The car was like a snappy retort delivered after the party was over-clever, but presented to an empty room
Following on the success of Wilbur Shaw's win in his Maserati Tipo 8CTF at the Indianapolis 500 in May 1939, the Maserati factory was confident it could repeat this victory in 1940 with its new model monoposto (single seater), the Tipo 8CL. This new racing car was a more powerful version of the eight-cylinder 8CTF, with four valves per cylinder, two superchargers, two Memini carburetors and a chassis with a 70-mm longer wheelbase. Power output had increased for the three-liter engine, to a respectable 420 hp with a potential top speed of 175 mph.
The first Tipo 8CL, S/N 3034, was completed by the end of March 1940, resplendent in the South American racing colors of blue with
yellow. Practice for the Indy 500 was in April, and the race driver Raul Rigante, a local South American champion of some experience, qualified it at 121.8 mph. The 1939 winning 8CTF qualified at 127 mph, which put Wilbur Shaw on the front row and Rigante on the twelfth.
In the race, which Shaw won for the second successive time, Rigante had a bad accident on lap 24. The Argentine driver was thrown out of the cockpit without serious injury, but his car was badly beaten up and was eventually crated back to Argentina, where it remained for almost 40 years, mostly in retirement.
The Maserati 8CL has since been the subject of a thorough survey and mechanical restoration by Phil Riley, and has made successful appearances in historic races at Monterey and Lime Rock.
|1940 Maserati 8CL
|Original List Price:
|Tune Up Cost:
|Cost per hour to race: $750
|Chassis Number Location:
|tag in cockpit
|Engine Number Location:
|right rear of engine
|Maserati Club International, 1620 Industry Drive, Suite F, Auburn, WA 98001
|1932 Alfa Romeo P3, 1934 Bugatti Tipo 59
This 1940 Maserati 8CL sold for $2,204,435 at Sotheby’s Maranello auction, held June 28, 2005.
If you have the DNA for old car passion in your genes, a car like this one must make you weak in the knees. It’s just so completely over the top: a twin-cam, four-valve straight eight; sixteen header pipes, all lined up on a row; two superchargers stuck on the front; cam covers and intake runners that just go on and on and on; a 6,800-rpm redline. Did I mention it’s pre-war? And an Indy car to boot? Incredible!
Too bad it was so terribly mediocre as a race car.
Maserati began its supercharged straight-eight series with the 8C 3000 in 1932, followed by the 8CM in 1933-34. Twenty of these were built and they were competitive Grand Prix cars, but their detachable cylinder heads led to head gasket problems when the supercharger boost was turned up. A successor was designed with the cylinders and heads cast as a single unit, the 8CTF (for “testa fissa,” or fixed head), and it was good for another hundred horsepower or so. But by now it was 1938 and there was neither a market for the car (Maserati only built three of them), nor any hope of competitive success.
It is hard to overstate just how utterly dominant the German teams from Auto Union and Mercedes were in the mid- to late-1930s. Joining the fight seemed quixotic at best. The English must have thought so, as they ceded the Grand Prix field and concentrated on the 1,500-cc class. Bugatti and Alfa Romeo, both successful manufacturers of road cars, accepted the competition challenge on purely nationalistic grounds. Maserati, however, had a commercial imperative to go racing. At the time, it was a privately held specialty race car manufacturer, and building and selling race cars was all it did.
In the 1,500-cc “Voiturette” class, Maserati fielded its 6CM, an over-square car (long stroke, small bore), but Alfa Romeo arrived in 1938 with its dominant Type 158 “Alfetta” and it was back to the drawing board. Maserati penned the 4CL, which was a remarkably modern, square design (equal bore and stroke) with four valves per cylinder. It was an excellent engine, but selling race cars in 1939 was a very tough business.
Headstrong as Italians are known to be, Maserati forged ahead. One of the 8CTFs had gone to the U.S. for Wilbur Shaw to drive in the Indy 500. He won, which gave the guys in Bologna a new idea. They would put the 4CL architecture on the straight eight, stretch the chassis a bit, and take this new “8CL” to the U.S. to run Indy in 1940.
The problem, though, was that with all the effort Maserati had thrown at the engine, for most of the decade it had almost completely ignored the chassis. Aside from the torsion bar independent front suspension adapted from the 6CM, the 8CL was pretty much a 1932 Grand Prix car with twice the horsepower, and it was never successful.
Maybe with more time and money it could have claimed greatness, but Maserati’s circumstances and World War II combined to prevent that. Instead, the Maserati 8CL was like a snappy retort delivered after the party was over-clever, but presented to an empty room.
Vintage racing and collecting are not just about successful cars, however. Decades after the fact, it’s not uncommon for the once merely quixotic to become much more interesting to own. That’s the case here, as buyers for these vintage Maseratis are collectors rather than active users. With the art of these cars being more important than any other attribute, they are certainly desirable masterpieces.
Though the 1940 Maserati 8CL pictured here was built specifically for Indianapolis, it is clearly valued as a late-’30s Maserati Grand Prix car, which is what it really is. Non-German Grand Prix cars from the ’30s seem to be worth between $1.5-$2.5 million, a range they’ve occupied for some years now, with Alfas and Bugattis on the higher side and Maseratis somewhat lower. If you could find an Auto Union or Mercedes, you’d pay three to four times that much.
Based on those numbers, this Maserati 8CL wasn’t cheap, but I’d say it was fairly bought.
(Historical and descriptive information courtesy of the auction company.)