It is a lovely late afternoon on June 15, 1963 at Le Mans as a long series of cars leave the corner at Tertre Rouge and embark onto the Mulsanne Straight. The red car n. 2 above is an updated Maserati 151/2 entered by Johnny Simone’s Maserati France to be driven by André Simon and American Lloyd “Lucky” Casner. This Maserati was one of the very few cars to break the four minute lap time in practice, the others being several Ferraris and a special Aston Martin. This 151/2 was a second iteration of the 151 which Maserati France had received a year earlier, now promised to be faster.
To the delight of the partisan French crowd, it led the field at the end of the first lap in the hands of Simon and then held that position for most of the first two hours. However, when Casner took over its Colotti gearbox failed causing retirement.
The Maserati 151, introduced in 1962 at the request of Simone and Briggs Cunningham, was to some a throw-back to the ill-starred Maserati 450S Zagato berlinetta that had appeared at Le Mans in 1957, seen to the left. These two cars looked somewhat similar and shared the same basic motor. With almost 400 hp and what was then modern aerodynamics, the three 151s built were very competitive, though fragile as a result of very limited endurance racing development. The three cars first appeared at Le Mans in 1962 and all retired.
The Maserati France example, seen here in the pits at Le Mans in 1963 during practice, had received a number of updates after 1962. The suspension was strengthened to avoid the failure experienced at Le Mans in 1962, the just under four liter engine was replaced by a similar five liter unit which used Lucas fuel injection instead of the original downdraft Weber carburetors, and the bodywork was extensively modified.
After the 1963 Le Mans 24 Hours this same 151 would be further modified for the third time with totally new bodywork produced by Piero Drogo’s Carrozzeria Sports Cars in Modena. André Simon returned to the 151 for the 1964 Le Mans, now driving with Maurice Trintignant, but the Maserati France entry retired again, this time with electrical maladies.
For 1965 the same 151 was entered again for Le Mans with Simone appointing Casner and Masten Gregory to do the driving. But first it was decided to attend the Le Mans test day on April 10 with Casner on hand. Early in the test Casner had a violent crash near the end of the Mulsanne in wet conditions and was killed instantly while the 151 was destroyed.
Photos by Louis Klemantaski ©The Klemantaski Collection – http://www.klemcoll.com
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