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  Maserati 8CTF      

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Country of origin:Italy
Produced in:1938
Numbers built:3 + 1 engine
Successor:Maserati 8CLT
Author:Wouter Melissen
Last updated:May 26, 2011
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Click here to download printer friendly versionIn the 1930s Maserati held a unique position as one of very few manufacturers of racing cars. These racing cars were usually also very successful, but rarely profitably. In light of that, it is amazing to note that Maserati survived for over a decade as an independent company. By the mid-1930s the constant lack of funds really started to become problematic for the (financial) future of the Maserati brothers and also greatly hampered the development of new racing cars. In 1937 financial security was returned as the brothers sold the company to wealthy industrialist Adolfo Orsi. One of the conditions of the sale was that the brothers would continue to work Maserati for at least ten years.

Not having to worry about the business side freed up energy and motivation to develop one of the most ambitious Maseratis of the day; a brand new Grand Prix car for the 1938 season. At the time GP racing was dominated by the German government supported Auto Union and Mercedes-Benz teams. Other manufacturers had all but given up and had turned their attention to voiturette racing with smaller engined and less complicated racing cars. It was in this class that Maserati was also particularly successful with the six cylinder engined 6CM. Starting in 1938 the regulations for Grand Prix cars would be drastically changed and this gave the Italians and French a renewed chance, at least in theory.

Gone was the ridiculous maximum weight of 750 kg, replaced instead by a minimum weight depending on displacement, with a maximum of 3 litres for blown and 4.5 for Naturally Aspirated engines. Given their long experience with Superchargers, it was no surprise that the brothers opted for the former. In fact the new eight cylinder engine was not too dissimilar to the 'four' used in the final versions of the 4CM 1500 voiturette car. Like that twin-cam engine, the 3 litre 'eight' used a fixed cylinder head or 'testa fissa', which also explains the 8CTF type indication. This setup allowed for higher compression ratios and did away with the need for the often vulnerable head gasket. Not one, but two Roots-Type Superchargers were bolted onto the nose of the engine. At the car's debut, the big 'eight' produced 350 bhp and later it was good for at least 365 bhp.

Mated to a four speed gearbox, the eight cylinder engine was installed in a steel box-section frame that was derived from the 6CM with an additional magnesium X-shaped cross-brace under the seat. Not only did it strengthen the chassis, it also doubled as the oil tank for the dry-sump system. The engine only had solid mounts at the rear to prevent chassis flex from cracking the crank case. The car was suspended at the front by double wishbones with longitudinally mounted torsion bars and at the rear by the tried and trusted live-axle with quarter elliptic leaf springs. The hydraulic assisted brakes sported magnesium drum brakes designed to disperse heat more easily and to be less prone to fading. The Maserati 8CTF was finished off with an aluminium body similar to that of the 6CM, with a longer nose required by the larger engine.

Two 8CTFs were ready in time for the second Grand Prix of the season at Tripoli. There it faced the on paper superior Mercedes-Benz W154, which was a bit heavier, but powered by a 450+ bhp V12. Not boding well for the Maserati Works team either was the poor health of both drivers Archille Varzi and Count Trossi. Starting from the second row, Trossi surprised the Germans and pleased the many Italians by closely chasing the leading Mercedes for several laps. After nine laps the gearbox let go, leaving an easy win for Herman Lang. Despite the great debut, the 8CTF was set aside to focus on building the successful voiturettes, which were high in demand. The 8CTFs were raced again at various locations, showing great pace, but poor reliability. Both the brakes and the engine proved to be prone to failure.

Little was done over the winter to fix the problems with Maserati's engineers continuing to develop and construct the voiturettes. This was given even more priority when the organizers of the important Tripoli Grand Prix would be held for voiturette cars. The Works team did race the 8CTF during the German Grand Prix at the Nürburgring with local driver Paul Pietsch heading the assault. He showed once more what the Maserati was capable of and he brought back memories of 1935 when he took the lead in front of a 300,000 strong crowd. Reliability woes and six pit stops again seemed to rob the Maserati from a great finish, but an amazing drive saw Pietsch fight back to third. Two of the three 8CTFs were sold to Lucy O'Reilly Schell, who unsuccessfully entered them in the Swiss Grand Prix before taking the cars to the United States where the other one had already been sold to.

Earlier in 1939 the third 8CTF and a spare engine had been bought by Mike Boyle to be driven by 1937 winner Wilbur Shaw in the Indy 500. The Maserati was right at home on the oval and the methanol based fuel proved a lot kinder for the fragile engine. Shaw beat the local specials and recorded the first win for an Italian car and the first win for a European car since 1916. A year later the other two also lined up, but it was Shaw who took yet another win. The 8CTFs continued to be raced at Indy into the 1950s with two thirds as the best result. Amazingly the Grand Prix Maserati excelled in another American classic; the Pikes Peak hillclimb where it was driven to back to back victories by Louis Unser in 1946 and 1947. After almost two decades of racing the 8CTF was finally retired in 1954, after failing to qualify for Indy for the third year in a row.

Despite their lengthy racing career, all three cars have survived. The two-time Indy winner (chassis 3032) has been prominently displayed for many years in the Indy Speedway Museum. The other two 8CTFs are in private hands and like the Indy winner are maintained to full running order.

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  Article Image gallery (33) Chassis (2) Specifications User Comments (2)