Maserati 450S V8
Reviewed by Unique Cars and Parts
Our Rating: 5
The Maserati 450S V8 was a spectacularly fast contender for major sports car championship honours when it arrived on the scene at the end of 1956, but a number of trifling failures and misjudgements prevented it from showing its full potential in a great many races during 1957.
In many ways the 450S V8 represented the Trident's finale in big-time sports car racing. The four o.h.c., 94 x 81 mm., 4477 c.c. V8 motor provided the culmination of Maserati's developments which started with the 3-litre 300S and progressed through the 3-litre, six cylinder unit. The cars were shatteringly fast but their useful life amidst international competition was limited to that one year.
The 450S V8 was fitted with Borrani chrome wire wheels that had triple-eared "knock off" hub caps shod with 6.50L x 16 green spot Dunlop racing tyres. The brakes were always a source of disappointment, and even in 1957, Maserati team drivers complained bitterly that the enormous ribbed drum brakes were inadequate to cope with the 450S performance, Sterling Moss urging Maserati to adopt disc brakes. Nothing was done about this, however, but there was a story going round that Maserati had made brake discs for the car shortly before they withdrew from racing.
Nine of the ten cars built did service as open two seaters, while one (4507) was fitted with an aerodynamic Coupe body for the 1957 Le Mans, designed by Frank Costin, built by Zagato and then ruined by the Italians' failure to understand aerodynamics and the addition of various ungainingly modifications which completely destroyed its effectiveness.
Anxious to reduce the speed of sports-racing cars, the C.S.I. reduced the capacity limit to 3-litres for the World Sports Car Championship, leaving the surviving 450S Maseratis to pursue a career in American-club races.
Several of the Maseratis were involved in the great pile-up in Caracas, Venezuela which helped to drive the final nails into the coffin of the financially teetering Italian marque. It is believed that one of the Maserati's was privately owned by American enthusiast Temple Buell, and was driven at Caracas by Masten Gregory and Dale Duncan.
Contemporary reports suggested that Gregory collided with another car before crashing, but Fellowes' was actually later told by the American that this was not the case and he simply rolled the car after hitting a kerb. It's believed that this car was subsequently rebuilt for use by Fangio in Cuba the following year, although the Argentiinian never had a chance to use it as he was kidnapped before the race took place!
Ultimately some of the 450S cars would be somewhat butchered, the Americans choosing to replace their sublime V8 engine with a Chev unit. Changes during their racing career did not stop there, as the complexities of the five speed Maserati gearbox mounted in unit just in front of the differential clearly proved too much for some American "sports car" drivers and one regrettable, but fortunately well concealed legacy of 450S's stay in North America was the incorporation of a four-speed Chevrolet Corvette gearbox. In most cases the de Dion rear end was retained.
Had Maserati stayed in racing, and had the C.S.I. not proceeded with its 3-litre limit for 1958, then a disc-braked 450S might well have been a very competitive machine. It must have been very disappointing for the Italian crowds. As for the delightful V8, fed by a thirsty quartet of Weber 46IDM carburetters, what a shame that many were scrapped in favour of Chev units.