simon’s 2505 was loaned to Centro-Sud, then taken over by Bonnier, while the exRosier 2506 was sold to Rene Bourely and the Guastalla car (2515) to Volonterio. The Moss car remained unsold until the end of the year, when it went to New Zealand (see below).

Two of the 1956 team cars had new owners for 1957, 2507/2523/2522 joining 2502/2511 as part of the Centro-Sud team and 2525 finding a new home in the United States (see below). Centro-Sud’s 2522 was rebodied at the end of the season, the other team car having been given new panels for the start of the year. The team again used several different drivers, though Masten Gregory and Jo Bonnier were the main ones.

The Gilby car (2507B) appeared twice in Ivor Bueb’s hands and in minor UK events with Jim Russell and Keith Greene, while Halford (2509/2504), Gould (2514), Piotti (2519), du Puy (2521) and Godia (2524) all retained their 1956 mounts. Halford’s own car had a new body for the season, as did Volonterio’s, while Godia’s got a replacement at mid-season.

1958

By now the factory had suffered several financial blows, forcing it to close its racing department, but built two new super-lightweight ‘Piccolo’ cars (recently designated 13) for the American-owned Scuderia Buell. The first, 2532, was driven by Fangio at Reims, and was later renumbered 2533 when driven by Shelby and Gregory. The second Piccolo was 2534, though it seems to have been numbered 2533 in its first race, driven by Gregory at Casablanca.

For many years it was believed in some quarters that the total Piccolo output was three, but this appears to have been based partly on yet more swapping of chassis-numbers, and also by confusion regarding an older car (2509/2504) which had been fitted with the unique Piccolo-style bodywork, and which was photographed in company with the two Buell cars.

All the remaining works stock had been sold by the beginning of the 1958 European season, with the exception of 2512/2518. Two of the lightweights (2528 and 2529) were run by Scuderia Sudamericana in Argentina in January, for Menditeguy and Fangio, then sold to Godia and Scarlatti respectively. The third lightweight, 2527, had passed to Australian motorcyclist Ken Kavanagh (and was also driven by Behra).

The ‘Monza offset’ six (2526) used by Fangio at Reims in 1957 was meanwhile renumbered 2530 and sold to Argentinian Antonio Creus, and the so-called ‘works hack’ (2501) was renumbered 2523 and sold to Maria-Teresa de Filippis. Miss de Filippis’s car was thought at the time to have been the ex-V12 2523, but that conclusion seems to have been based solely on its chassis-plate identification.

At the same time it was believed that the car sold to Keith Campbell, a motorcycling compatriot of Kavanagh’s, was the former 2501, on the basis that it bore the same number as had last been seen on that car, i e 2526. It is now known however that Campbell’s car was one of the V12s, in fact the prototype (2522/2523), renumbered and fitted with a latest-type body and a six-cylinder engine in place of the V12.

The other two V12 cars also had their engines removed prior to sale. The standardlayout lightweight car (2530) which some believe to have been renumbered 2532, was apparently not immediately sold, while the offset car (2531) also remained at the factory until finding a new home in South America at the end of the year (see below).

Of the 1957 private cars, Centro-Sud retained their familiar pair for racing in 1958, and during the year added the ex-Piotti car (2519) to their stable as well. They also acquired the old exRosier car (2506) but don’t seem to have raced it in this season. Two of the team cars. 2502/2511 and 2519, were equipped midyear with new fuel-tanks of the 1957 design, while the ex-Piotti car was completely reclothed for the Italian GP at the end of the year: its most notable feature was a very large rear tank.

Bonnier bad now severed his links with Centro-Sud and campaigned as a privateer, first with 2505, then the ex-Godia 2524, and finally with Scarlatti’s 1957 lightweight (2529), The two newer cars were also made available to other drivers from time to time during the year.

Halford retained 2509/2504 but sold it to New Zealand during the year, while the other car to change hands in Europe was the du Puy example (2521), which was acquired — complete with new body — by Andre Testut. Gould and Volonterio kept their cars, the English one receiving new bodywork midyear, but the Gilby car was retired.

1959

Scuderia Buell had great plans for its Piccolos in 1959, but after racing in New Zealand at the beginning of the year (2533 with Schell and 2534 with Shelby) no further progress was made. Both cars remained unused in Italy throughout 1959. Creus had meanwhile taken his car (2526/2530) home to Argentina, while before the year was out Bonnier’s two cars, 2524 and 2529, had gone to new owners in the USA.

In Europe, Volonterio, Testut and Kavenagh retained their cars from 1958, but none would see much action, and nor would the three familiar Centro-Sud cars (2502/ 2511, 2507/2523/2522 and 2519).

This team now switched to four-cylinder Cooper-Maseratis, and perceiving the frontline career of the 250F to be well and truly over, disposed of 2502/2511 and 2507/2523/2522 to South America. They did not entirely give up on the traditional designs, however, replacing these cars with a new one based on 2506 and renumbered 2511, though apparently incorporating many parts from 2519. Before the end of the year they had -also acquired the first Piccolo (2532/2533). Scarlatti meanwhile raced the ex-de Filippis machine (2501/2523), while before its sale to America, Bonnier’s 2524 was driven by a number of his friends.

At the end of the year two 250Fs were entered in the inaugural United States GP, at Sebring. The Scuderia Sorocaima entry for Venezuelan driver Ettore Chimeri (2528) did not turn up, and although Phil Cade’s (2524) practised, it did not start the race.

Another 250E-powered car in this race was the Tec-Mec, a one-off designed and built by former factory employees, but not part of our story.

1960

Surprisingly, considering that they were now well past their sell-by dates, Maserati 250Fs turned out for several F1 races in 1960. In Argentina Scuderia Centro-Sud ran their ‘new’ cars, 2532/2533 for Scarlatti and 2506/2511 for Estefano, while Munaron raced 2530, joining the local South American cars of Creus (2526/30) and Chimeri (2528).

The European-based cars returned home after this series, as did Chimeri’s, though 2530 was sold to a South American owner before the end of the year; Scarlatti’s own car (2501/2523) was meanwhile sold to New Zealand (see below).

Gould dragged out his old car (2514) for the Italian GP, though it failed to start. Finally, Bob Drake raced for Lubin’s recently acquired Piccolo (2532/2533) in the United States GP at Watkins Glen. That was the end of the Grand Prix formula for which the cars had been built, and they no longer had a role to play in mainstream racing. But their careers continued elsewhere, as will be related next month in the final part of our story.

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