It all started in 1962 as three Maserati Tipo 151 were built for the Le Mans 24 Hours as the FIA introduced a nex “Experimental GT” class that year. One was for Johnny Simone’s Maserati France team and two for the American team of Briggs Cunningham. A sleek and aerodynamic design which proved very efficient down the Mulsanne straight with one of the three entries setting the highest speed in qualifying that year, 177 MPH. But let’s explain the design first and technical aspect.
Maserati was known for its complex, rigid and light chassis frame known as “Birdcage”, the Tipo 151 was to sport a much stronger design with a steel-tubed chassis derived from the 450S. Suspension was typical of the era with coil springs, hydraulic shocks and a floating De Dion rear axle with brake discs fitted at the four corners. The car claimed a very low official weight of 895 kg on the scale with a lightweight aluminium bodywork and sitted on 16-inch Borrani centre-lock wheels with 6′ and 7′ wide tyres at front and rear. Mechanically, the engine was based on the 450S engine as well, a 90° four overhead camshaft 4500cc V8. Capacity was reduced from 4477cc to 3943cc to be precise and in order to satisfy the FIA requirement for the class the car was designed for. Bore and stroke were of 91mm x 75.8mm and compression ration of 9.7:1.
Getting back to the Le Mans 24 Hours, where the cars debuted, unfortunately, none of the three cars did finish the race, late and poor development probably… First retirement was for chassis #006 with Thompson crashing out after a suspension failure on lap 62, then came chassis #004 after the engine ran out of life and then the final chassis #002 which was retired by Johnny Simone on safety grounds following suspicious excessive wear to the rear tyres probably linked to the suspension. After that, the two Cunningham cars departed for the USA but they didn’t prove very reliable even on shorter races and stayed there. Chassis #006 was sold to Bev Spencer and continued racing in local SCCA event mainly. Following the disastrous season, the other chassis #004, was fitted with an American 7.0 Liter V8 in order to chase some reliability. It was debuted at the American Challenge Cup held at Daytona and driven by Nascar driver Martin Panch who simply barrel rolled the car and set it on fire. A tragic end to the car which was simply burnt to the ground.
The Maserati France car, chassis #002 remained an active racer in Europe and tackled Le Mans again in 1963 but only to repeat history with a retirement. It was the only car to go under constent development as at the end of 1963, it was fitted with the specific Pierre Drogo designed body built by Allegretti which is quite unique, being only 37 inch tall and sporting that strange flat roof. But altogether, it’s just beautiful, low and pure. Other modifications were made to the engine with the original engine being replaced by a 4941cc engine fitted with injection in order to extract more speed of the car as well as fitting larger tyres at the back and it did ! it was measured at 186.4 MPH at the 1964 Le Mans 24 Hours but only to retire again that year…………
For 1965, the car saw some minor modification made to its design but unfortunately, disaster struck when driver Lloyd “Lucky” Casner suffered a fatal accident destroying the car during the Le Mans practice weekend that year. The remains were sent back to the factory after the crash and the team decided to compete with a Tipo 65. A sad end to the beautiful car which then stayed at the factory for more than 10 years before ending up in the Rosso Bianco museum. In 2007 actual owner Barrie Baxter bought the car and resurrected it as you can see here on the pictures in Tipo 151/3 configuration. A regular competitor at the Goodwood Revival and Members Meeting, it was also seen this year at Le Mans Legend and we’re looking forward to seeing it again in September at Goodwood !