In early 1956, Tony Parravano, a wealthy American housing developer, commissioned Maserati to build a new large-bore V-8 for use in a Kurtis Indy chassis. The order offered Maserati the chance to develop the V-8 project, coded Tipo 54, which had been shelved since the disastrous Le Mans accident of 1955. The project also provided a natural opportunity to try the new powerplant in Maserati’s own sports-racing chassis, of which the recently developed 350S was the most obvious candidate. This car, chassis number 3501, was elongated to accommodate the new V-8 engine, whose castings had been completed by May.
After its debut in practice as the prototype 450S at the Swedish Grand Prix in August 1956, this car, now identified as 4501, displayed great potential in acceleration and top speed; although, as it was still in the experimental phases, it was not properly sorted, and it proved unable to manage the V-8’s overwhelming power. Moreover, the wrong firing order produced intolerable vibrations, further hampering the car’s performance. Nevertheless, the 450S obtained the third best time in practice; even still, it was not entered in the race, but returned to Modena instead. A purpose-built 450S chassis was subsequently engineered.
With further development conducted in view of the 1957 season, the new “production” 450S, presumably using identity 4501, had its maiden race at the 1000 KM of Buenos Aires in January 1957. The “bazooka”, as the car was baptised by Fangio, gave 10 seconds to the new Ferrari twin-cam sports cars in the first timed session, leaving the Maranello team in total discouragement. Transmission problems ultimately lead to the cars retirement, but the potential of the new mostro was clearly noted.
The production 450S took its first chequered flag at Sebring that March (with Juan Manuel Fangio and Jean Behra in chassis number 4503), followed by a 1st overall finish at the 1957 Swedish GP. In combination with the strong-performing six-cylinder cars, the 450S promised great potential as the possibility of Maserati’s first-ever World Sportscar Championship loomed ahead. Unfortunately, whilst competing against the might of Ferrari’s 315S and 335S, a rash of bad luck blunted the 450S’s impact down the stretch, and even though Fangio and his Maserati 250F were awarded the World Formula One title, the 1957 Sportscar Championship went to rival Ferrari by a mere five points.
Following the 1957 season, the FIA imposed a three-litre formula that made the 450S ineligible, although some examples proved quite successful in American SCCA racing. Just 11 highly scrutinised cars (including this prototype) were constructed over an 18-month period.
Chassis Number 3501/4501/350SI-10
The repetition or substitution of identical chassis numbers by Italian automakers of the 1950s and 1960s is by no means rare, but the unusual circumstances surrounding Maserati’s use of chassis number 4501, no less than three times from 1956 to 1958, has been the source of much debate amongst marque experts in recent years. However, this car’s history has most recently been verified by a bevy of original documentation and clarified by several notable Maserati historians.
This car, originally built as a six-cylinder 350S and assigned chassis number 3501, was hastily prepared for the 1956 Mille Miglia, held from the 28th to the 29th of April. During the famed 1,000-mile race, the car was driven by the legendary Stirling Moss, with Denis Jenkinson navigating. Just outside of Rome, 3501’s brakes gave out and the Maserati careened through a roadside retainer, barely coming to a rest on a tree overlooking a precipitous ravine. Moss and Jenkinson walked away unharmed (other than a scratch on Moss’ wristwatch), but the car wasn’t quite so lucky, and it was returned for the factory for repairs and further development.