|Maserati Tipo 65 Birdcage|
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Maserati'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.
Even though the Birdcages were still successful, Alfieri felt the British mid-engine revolution needed an answer from Maserati. Technically the new car was almost identical to the Tipo 60/61 with the obvious change being the relocation of the engine and driver. Alfieri planned to use a three litre version of the V12 engine designed for the 250 F Grand Prix car, but it was not ready in time. Powered by the familiar 250 bhp four cylinder the Tipo 63 Birdcage made its debut in the 1961 season in the hands of privateers like Briggs Cunningham and Cassner's Camoradi.
It quickly became clear that the switching the driver and the engine did not improve the handling. In Europe a fourth place finish in the 24 Hours of Le Mans for a V12 engined Tipo 63 was the only highlight. In the United States several victories were scored, but it obviously was not a worthy replacement for the Tipo 61. Later in the season a Tipo 64 debuted with a highly revised rear suspension was raced, but it was not much of an improvement. It is believed that nine Tipo 63s were constructed of which two were converted to Tipo 64 specification.
Between 1962 and 1964 Maserati's customers competed at Le Mans with the front-engined 151 prototypes. Among them was Colonel Simone, who represented Maserati France. Cassner's fatal accident in Simone's 151/3 during the 1965 Le Mans test-weekend left him without a car for the race two months later, so he comissioned Maserati to build him a new machine. Giulio Alfieri retrieved an old Tipo 63 frame from the Maserati 'scrapyard' and used to construct a new racing car in record time.
Alfieri stretched the Birdcage chassis to or possibly the maximum by installing the latest version of the Tipo 151 V8 engine, which packed a 430 bhp punch. To cope with the additional horses, the chassis was revised considerably and featured wider track front and rear track to accomodate fatter tyres. The design of the new body reflected many of the lessons learned with the 151 series and most notably featured a vertically chopped off rear-end. Six weeks later the Tipo 65 was completed and on its way to Le Mans were it arrived five days before the race.
With only very limited time to test, the Maserati France team made the most of the practice session to gather data. The 21st starting position was not promising, but rising F1 star Jo Siffert had a stellar start and was up to eight as the cars screamed by the start-finish line. It all went terribly wrong in the next lap when Jo Siffert spun and punctured the radiator in the Esses. He did manage to get back to the pits, but ACO regulations stated that fluids could only be refilled after 25 laps were completed and the team was forced to retire the car after just two laps.
Back at the factory, the Tipo 65 was repaired and modified for future track use, but it would not see track action again. It was subsequently sold to a Swiss collector, who had it modified with a new nose as the most notable change. He sold it on to Jo Siffert and after his fatal crash in 1971, it was bought by an avid English historic racer who extensively campaigned the car throughout the decade. In 1978 it was bought by Peter Kaus for his Rosso Bianco museum where it was joined by many other Maserati racing cars.
This very last Maserati racer of the classic era was offered for the first time in almost three decades during Bonham's 2006 Gstaad sale. It found a new owner for CHF 840,000 ex buyer's premium and taxes.
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