The constantly shifting business of aerodynamic development in motorsport always forces designers’ hands: one specific avenue invariably proves the best at any given moment in racing time, forcing everyone to high-tail down the same path.
That can lead to years of ugly ducklings with just one or two swans, particularly in today’s increasingly homogenised world. But circumstances can also combine to create glorious periods where not just individual cars but entire grids are packed with stunning cars, all rocking variations on one particularly epic look. Take 1970s high-airbox Formula 1 cars. The nuclear-powered wedges of late-era Can-Am. Group C monsters from the death throes of that series.
I’d like to add this phenomenon from the mid-‘60s: the rise of the Bread Vans. This was an explosion of Kamm-tail GTs that melded the curvaceous aesthetic of the previous decade to the harder edges that would follow. That’s why I’d like to show you this beautiful Maserati Tipo 151/4 Berlinetta that was running at the Goodwood Revival. Marmite Kamm-tail cars might be, but I know which side I come down on.
The Shelby Cobra Daytona Coupés shown off in my previous article are an obvious ace in the Kamm pack, but if you look at the grids from the ’64 and ’65 running of the Le Mans 24 Hours then you find a deck stuffed with aces. There’s the GT40 of course, but also the Sunbeam Tiger (I was very happy to see that car mentioned in the comments of the Daytona piece), Ferrari 250 and 275, Porsche 904, the stunning Alfa Romeo Giulia TZ2 and more.
The Kamm principle wasn’t new – it was first tested in the ‘30s – but this period was when it came into racing vogue. The idea was to match a profiled front section with a hard cut rear, creating an area of low pressure to reduce drag and increase stability.
This model ran as a Tipo 151/3 in the ’64 24 Hours, before being upgraded replaced in terrible circumstances with an even more extreme roadster the following year in the Tipo 65. It was the last of the Tipo 151 line, which had begun with a trio of 4-litre V8 projectiles back in 1951. They were basically a Tipo 61 Birdcage with a roof, so a bit incongruous-looking – rather like the early Cobra coupés – but extremely quick.
Development had been funded by the American Briggs-Cunningham team and Colonel Simone’s Maserati France dealership. After Le Mans in ’63, Briggs-Cunningham took his pair of cars back to the States, but Colonel Simone continued to evolve his chase over the next two years.
In this 151/4 spec, the wheelbase and track were lengthened, and larger 15-inch Boranni wire rims mounted the latest wide-profile Dunlop rubber.
The V8 is mounted longitudinally up front; with its offset trumpets the engine is a work of art. A 5-litre with Lucas fuel injection and dry sump, the Maserati engine produces 430hp and pushes the lithe coupé to almost 200mph. A five-speed Colotti ‘box completed the package in period.
You can get a taste for the glorious music it makes from this 2012 video clip.
Much as it sounds gorgeous even when idling and is shockingly quick, really it’s all about the body. With that super-long wheelbase, the hand-beaten aluminium body looks like it’s been draped over the chassis, arcing down slightly before rising up to those high haunches and the iconic Kamm tail.
Designed by Piero Drogo, who also penned the Ferrari 250 GT SWB ’Breadvan’, it was constructed by Mario Allegretti. The whole car is barely over three-feet high – standing next to the cockpits it’s waist-high. But it’s so long… The larger rear wheels also give it a slight hot rod feel.
Underneath is a tube-frame chassis; the car weighed less than 900kg, so it’s no wonder it was fast. Thankfully the Kamm tail and Drogo redesign flattened out some high speed wandering, which must have been horrific to have in the early cars at those speeds.
Up front is conventional double-wishbone independent suspension with coils and Koni telescopic shocks. You can see the some of the arrangement through the nose air slot.
The rear was a different matter though: far more cutting edge for the time. Designed by Dallara, it featured an articulated De Dion axle with twin trailing arms and coils combined with Koni telescopic shocks. Extra struts allowed for more lateral movement, and Girling disk brakes
In the ’64 race the Maserati France entered car was as fast as the new Ford GTs once it overcame some initial teething trouble, although it retired with electrical issues whilst in third place overall. Further niggles at Reims and Montlhéry later that season prevented the big coupé realising its potential, and then came the fateful ’65 Le Mans Test Day.
Up-gunned to 450hp as the 151/4, the Maserati was even faster – but driver Lloyd ‘Lucky’ Casner didn’t live up to his name: he lost control in the wet after the Mulsanne kink, barrel-rolling into the trees. Casper was killed and the car destroyed.
One prototype and two examples were ever created; a replica was later built using the original bucks. Only one car survives in its original state, with two crashed and written off.
This car has been constructed using the remains of crashed cars harvested from Maserati, using as many original parts as possible and again referring to the Allegretti bucks. A new, more accurate chassis was crafted for the project, but the majority of the suspension and brakes are original.
I first saw this Maserati back at the 2013 Revival, whilst it was still in a raw, unfinished state. But now it’s looking factory fresh, sporting the French racing team colours it carried in period. It’s as close to authentic as it’s possible to get with this unique machine.
Always fast, this Maserati was yet another heartbreaking story of how an emotive car almost came out on top. It could have been the one held up as the underdog, under-funded Maserati team taking on and beating the all-conquering Ferraris, but instead it’s now almost a footnote.
Once again, thanks to the Revival we get to remember the good as well as the great.