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  Maserati 8CLT      

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Country of origin:Italy
Produced in:1950
Numbers built:2 (3036 & 3037)
Predecessor:Maserati 8CTF
Author:Wouter Melissen
Last updated:November 20, 2008
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Click here to download printer friendly versionIn 1939 the Maserati 8CTF became the first Italian car to win the prestigious Indianapolis 500 race. The eight cylinder engine racer repeated that feat a year later. A mean feat for a car that wasn't even designed for the specific demands of the oval track. The 8CTF was in fact developed for the European Grands Prix where it was thoroughly outpaced by the German Mercedes-Benz and Auto Union teams. The three cars were simply sold to the United States to recoup some of the investment and yet they achieved two of Maserati's biggest victories.

Due to revised Grand Prix regulations, another Maserati victory after the War seemed unlikely. That was until 1950, when the Italian company was approached by Francesco Rol and Giuseppe 'Nino' Farina, two wealthy Italian racing drivers. The success of the 8CTF had convinced them that Maserati would be quite capable of building another potential Indy winner. The Italian manufacturer was in financial difficulties, so it was not in the position to turn down this request. And, If successful, there might be more business for Maserati in the lucrative North American market.

During the development process many corners and expenses could be cut by using existing parts. Nevertheless both the engine and chassis were different from those found in the 8CTF built a decade earlier. The biggest progress made since then was in the chassis department. The pre-War single seater Maseratis had used rather simple ladder type frames. The new for 1947 4CLT Grand Prix racer sported a more sophisticated tubular frame (hence the T in CLT). Compared to the traditional chassis, the tubular construction was both lighter and more rigid.

Not quite as sophisticated as the tubular frame was the very conventional suspension. Particularly the rear end consisting of a live axle and quarter elliptic springs did not break new ground. With double wishbones and coil springs the front suspension was more modern. Massive, grooved hydraulic drum brakes provided the stopping power, although their use would hardly be tested on an oval track. The biggest difference between the four cylinder Grand Prix car and the new Indy chassis was the longer wheelbase to make room for a bigger engine. That also required the chassis to be reinforced in some key areas.

The engine could not be picked off the shelve like the chassis. It was not all new though and again found its origin with the 4CLT. Simply put the new eight cylinder was constructed bolting two of the 1500 cc fours together. Breathing through four valves per cylinder and equipped with two Roots-Type Superchargers, it produced a hefty 430 bhp. That was over 60 bhp more than the similarly sized straight eight found in the 8CLT. It was not only a very potent engine, but also a sight to behold with elaborate headers with sixteen individual exhaust pipes. All this power was transferred to the rear wheels through a four speed gearbox.

Clothed in a 4CLT style single seater body, the new Indy racer clocked up its first test laps in March of 1950. Considering its engine and chassis combination, it was quite logically dubbed the 8CLT. The early test at the Modena Autodrome revealed that additional cooling was required. This was achieved by fitting a massive oil radiator on the right hand side of the car. Due to the lack of funds development progressed very slowly. Getting even one car ready for the Indy 500 looked unlikelier by the day. Then Farina withdrew from the project as he decided to focus on the securing the first Formula 1 World Championship for Alfa Romeo. Rol followed suit and an already cash strapped Maserati was stuck with two 'useless' racing cars.

In Europe there was no championship for 'Formula Libre' cars like the 8CLT, so Maserati had to look at other continents to shed the two cars. They finally found a customer literally on the other side of the world, in New Zealand. The new owner was the Zambucka Team, who raced the cars for many seasons. Before the cars were shipped 'Down Under' one was shown at Turin Motor Show in 1951. It was the only time the Northern Hemisphere got a glimpse of these racers in period. Since thet cars have returned and one has been completely restored to running order. It is pictured above in action during the 2008 Goodwood Revivial Meeting.

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