Following the Grand Prix / Formula 1 World Championship first held in 1950, the FIA started a World Sportscar Championship in 1953. With legendary races like the Mille Miglia and the 24 Hours of Le Mans on the calendar, the championship was immediately popular. Main contenders for the title in the year were Ferrari, Jaguar and Aston Martin, who all had cars with engines that displaced well over 3 litres. Ferrari took the first title, which convinced Italian rivals Maserati to construct a car capable of competing in the new Championship.
Maserati had very little experience with large displacement engines. Their largest engine at the time was the 250F Formula 1 engine while the largest sportscar engine produced up till then was the 2 litre unit powering the A6 GCS. Throughout the 1954 season Maserati experimented with a hybrid sportscar, which used the A6 GCS chassis and the 250F engine. The engine provided lots of power, but its high compression ratio made it a reliability nightmare on races longer than two or three hours. Work continued on a new larger engine which offered similar performance, but used a much lower compression ratio.
There were two options for the larger engine; bore and stroke the 250F engine to its maximum or design a completely new engine. The first option would yield an engine with a 2.8 litre displacement, which was deemed insufficient, so Maserati went for the second option. The completely new six cylinder engine derived from the 250F design was to displace 3 litres. Two gear driven, overhead camshafts were installed to operate 2 valves per cylinder. Ignition was taken care of by two plugs per cylinder.
A new chassis was designed especially for the 3-litre engine. The biggest changes from the A6 GCS chassis were the incorporation of a DeDion type rear axle and a transverse four speed gearbox. The DeDion axle offered a similar amount of rigidity as a live axle, but the un-sprung weight was decreased considerably. Mounted on the chassis was aluminium roadster bodywork, designed and built by Fantuzzi. Later cars featured longer nosed bodies to increase aerodynamic efficiency.
The 300S, as it was named, made its competition debut in 1955. Although its performance was promising, the 300S was let down by poor reliability and developmental problems in its first year. After the difficult 1955 season, some modifications were carried out, including the aforementioned sleeker nose and an increase in engine output. Some of the sport's finest drivers drove for Maserati in 1956, including Stirling Moss, Jean Behra and Carroll Shelby.
The two years of hard work really paid off in the 1956 season! The 300S' first major victory was scored in the Nürburgring 1000 km race, with Moss, Behra, Schell and Taruffi at the wheel of the winning 300S. More victories followed that year and Maserati finished a commendable second in the World Championship behind the almost unbeatable Ferrari team. Juan Manuel Fangio took another major victory in 1957, but by that time development of the 300S was halted in favour of the even larger engined 450S. Ironically in 1958 a 3-litre displacement limit was imposed, leaving the 450S obsolete, after which Maserati withdrew from sportscar racing.
Today many of the 28 300S Maseratis constructed are still being raced in historic events. Featured above are various chassis, including a rare short nosed version. The cars are pictured at various events, including the 2003 Nürburgring Oldtimer Grand Prix, 2003 Spa Franchorchamps Ferraris days and the 2002 Le Mans Classic.
These cars are a pleasure to watch and listen to, and to show that these are not used for parade laps only is shown on one the pictures above, where Bill Binney is actually locking up his right rear wheel under breaking. If you have the opportunity to visit these races, do it!
Beautiful car, sexy profile, power to weight ratio is sensational, only thing let me done is the leave spring setup. ItĘs a shame Maserati do not build the car in this way any more.