By Andrew Newton
Featured in this classified ad from March 1973 is not one but the example of a truly unforgettable and historic sports car: the Maserati 450S Coupe. It led a fascinating life, from promising Le Mans racer to impossibly exclusive road car, and had more than a few legendary names associated with its construction and career.
Rarely able to contest for outright victory in international sports car competition during the first half of the 1950s, Maserati knew they had to come up with a large-engined car to keep up with the likes of Ferrari and Jaguar. The 450S was Maserati’s 8-cylinder answer. Developed throughout the later part of 1956, the 4.5 liter engine made its competition debut at the 1000 km race in Argentina in the capable hands of Moss and Fangio. The new Maserati’s potency was more than apparent, and the car easily led the early stages of the race before being let down with clutch problems. This left the Ferrari of Gregory, Castellotti and Musso to take the checkered flag. Maserati had their revenge, though, at that year’s Twelve Hours of Sebring, with Fangio and Behra taking the 450S home in top spot. Other impressive finishes, including a win in Sweden, brought Maserati within striking distance for the World Sportscar Championship in 1957, but in the end the more reliable Ferraris took the crown.
By the time rule changes left the 450S obsolete, about ten of them had been completed, and Maserati began to shift its focus away from its dangerously expensive racing programs. All of the 450S’s wore the sloping roadster body with protruding side pipes that has become a famous representation of that golden age of sports car racing. All of them that is, except for one: the Le Mans Coupe. Probably the most interesting of the 450S’s, this coupe body was actually fitted on chassis 4501, the Moss/Fangio car that debuted at Argentina. Hoping to capitalize on the long straights at Le Mans with a low-drag, high-speed car, Maserati hired legendary engineer and aerodynamicist Frank Costin to design a slippery, closed body that, it was hoped, would be able to allow the 450S to reach speeds of 200 miles per hour or above. Looking at the finished product, it is easy to see the Costin influences. The nose looks like a big Lotus XI, and the profile resembles the later Jaguar-powered Lister Le Mans car from 1963.
Costin duly produced plans for the car’s shape, but the body was actually constructed by Zagato in Milan, who may or may not have followed Costin’s design exactly as it appeared in the sketches. At Le Mans, the Maserati definitely looked gorgeous, but the car supposedly improved just for Le Mans amazingly turned out to be slower than the roadsters. The air flow apparently piped hot air straight at the carburetors, starving the v-8 of valuable horsepower. Moss somehow got the car into second during the race for a time, but could not make it last and ended up retiring along with the other Maseratis contending for victory. An unfortunate disappointment, the Costin Zagato Coupe sat discarded until an American collector named Byron Staver bought the car with the intention of using it as a road car. The new owner, probably a bit taller than Stirling Moss, had Fantuzzi lengthen the car for more interior room. Around 1961, the Le Mans Coupe found its way to a Harry Heinl of Ohio, who must have known that he probably had the fastest road legal car around. At some point the car made it to Germany, where it could be seen at the Rosso Bianco Museum near Frankfurt. Now in the United States, the one-off Maserati has been restored and made the rounds on the Concours circuit. Over fifty years on, it’s just as unique and just as cool as it ever was.
The car is advertised here in 1973 by one of the car’s several American owners. It is ambitiously described and priced at $22,500. In 2012 dollars, that comes to a little under $120,000. While that is certainly not pocket change, for a car rife with automotive buzzwords like Costin, Zagato, Moss and Fangio, it seems like a steal. Imagine what this car would bring if it crossed the auction block today.
[Source: Road & Track]