A Magnificent Obsession

Maserati, Le mans, klemcoll, Stirling Moss

Here is a special Maserati 450S during the early laps at the Le Mans 24 Hours on June 22, 1957. This unique berlinetta version was one of ten Maserati 450S cars built in the 1956-57 period to contest the 1957 World Championship for Manufacturers. This one was created to be the fastest car ever to run at Le Mans and was the initial idea of Stirling Moss, its driver seen in the car here. The berlinetta body was designed by British aerodynamicist Frank Costin who had penned the famous RAF WWII Mosquito night fighter aircraft. Moss knew Costin from his Vanwall experience as Costin, along with Colin Chapman, had designed that Grand Prix car’s effective bodywork as well.

The problem was that Zagato which constructed the bodywork to Costin’s overall design did not understand certain critical aerodynamic elements involved. Costin had created a high pressure surface area on the hood to feed the Weber carburetors but Zagato replaced this with an air scoop that upset the airflow and failed to admit sufficient air. This resulted in the engine not being able to achieve maximum revs and, hence, was well below its maximum power. The berlinetta was therefore slower on the Mulsanne Straight than the Maserati team’s 450S spider. To make things worse, Zagato had introduced another air scoop for cockpit air, but it was located just behind a low pressure area  which released hot engine compartment air so it gathered in that hot air and directed it into the cockpit, frying the driver. There were other mistakes made as well, including the failure to fit a full length belly pan which did the car’s already weak aerodynamics no good at all.

Juan Fangio was initially selected to partner Moss, but the World Champion saw the situation and begged off from the berlinetta after setting a new record in the open 450S during practice. Harry Schell was quickly brought in to drive with Moss, but he was only in the car for a few laps during the race. Moss managed to get the berlinetta up to second overall early on before transmission noises and an oil leak led to a lengthy pit stop followed by a seized rear universal joint which forced the car’s retirement.

After Le Mans the berlinetta was disassembled, probably to use its engine and driveline in another car and sat essentially abandoned at Maserati for a number of years. Eventually, an American arranged for Maserati to resurrect the car for road use with a lengthened chassis and new somewhat similar bodywork by Fantuzzi. Refinished in dark blue, it is now part of an important American collection.

Photo from the JJF Archive ©The Klemantaski Collection – http://www.klemcoll.com

To see more of our photographs please go to: http://www.klemcoll.com/TheGallery.aspx

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