Sunday, November 03, 2013

In Search Of The (Maserati) Holy Grail

Not every car that gets its own shirt!
I bought this just for my quest.

Motor racing, in a sense, is the ultimate sport. Not only is physical skill required but also ingenuity and creativity. You can be the greatest marathoner in the world but you'd still be doing it the same way as was done in ancient Greece. But in motor racing, a year is a lifetime. It's a battle of both wits and execution. The exhilaration is in making all these aspects come together, a total team sport. And as a Maserati fan I went in search of the greatest car they ever made: the world championship winning 1957 Formula 1 250F. It was advertised to be at the inaugural Vintage Racing National Championship at the Austin F1 track. Seek and ye shall find?

1911 National Indy 2 1911 National Indy Car, from the very first Indianapolis 500!
This was a crowd favorite and rightfully so.

1934 Morgan Sports Check out them 1930's Morgans. What a hoot!

1939 Lagonda V12 LeMans Replica This 1939 Lagonda Le Mans car was a replica but said to be an exact one. Damn cool looking regardless!

1939 Lagonda V12 LeMans Replica 4

Here's a short video of the Indy car in action. It was a fan favorite.

As soon as cars were invented came the urge to race them and pioneer new technology. The Maserati brothers of the Lombardy region of Italy established their company in 1914 to get into the game. 12 years later their car won the famed Targo Florio - driven by Alfieri Maserati. In those days you could build 'em and race 'em yourself and win. In pre war Europe intercontinental rivalry spurred competition to a higher level of professionalism but (rich) talented amateurs could still compete very well using their own set up even at the highest echelons of the sport. These "gentlemen racers" gradually disappeared until finally squeezed out by the end of the 20th century.

1956 Lotus XI LeMans Sportscar racers of the Fifties were absolutely gorgeous.

1956 Lotus Eleven 3

1956 Alfa Romeo Giuletta Spider3

1957 Cooper T43 The car that turned F1 on its head: 1957 Cooper T43, the first to put the engine in the rear. I never heard it confirmed but this had to be a replica.

1957 Cooper T43 8

All the pre war cars were well received. Slow in comparison but unique in character.

After the war was a whole new ball game. Formula 1 came into being in 1950. American GIs returning home from the first fully mechanized war had caught the need for speed bug and quickly modified their own hot rods or snapped up European sports cars. Luckily, American car companies finally caught onto this giving birth to the Corvette and its ilk. By the end of the Fifties, the race was on! The decade to follow is what some call the greatest blend of both romance and performance before technology finally dictated function over form.

1961 Lotus 18-21 Formula cars of the Sixties are my all time favorite as far as looks are concerned. They still have a human element to them yet reek of lightening speed.

Group 2 5

Group 2 2

1962 Lotus 23 Green 2

1967 Lola T703.b Spyder


Here's a video of some gorgeous 60's era Formula Juniors:

In the Sixties innovation came hard and fast. The horsepower craze was in full bloom. There are stories of renting a muscle car from Hertz on Friday, racing it that weekend then returning it Monday. (Hertz put a quick stop to the thrashing of their cars). When a deal fell through with Ferrari, Ford vowed revenge by snatching Le Mans from the factory Ferraris with their gorgeous and legendary GT40. Racing fever had gripped both sides of the pond.

1968 Superformance GT40 Mk1 Legendary Ford GT40. How I wish I could have attended Le Mans in the late Sixties.

1968 Superformance GT40 Mk1 5

Here's a quickie video of a 1969 GT40 I was able to close to:

Here's a video of Group 5 which includes the GT40:

By the end of the Sixties, the aero wing had been introduced (at first with disastrous results). Into the Seventies aerodynamics solely dictated a car's form. Innovation became more incremental than revolutionary until finally we have the computer controlled machines of today. Advances now are not as visible as in the past. Parts look the same but are made of lighter materials. A modern Formula 1 steering wheel requires a manual all its own to understand. The great challenge of the future will be to create non-gasoline based engines. That should open things up again!

1969 Lola T163

1976 Shadow DN6

1978 Lotus 79 (Andretti) Andretti's F1 1978 champ car, Lotus 79

Group 11 had some relatively modern beasts in it:

Gone are the days when a small concern like Bristol's Cooper can shake up the world by moving the engine from front to middle (catching an infuriated Ferrari flat footed). But for those times and that romance to pass from the world would be a monumental shame. How great would it be to go back in time and see those cars storming the track in a blaze of glory? The glory days may be gone but the cars thankfully are not. And barring a time machine, there's no better way to experience history than strapping yourself into a vintage race car.

Tow OK, there were some wounded warriors

Tower27 Looks bad but the driver was OK

Group 11 Racing 2 OK, that's more like it!

Here's video of the overturned car and the driver being choppered out:

Nothing can substitute for being there. The guttural exhausts, the smell of oil and carbon monoxide, a blazing sun shining down just like in those more innocent times of tinkerers and inventors pushing forward the cutting edge inside their garages. I came for all these things but most of all I came for one car: the mythic 1957 Maserati 250F. The 250F reached the pinnacle of motor racing when it won the world championship at the hands of the great Juan Manual Fangio, still considered by many to be the greatest driver of all time (I agree).

James Hunt Hesketh A celebrity car: James Hunt's Formula 1 Hesketh. It was for sale at the event. Hunt has gained in notoriety since the film "Rush" was released.

James_Hunt_with_Hesketh Hunt in the car back in the day.

1969 Chevrolet Corvette Blocks 69 Vette. Definitely some cool Vettes there for the Corvette fans.
But where's my Maserati??

Garage6 Shit load of Porsches too...

Group 3 with Porsches:

I was struck by the thunderbolt of a picture a Maserati Merak as a teenager. I've been hooked ever since. Maserati! Maserati! Just saying the name makes me happy it sounds so cool. A few years ago I was in the Manhattan Ferrari/Maserati store when I saw a pair of Maserati driving gloves I just had to have. They didn't fit nor was my size in stock. The helpful salesman chimed in, "But we have some Ferrari gloves in your size." I told him no thanks. "I'm a Maserati guy." Il Tridente to the end!

Trailer 2 Not a cheap sport. Expect to spend in 6 figures annually.

Tires Racing slicks.

Shop 2 Custom racing suits tailor made

Some NASCAR racers in group 10:

The event was held at Austin's new and highly regarded Formula 1 track. A GT40 was promised to be there. James Hunt's car was to be there too (from the film "Rush"). Plenty of other cool cars too. But me, I came for the legend, the Maserati holy grail, their finest creation (they quit racing due to financial considerations soon after the championship). But, alas, it was not be. Not listed anywhere in the program, no sight or sound of it. I wasn't wholly let down because it had seemed too good to be true anyway.

Paddock Club My VIP ticket got me into the inner sanctum of the Paddock. But what was the point now?

Paddock Supposed to be a view to a thrill

A shaky, windy view from the tower. Needed a tripod here!

I tried to rationalize my despair by realizing the Maserati brothers had all left the company bearing their name in 1947. From a truly purist's point of view to get a car from their own hands I would need to see a pre war car. I had no idea if any car like that would be there. If so, it would certainly be a suitable plan B, but there were only a handful of pre war cars that had come. Luckily for me, one of those was a 1939 Maserati 4CL. Yeeehaw!

Maserati Racing! Hey, what's that blur of Italian racing red that just flashed by??

The car gods had bailed me out. Even if the 250F had been there I'd still have a more "pure" pre war Maserati on my bucket list as a car to see. But any car like that would most likely be in a museum. Here was one I could get to up close and personal! One I could see, touch and hear in action. Mercy! I tracked her all there days from various points on the track. The announcers said she was a barn find, shuttered unraced when the war came along. How I was ever able to cross paths with it is a minor miracle. Just like the first Maserati I ever laid my eyes on this one too was like a dream. My homage below.

1939 Maserati 4CL 9 The magnetic personality of the Maser attracts a crowd. Love that Italian racing red!

1939 Maserati 4CL 2 Art on wheels.

1939 Maserati 4CL 4

1939 Maserati 4CL 8

Maserati Pipes Eight pipes coming out of four cylinders? That's due to the four valves per cylinder.

Maserati Prep 2 Owner/driver Paddins Dowling preps the car for racing.

Maserati Prep 4 Putting in extra fluids. Yes, there's an opening in the cockpit.

Maserati Prep 3 Check out the center shifter!

Pre War 2 Pre war cars lined up to enter onto the track. More than one was a replica but very fine ones.

Maserati Racing! 1 Away she goes!

Maserati Racing! Turn 12 4

Maserati Racing! Turn 12 14

Maserati Racing! Turn 12 11

Maserati Racing! 3

So just how did the Maserati hold up after all these years? Watch the video below to find out!

Click here to view all the Maserati photos

Click here to view the SVRA cars

Click here for the view from the tower

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