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  Maserati Tipo 61 Birdcage
 

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Country of origin:Italy
Produced from:1959 - 1960
Numbers built:16
Designed by:Giulio Alfieri
Author:Wouter Melissen
Last updated:December 23, 2006
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Click here to download printer friendly versionMaserati's racing program seemed to be continuously dogged by bad luck in the 1950s with Juan Manuel Fangio's 1957 F1 World Championship as a rare highlight. When in the catastrophic Venezuelan Grand Prix late in 1957 most of the Trident's sports cars were destroyed, the ailing company decided to withdraw from motor racing. For the first time in its history Maserati turned their focus on road car construction. After the 3500 GT road car proved profitable, funds to develop a new racer became available again. Instead of being a works racer like its predecessors, the new car was intended solely as a privateer car for 1959. Especially in North America turn-key racers were high in demand.

Engineer Giulio Alfieri was assigned to design the new sports racer that was known internally as the Tipo 60. Most of the mechanicals were sourced from the retired racers; the two litre engine was derived from the 200 S and the suspension was very similar to that of the 250 F single seater. The chassis was all new and a marvel of engineering excellence. Made up of around 200 separate small diameter tubes the spaceframe construction was both light and rigid. After the intricate assembly of tubes, some of which was visible through the windshield, it was quickly nick-named 'Birdcage'. Another novelty for Maserati was the fitting of disc brakes all around. Alfieri mounted the engine behind the front axle for a better weight distribution and to reduce the frontal area it was canted 45 degrees. The aluminium body was constructed by Gentilini and Allegretti and wrapped as tightly over the mechanicals as possible, again to improve the aerodynamics.

With 200 bhp available and a dry weight of under 600 kg, the 'Birdcage' was a very capable racer straight out of the box. Drivers like Stirling Moss immediately fell in love with the car's handling characteristics, but for overall victories more power was required. Alfieri took another dive in the well-stocked Maserati parts bin and brought the 250 S engine out of retirement. It was heavily modified and bored out to the maximum the casing could handle. Displacing just under 2.9 litres this engine was good for 250 bhp and added only 30 kg to the car's overall weight. This second generation 'Birdcage' was officially known as the Tipo 61. Particularly popular in the United States, the customer racer finally brought the well deserved racing success to Maserati. In 1960 and 1961 there was no stopping the Tipo 61 in North America driven by the likes of Carroll Shelby, Jim Hall and Roger Penske. Proving the car's superb handling Stirling Moss and Dan Gurney piloted a Camoradi entered Tipo 61 to the overall victory in the 1960 Nürburgring 1000 km race.

Inspired by the successes scored with the 'Birdcage', Maserati took the racing program up a notch and developed both a mid-engined version of the Birdcage and a front engined V8 racer. These projects proved to be too ambitious for the Italian manufacturer resulting in disappointing results and frequent accidents, some of which were fatal. With the fatal accident of Camoradi's Lloyd 'Lucky' Casner at Le Mans in 1964, the factory lost its most ambitious customer. All racing projects were abandoned shortly after and the Trident was not seen on racing tracks until early in the 21st century. Of all post-War Maserati sports cars the 'Birdcage' was the most innovative and successful.

Featured in the first twelve shots is arguably one of the most important of all Birdcage; the 1960 Nürburgring 1000 km winning s/n 2461. After its historic triumph, it was entered at Le Mans, but it was forced to retire with electrical problems after just two hours. The car was then shipped to the United States were it was fitted with a Ferrari V12 engine. Today it is restored to its Nürburgring winning configuration and was offered in Christies 2003 Pebble Beach auction. It was expected to sell for close to $2 million, but offers failed to meet the reserve set. The beautiful machine did eventually find a new owner and he is seen here in action at the 2006 Monterey Historic Races.

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