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  OSCA Tipo G 4500      

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Country of origin:Italy
Produced in:1951
Numbers built:Three engines, one Grand Prix car and one sports car
Author:Wouter Melissen
Last updated:November 03, 2008
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Click here to download printer friendly versionOn December 1st 1947 the three surviving Maserati brothers completed their ten year tenure they agreed on when selling the Maserati company to the Orsi family in 1937. They did not waste any time as they started development of a brand new sports car. For obvious reasons they could not use the Maserati name and instead labeled the car OSCA (l'Officine Specialzate Construzione Automobili [Fratelli Maserati]). The small four cylinder engined machine was an instant success and quickly established OSCA as a serious manufacturer.

In addition to building complete cars, the Maseratis also constructed (engine) parts for others. One of the biggest clients was French racing car manufacturer Amedee Gordini. In the 1910s the Italian born engineer had learned his trade during an apprenticeship at Isotta Fraschini under Alfieri Maserati. In 1950 he suggested the construction of a V12 engined Formula 1 designed by the Maseratis and financed by the French Simca company. The brothers jumped at the opportunity and even when Gordini withdrew his support, they continued with the project.

New for 1950, Formula 1 was the premier single seater racing class, eligible for the the Grands Prix counting for the World Drivers Championship. The regulations were mostly based on that of the pre-War voiturette class to ensure full fields. Supercharged engines were limited to 1.5 litre while Naturally Aspirated engines could displace up to 4.5 litre. This ensured that there were sufficient cars available to fill the grids. In the first season the Maseratis' rivals of old Enzo Ferrari and Alfa Romeo were the top contenders. Using the supercharged 158 'Alfetta' developed before the War, Alfa Romeo dominated.

Like Ferrari, the Maserati brothers figured that a Naturally Aspirated V12 would be more suitable for Grand Prix racing. The very powerful supercharged engines consumed fuel and tires at a much higher rate. After Gordini pulled out of the project, the Maseratis did not have sufficient resources to develop a complete Grand Prix car. Instead they decided to offer their new V12 engine as an upgrade package for the Maserati 4CLT, which was one of the last cars they had worked on. Its supercharged four cylinder engine was no match for the brute power of the Alfa 'eight' and the Ferrari V12. With a new engine, the owners could prolong the life of their aging racing car.

The OSCA V12 engine looked deceivingly simple. Closer inspection, however, revealed that it was state of the art. Like for most V12 engines, a V-angle of 60 degrees was used. Each of the light alloy cylinder heads housed two camshafts, which were driven from the crank by gears. The Ferrari V12 engine only used one overhead camshaft. Breathing through three Weber Carburetors, the engine initially produced 290 bhp. The brothers were confident that with a little development at least 100 bhp more could be achieved. By comparison, the Ferrari V12 was quoted at 355 bhp and the latest Alfa at 425 bhp.

Despite these promising figures, the Maseratis managed to find only one customer for their new engine; legendary privateer racer Prince Bira. He handed his 4CLT (chassis number 1598) to the Maseratis for the conversion early in 1951. Now producing 330 bhp, the V12 was mounted into the chassis. The six pipes sticking out on either side of the engine and the revised nose, made Bira's Maserati/OSCA hybrid easily recognizable. The Thai Prince drove the car to a debut victory during the Easter Monday meeting at Goodwood. It was sadly not a sign of things to come as Bira failed to impress during the next races in his bright blue and yellow racer.

In addition to Bira's engines, another two V12 engines had been constructed. To let them not go to waste, the brothers started building a Formula 1 chassis of their own. Like the engine, the tubular ladder frame chassis with double wishbone front suspension and a DeDion axle at the rear was at the cutting edge. Completed in the summer of 1951, the new OSCA was dubbed the Tipo G 4500. The 'G' was a referral to Gordini, who had initiated the V12 program. The third, slightly detuned, engine was fitted to a sports car chassis, which was bodied with an attractive Zagato Coupe body.

OSCA's first Formula 1 car debuted at home, in the Italian Grand Prix at Monza. The dark red racer was entered for former Maserati Works driver Franco Rol. In a field of 22 cars, he qualified 18th and eventually finished ninth and last. Rol crossed the line a full thirteen laps behind the winning, V12 engined Ferrari of Alberto Ascari. Rule changes at the end of the season rendered the first Formula 1 cars obsolete for the 1951 season. Bira's V12 engined Maserati was sold to Australia, where it was raced in Formula Libre races for several seasons. The V12 engined sports car did race again in Europe, during the 1953 Gran Premio Supercortemaggiore in the hands of Clemente Biondetti.

After its time Down Under, the Maserati/OSCA hybrid returned to Europe late in the 1950s and was eventually sold to Tom Wheatcroft. He had it fully restored and it is now on display in his fantastic Donnington Collection. The OSCA Grand Prix car's history was far from incident free. It was stripped from its single seater body and fitted with a two-seater roadster at one point. In the 1970s it was part of the Serge Pozzoli collection of oddities. Eventually it ended up in the hands of Corrado Cupellini, who had it completely restored. The sports car was rebodied in 1954 with a roadster body for its owner Paolo Cordero di Montezemolo (uncle of current Fiat-president Luca). In that guise it is now displayed at the Musee Henri Malartre near Lyon in France.

Featured above are both the ex-Bira Maserati/OSCA hybrid and the unique OSCA Grand Prix cars. The specifications listed are for the OSCA/OSCA. The cars are shown in action during the 2008 Goodwood Revival, where the OSCA competed in one of the races. The Goodwood winning blue and yellow Maserati was demonstrated in the Goodwood Legends Parade, which was part of the 60th anniversary celebrations of the Goodwood Motor Circuit.

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  Article Image gallery (21) Specifications User Comments (1)