Maserati

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The 250F

The 250F Maserati was built for the Grand Prix Formula of 1954-58 which specified a maximum engine capacity of 2,500 cc if unsupercharged. The previous Formula had been for 2-litre cars, so an increase to 21/2-litres was very popular and allowed Maserati to develop a new car using knowledge gained in 1952/3. They retained the six cylinders in-line with two overhead camshafts layout, using three double-choke Weber carburetters and designed a new tubular space-frame chassis. The independent front suspension came direct from the 1952/3 cars, using double wishbones and coil springs, but the rear suspension was entirely new and on the de Dion principle whereby the wheel hub carriers are joined by a large diameter cross-tube which is located fore-and-aft at its ends by radius rods running forwards to the chassis frame, and laterally by a ball and slider in the centre. This means that the cross-tube can move up or down and it can rock sideways about the pivot point, but otherwise it is located in all directions. The differential unit is mounted on the chassis and universally jointed drive-shafts take the drive out to the wheels. This layout gave the big advantage of the major mass of the rear axle assembly being on the chassis, and therefore sprung, and that the all-important (in those days), spring-to-unsprung weight ratio was good. In the 250F the Maserati designers took advantage of this layout to design the four-speed gearbox in unit with the differential/final-drive unit, and were very advanced in that the gearbox shafts were transverse to the centre-line of the car, with input bevels from the prop-shaft and spur gears to the dffferential unit.

The days of the 250F Maserati were before the trend went to rear or mid-engine layout, so the 21/2-litre six-cylinder engine was mounted at the front. The integral gearbox/final-drive unit helped to keep the weight distribution reasonable. A transverse leaf-spring was attached to the frame above the gearbox unit and the ends were joined to the hub carriers by vertical links. A large fuel tank was mounted over and behind the axle unit, and a dry-sump oil tank was hung on the back of the fuel tank. Bodywork was hand-beaten aluminiun, but the fuel tank itself formed the major part of the tail.

While the Maserati factory ran a team of works cars, they also produced the car for sale and in this they were very successful, some Grand Prix races having as many as ten or eleven 250F Maseratis on the starting grid. Development on the factory team cars was continuous and most of it was passed unto the customers in due course, so that a car bought early in 1954 changed considerably over the next two or three years. The engine was continually improved, with new camshafts, new cylinder heads, new oiling system, bigger carburetters and so on. A five-speed gearbox replaced the original four-speed, bigger brakes appeared and the brake drums were always being replaced by improved versions. The body shape and details changed drastically and by 1957 the 250F was a very sleek shape compared to the original 1954 shape, though the parentage was unmistakeable.

The first car built was 2501 and the last one was 2534, though not all the intervening numbers were actually built, but it is safe to say that 32 cars were constructed; two of them were built with V12-cylinder engines in place of the standard six-cylinder engine. When the Grand Prix Formula was extended for the years 1959 and 1960 Maserati had withdrawn their factory team and the production of the 250F had ceased for the basic design was out-dated. The firm had no reserves of finance to progess to a new car for the remaining two years and such Maseratis that appeared in Formula One events were obsolete.

For a number of years all the 250F Maseratis went to ground, either in private collections, in museums, or in the “second-hand” trade, but when Historic racing caught on the 250F had a new lease of life and they were unearthed from all manner of obscure places. Some were in good fettle and more or less ready to race again, others needed complete rebuilding, while some had virtually disappeared having been broken down into their component parts.

With only a limited number of cars having been built between 1954 and 1958 it was inevitable that “new” ones would be constructed, especially as some of the original ones were almost beyond repair and needed replacement components such as chassis frames and suspension units. With money to be made from constructing “new” historic cars it was no surprise that when the first “new” 250F Maserati was built, by Cameron Millar, many of the components were original 1954-58 Maserati parts, made at the time as spares for the current cars. But as the history of all the cars built by the Maserati factory is well documented this “new” car could not be given an identity, nor a place in Maserati history.

Since that first “fake” 250F Maserati was built, using an English-built chassis frame, bodywork, tanks etc, a second one has been completed and is raced in VSCC events by Peter Martin. A third one is nearing completion for Christopher Mann, Ray Fielding is building the fourth one and Cameron Millar the fifth one. While many of the components in these cars were made by the Maserati factory in 1954-58, we are now reaching the state where new castings and forgings are being made for major components, so that “fake” number six could be totally 1981 and none of the bits ever have been near Italy let alone Modena. In that case can it really be a 250F Maserati? To sell such a car as a 250F Maserati would not only make the Trade Descriptions Act people raise an eyebrow, but it could invoke infringement of Maserati patents, which the parent company in Modena still own. — DSJ.

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