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Maserati Birdcage Tipo 61

by

Antonio Eiras

Born in a moment of desperation of the Trident manufacturer, the Birdcage had a story both short as unusual. Indeed, only a handful of cars had their careers associated with such an intense amount of feelings and emotions.

 

When, in 1957, Maserati won, with Juan Manuel Fangio, their first (and what would be the only) World Championship of Formula 1, everything seemed to be going well for the company that Adolfo Orsi bought, years earlier, to the Maserati brothers However, the following year would prove catastrophic to the Orsi Group, mainly due to the lack of payment of an order of machines, sold to Argentina.

 

Controlled by the Italian government, which paid the debts, but controlled the expenses, Maserati was only allowed to continue to build race cars to sell to customers.

 

With a stock of parts reduced to the minimum, caused by the sales ordered by the state, the chief engineer Giulio Alfieri, symbolized the despair of a man who had to design and build a car that had to be competitive with a minimum budget.

 

In 1954 Jaguar had introduced in racing cars the monocoque chassis, in its D model Sports car. In the region of Modena, in Italy, there was no aviation industry, which is why the experience to build a chassis of that type was null. With the use of a light monocoque ruled out, it became necessary to find an alternative in the well-known technique of multi-tubular chassis.

 

Another constraint around the initial design was the need of using a 2 liter engine, previously experienced in the heavy and unreliable model Si. In order to compensate the low power available, it became necessary to construct a lightweight chassis that would allow getting a weight/power ratio favorable in comparison with the Ferrari 250 GT, OSCA, Porsche RSR, Aston-Martin, among others.

 

The challenge that had risen was far from attractive, but Alfieri, in a night of October 1958, had a brilliant idea. The thick and heavy tubes of a classic multi-tubular chassis, were therefore replaced by a structure consisting of about 200 tubes with diameters ranging between 10 and 15 mm and the set shape remembered roughly to a cage (there from derived the surname).

The low weight of the structure, of about 36 kg, was joined by a torsional rigidity of the chassis higher than all that had previously been made by Maserati.

 

The suspensions derived from the last 250 F of Formula 1, with two overlapping trapezoidal and coil springs in conjunction with the Koni telescopic shock absorbers, in the front, and to the rear has been adopted a rigid shaft, in Pont de Dion, associated with telescopic shock absorbers.

 

The engine of Type 60, in the original project, was a 4-cylinder in-line, of 1,990 cc, with 2 valves per cylinder and delivered 200 hp at 7,800 rpm. In order to optimize the aerodynamics, the engine was installed with a lateral inclination of 45o.

 

Around this multi-tubular structure, with the front-engine, a bodywork was shaped and it would prove very effective aerodynamically, allowing a good support when cornering, without penalizing in obtaining a top speed of about 270 km/h.

 

The enthusiasm around the Birdcage grew in Modena and, in December 1958, Omer Orsi, the son of the boss of the Group and responsible for the Competition Department, gave the order to build a small series. The orders started coming rapidly, especially from the U.S. and, in a short time, they sold the 22 cars that had been produced.

 

Some customers, unsatisfied with the limited power of the original engine, suggested the creation of a new, more competitive, 3 liter engine.

 

Orsi and Alfieri embraced the idea and the result was the Type 61, which used a 4-cylinder engine, but with 2890 cc and that delivered 250 hp at 6,800 rpm. This model, being only 30 kg heavier than its predecessor, made the difference in results clear, and the first tests, conducted by the experienced and renewed Stirling Moss, reached the 285 km/h top speed.

Motivated by these results, Adolfo Orsi reconsidered the direct participation in competition and the Maserati Type 60 was signed up, by the official Team, in a race of Sport held at the Circuit de Rouen, France. Driven by Moss, the Birdcage won the race, beating an army of Lotus 15 and also winning the sympathy and admiration of all the specialized press. The month was July of 1959 and the Sport season was about to end.

 

The preparation for the season 1960 started right away, at the Modena factory, with the construction and setting up of the new Type 61 which would be delivered to private teams and receiving thus the testimony, as well as the responsibility of representing Maserati, in the races in circuits scattered across the five continents.

 

The rookie Camoradi (Casner Motor Racing Division) was the private team that most contributed to the success of this model. Indeed, having started the World Championship of Sport with the prototype 2451 (Type 60), which was converted into a Type 61, the team of Lloyd Casner, consisting of Dan Gurney and Mastern Gregory, was immediately in command of the opening race, the 1,000 km of Buenos Aires, and the victory was prevented due to the breaking of a rear shock absorber. For the next race, in Havana, the Camoradi took a brand new Type 61, which, driven by Stirling Moss, won the race with disconcerting ease.

 

Earning the trust of the responsible for Maserati, the American team took the position of a semi-official representative and presented itself as such at the 12 Hours of Sebring, signing up with 3 cars. One of them broke the engine in practice and failed to align, as there were no spare and the other two were forced to abandon. First it was Gregory and Shelby, in the third round, caused by the rupture of an oil tube and, finally, Gurney and Moss, when in command of the race, by breakage of the belt.

 

This setback did not dampen the enthusiasm of Orsi and Alfieri, who helped Casner align the prototype in 2451 in the Targa Florio. With the engine and gearbox reinforced, Magioli Vaccarela assumed, with relative ease, the command of the race, which was interrupted by a hole in the fuel tank, caused by a stone.

 

Not conformed to the result that bad luck dictated in Sicily, Omer Orsi delivered two new Type 61 to Camoradi for the 1000 Km of the Nürburgring. Driven by Moss and Gurney, the Birdcage won, finally, a great classic motorsport race. Gregory and Munaron completed the triumph of the team, with a creditable 5th place.

 

Adolfo and Omer Orsi had reasons to be pleased with the success of their new model. In America, as in Europe, the absolute or class victories ensued throughout the year 1960 and the Type 61 seemed destined for a long career.

 

The year would conclude, however, in a somewhat low auspicious way. Indeed, the trip to Le Mans, with 3 cars whose aerodynamic had been widely revised and adapted to the long line of Hunaudieres, resulted in a complete failure. The three Birdcage were forced to abandon and nor the fastest lap in the race, neither the highest speed reached of 300 km/h, served as consolation.

 

The same creative genius, who designed the Type 61, eventually dictated its end. Indeed, Giulio Alfieri abandoned its development and focused on its successor, the Type 63, which would emerge in 1961.

 

In this new Birdcage, the Italian technician used the same type of multi-tubular chassis of the previous model, with the engine to be installed in the rear center position. Equipped either with a 4-cylinder in-line, or with a 12 cylinder in V engine, the Type 63 would prove to be difficult to tune and drive, as well as unreliable.

 

As for Casner, who was struggling at the time with serious financial problems, convinced Orsi to sell him, at credit, one Type 61, with which his team returned to Nürburgring for the 1,000 Km race. Casner and Gregory led the car under a massive storm and not even a refill, that became necessary towards the end, prevented a further victory in this race.

 

This was followed by a new triumph of Camoradi in the 4 Hours of Rouen, but this would be the swansong for this model, whose creator, as Alfieri confessed later, left to die.

Its end also symbolizes the death of the front engine Sport Cars. The multi-tubular chassis, which made it famous, would soon be replaced by lighter monocoque.

 

For years, however, the Birdcage Type 60 and 61 continue to collect victories, class and absolute in local races, all over the world, but especially in America.

 

Today it is a symbol of a time when the passion for the sport was fueled by that "sacred fire", that made drivers and engineers to overcome all difficulties and obstacles.

 

The model shown in the drawings is the Type 61 of Team Camoradi, driven by Moss and Gurney, that won the 1,000 Km of the Nürburgring in 1960. The drawings were made in 1989 and its realization proved to be a challenge with a particularly happy result and deeply rewarding. On the one hand I had to reproduce a chassis with about 200 very thin and with varying dimensions tubes, whose the design, in the pencil, took me about one week. On the other, I had a white bodywork which was not easy to show in a white piece of paper. It was the first time that I used the black background with slight shadow, which allowed me to emphasize the outline of the car bodywork and give more intensity to the final design.

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