It's an iconic Italian failure, a testament to chaos, caffeine, grappa, panic, and an unwillingness to throw in the towel

This remarkably imposing V8 rear-engined, sports-prototype is the last of the line of Maserati competition cars built during the Gruppo Orsi Empire's long ownership of the Italian marque. As such, it marks the high tide of their development right through the wide range of A6GCS, 150, 200, 250, 300, 350, and 450S sports racing classics, through the famous "Birdcage" Tipo 60-64 models and the big V8-powered, 151 Berlinetta designs of 1962-65.

SCM Analysis


Years Produced:1965
Number Produced:1
Original List Price:Unknown
SCM Valuation:$764,188, at least
Distributor Caps:(x2): $250 if you can find one
Chassis Number Location:Tag on dashboard
Engine Number Location:Left head by distributor mount
Club Info:Maserati Club International
Investment Grade:A

This Maserati Tipo 65 Sports Racing Prototype sold for $764,188 at the Bonhams Gstaad auction December 17, 2006.

The Type 65 was the last purpose-built Maserati racing car. One might argue, as the catalog copy clearly does, that it was the pinnacle, the ultimate iteration of a grand tradition of dominant racing cars.

I will argue differently. I see it as the almost embarrassing, last guttering flame of a grand competitive tradition that had run out of money, customers, and options long before it ran out of passion or enthusiasm. This is not to say that this Tipo 65 Sports Racing Prototype isn’t a very cool car, or won’t be competitive in vintage racing. Only that it was anything but the pinnacle of Maserati’s tradition.

The brothers Maserati formed the company in the mid-1920s as a specialist manufacturer of strictly racing cars-the March or Lola of its day. As was appropriate to the era, they designed and built everything-chassis, engines, transmissions, etc. Though small, they were successful and developed a fierce Italian pride in the quality and competitiveness of their products.

Sports cars added in the ’50s

Suffering from the tragic death of the lead brother, Alfieri, the worldwide depression, and the impending European war, the brothers sold the company to the Orsi industrial conglomerate in 1937. The Orsi management held the company together through the war, primarily by manufacturing machine tools. As soon as the smoke cleared, Maserati was back in the car business. The ’50s saw a splitting of the focus, as high-performance road cars were added to the line, but racing remained the core of the tradition.

And Maserati remained at the forefront. The A6GCS series of early-postwar designs were replaced with the lighter, simpler 150/200S designs, which utilized twin-cam, 4-cylinder engines and then-standard large-diameter tubular ladder frames. This concept was expanded into the 6-cylinder 300S and V8-powered 450S models that many collectors consider to be the ultimate Maserati sports racers.

But by the late 1950s, Maserati engineers knew they were in trouble. The English and Germans were introducing small-diameter tubular “space frame” designs, and Jaguar had introduced the monocoque concept with its D-type. The old ladder frames were simply too heavy and too flexible.

What to do? They could build space frames, but that was just matching their rivals, not beating them, and they didn’t have the technology to build monocoque (an aircraft industry development).

Small tubes good, tiny tubes better

Maserati’s solution was almost a caricature of the Italian mind-set. If many small tubes were better than a few big ones, then tiny tubes must be better yet. Enter the Birdcage designs. Birdcage chassis are the most mind-numbingly complex structures in the history of the racing automobile.

They look like something Buckminster Fuller would have thought up on an acid trip. The biggest tube is the size of your thumb, most are like your little finger, and there are hundreds of them, all closely triangulated. It is an extremely light and stiff chassis structure, if you can ignore what it took to make it (or, God help you, repair it).

The Tipo 60 and 61 designs (front-engined, 4-cylinder cars-the classic Birdcages) were very quick but notoriously unreliable. If they finished, often as not they won. But by now, Maserati’s competition department was having a tough time keeping up.

The march of technology had become a stampede, mid-engine designs were clearly the wave of the future, and management was spending what money the company had on developing road cars. Though fiercely proud, talented, and committed, the competition department had become a backwater.

It was a backwater with some fierce champions in customers Briggs Cunningham, American-born Frenchman John Simone, and Italian Count Volpi, so they soldiered on. The Type 63 and 64 models were mid-engined variations on the birdcage theme, first with 2.5-liter four and then with 3-liter V12 power.

We had one in our stable of race cars for quite a while. And it was a wonderful car, though more an object of surprise and amazement than of awe (“Oh, my gosh! They really did that?”). Only five were officially built, though most had multiple chassis. After this, the birdcage concept was abandoned and Maserati built three Type 151 cars for 1964. This was basically a reversion to the old 450S design with a coupe body, and brings us to the car we’re discussing here.

Maserati at the end of its rope

By the 1965 season, the Maserati competition department was pretty much at the end of its rope, but wouldn’t quit. The quasi-official Maserati History (Maserati, by Orsini and Zagari) said, “With an obstination (sic) worthy of better causes, Maserati and Colonel Simone continued their efforts for 1965.”

When “Lucky” Casner ran out of it at Le Mans practice, killing himself and destroying the Type 151, Simone and Maserati had less than two months to recover and run Le Mans, so the Type 65 was created. Working with the manic intensity of panicked Italians, they dragged an old Tipo 63 chassis out of their junk room and cut it off just behind the rear cockpit bulkhead. They had a 5.1-liter Type 151 V8 and a suitable transaxle available, so they set them in place and built a new rear frame structure to carry them.

There was no room for the traditional De Dion rear suspension, so they devised a wishbone suspension sprung by torsion bars. Tire sizes had grown substantially from the L-sections of the earlier cars, so accommodation had to be made, and, of course, an aluminum body had to be hammered out, but they got the whole thing done in just 30 days. Effectively, it’s a 5.1-liter V8 Tipo 63 with fat tires (and a lot more weight; it was about 800 pounds heavier).

They made the race, with “Seppi” Siffert qualifying in the middle of the pack. After a great start, Siffert overcooked a corner, found the hay bales, and that was it. The car was out on the first lap. Later on, some modifications were made, but the car never raced again. It was the end of Maserati’s competition ride.

What we have here, then, is an iconic Italian failure, a testament to chaos, caffeine, grappa, panic, and an unwillingness to throw in the towel. As the coda to a great tradition of racing, it certifies the glory that went before it, if not sharing it.

Though not successful in its time, it will probably prove a great vintage racer. With time and money now available, the kinks will be worked out to make the car dependable and competitive (and if it’s anything like our Tipo 63, it will be FUN to drive.) It’s beautiful, it’s the only one, it ran Le Mans, and it’s a Maserati. It will be welcome anywhere. The new owner will be able, for comfortably under a million dollars, to stand proud among a group of cars generally worth multiples of that. Though it’s an intimidating challenge, I’d say very well bought.

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