In terms of greatest racecars of all time, clearly, Mercedes had some extremely innovative cars like the one Moss drove in the Mille Miglia [300SLR–Ed]. Then Jim Hall came along with some of the first winged cars and, of course, Colin Chapman first developed the underbody down force cars—that was a big advancement, as well. But, I was fortunate back when I drove to have driven, I think, what was the best of the front-engine sports racecars, which was the Birdcage Maserati. It was great because it was lightweight and balanced.
I liked the Birdcage because it suited my driving style and it basically didn’t break…the frame would occasionally break little welds, but it was a solid little racecar built with some Formula One components. I think it was surprisingly quick for what it was—a four-cylinder car.
I drove two different Birdcages in my career. The first one was brand new and it was flown here to Southern California directly from Italy and we pulled it out of a 747 about ten days before the 1960 Los Angeles Times Grand Prix at Riverside. They had the right gears in there for Riverside so we just changed the tires. I changed the steering wheel too, in effect to slow the steering down a little bit and kept the windshield in place. All we did in preparation was change the tires, adjust the steering rate and change the spark plugs for sponsor reasons. Other than that, we just put gas in it and qualified on the front row and then won the race against all the guys, including the Europeans who were there. Unfortunately, Gurney broke his Lotus, so we don’t know how that would have turned out, but there were about six Birdcages there total. Shelby had one, and there were others; then there were Scarabs and a lot of special-built cars, so it was a good field.
Later, at Laguna Seca, I would have finished no worse then 2nd, except the screw came out of the rotor in the distributor and shut the engine off.
Soon thereafter, the owners sold that car but I drove it for the guy that bought it at Pomona and won that race, as well.
Later, we got another old Birdcage—the original one that Stan Sugarman owned for a while. The Maserati distributor bought it back and I drove it and won a lot of races with it—some were amateur, some were professional. That car was pretty beat up, and pretty used up by that time.
I also drove the 450S, which was a big massive V-8. It was a great car too, but it was a difficult car to drive compared to the Birdcage.