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1965 Maserati Tipo 151/4

151 002


Maserati’s Tipo 151 model is a tale of what could have been. The company had enjoyed tremendous success during the 1950s in endurance racing with a string of different sports car models, culminating in the revolutionary Tipo 60 and 61 “Birdcages”. Maserati then turned its attention to the newly introduced closed-top prototype class at Le Mans. The Tipo 151 was developed to race in this category, against entries from the might of Ferrari and Aston Martin amongst others. At this point in time however, Maserati was somewhat cash-strapped and so the project arguably didn’t receive the investment nor development miles it should have.

Instead of employing the same exquisitely intricate spaceframe chassis design as the birdcage, chief engineer Giulio Alfieri opted for a more traditional space frame using larger tubing. Power came from a 3943cc quad-cam V8 making 360 bhp, mated to a 5-speed gearbox. Its long low bonnet, laid-back cockpit with small windscreen, and rounded Kamm tail were refined in the wind tunnel at Milan University. The result afforded the 151 an impressive top speed. Maserati produced just three examples, two going to Briggs Cunningham’s iconic American equipe (004 & 006), whilst the final car (002) was built for Colonel Johnny Simone’s Maserati France team. 

The new model indeed proved as fast as it looked, with the two Cunningham cars qualifying 3rd (006), 5th (004), and 7th (002) for the 1962 24 Hours of Le Mans, with 002 being driven by Maurice Trintignant and Lucien Bianchi. The race proved much more frustrating though, as before too long all three cars had retired. Whilst Cunningham’s cars returned to the US, with one later being destroyed in a fiery accident at Daytona. For 1963 Colonel Simone sent 002 back to Maserati for some upgrades. These included enlarging the engine to 4941cc and swapping the Weber carburettors for Lucas fuel-injection, resulting in a jump to 430 bhp, reducing weight and revising the De Dion suspension design.  

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With 002 looking resplendent in red with white and blue stripes, André Simon and Lloyd "Lucky" Casner proved very fast indeed, clocking the highest speed at over 180 mph and qualifying 5th. A bizarre misfortune delayed Simon at the start when he sprinted across the track to 002, only to find the door rubber had glued his access shut in the hot sun! Yanking ever harder it finally flew open, smacking him in the face and cutting his nose for good measure. Having finally gotten underway, Simon clearly furious at his delay, had the bit roared his way into the lead before the end of the first lap! Simon led for the first hour, and again briefly during the next when the field began their pitstops. Casner took over at 6pm, but less than an hour later crawled into the pits with the car stuck in 2nd gear. The necessary repairs would have taken nearly 2 hours, and so in typical style Colonel Simone retired the car and congratulated his drivers on performing so well.  Yet again, promising speed but it bore little fruit for all the labour. Later that season 002 also raced in the GP of Reims (where it retired after a crash), at Clermont-Ferrand (1st in class and 8th overall) and Brands Hatch (where it again retired due to brake issues).

Remarkably Colonel Simone remained undeterred, and so sent his 151 back to Modena for its most ambitious upgrades yet with Le Mans 1964 squarely in his sights. Still on the same chassis, the next model, the Tipo 151/3 as it became known, featured a svelte new body designed by Pierre Drogo and fabricated by Mario Alegretti. The body had a long, long bonnet and flat roof connecting to the redesigned Kamm tail, all clearly aimed at yet more top speed. The engine was converted to dry-sump lubrication, lowered and set further back, whilst the chassis was lengthened from 2350mm to 2400mm, and its track grew by 100mm. It was decided to also change the car to 15in Borrani” wire wheels and the widest Dunlop tyres possible. After a brief test (another sign of Maserati’s rushed development and lack of budget), the car arrived in Le Mans for the test days. Immediately the scrutineers objected to the rear window, which is understandable since it was the size of a letter box! 

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Once back in Bologna Maserati duly modified the offending rear window to flow right up into the roof about 50cm. Test driver Bertocchi then achieved an incredible 198 mph during a shake down on the Modena-Bologna autostrada, before 002 was again tested but with Simon at the wheel and at Monza. However at some point the car lost its right rear wheel upon exiting the parabolica at around 160mph with Simon luridly spinning down the straight and eventually crashing into the armco with him being thrown clear. Maserati had yet another rushed repair job on their hands and less than a month later 002 arrived at Le Mans where Simon was to be joined by Maurice Trintignant. The car was clearly not race-ready though as the front tyres soon began rubbing on the bodywork, necessitating fast hammer work to create clearance. The resultant 15th place in qualifying perhaps wasn’t a surprise. 1963’s blistering first lap wasn’t repeated however as Trintignant was to be found in the pits with loose rubber jamming the throttle cable. Once underway he set about making up for lost time in style however, catching and passing 38 cars in the first hour! 

By 8pm 002 had been hauled up to 7th overall, and by 9pm was in 3rd, which was an incredible achievement all things considered. Just after 10pm however things began to unravel, with an alternator failure, battery issue and brake problems, losing the team half an hour in the pits. 002 motored on until around midnight when a short-circuit forced the team to retire the car yet again. Le Mans had once again proven frustrating for the 151, although its performance had shown the redesign to be worthwhile. The accolade of official top speed at 192mph (curiously not recorded at the fastest point of the track) was at least some sort of consolation prize. Again 002 returned to Reims for the 12 Hours, where it the same pairing split the Shelby Cobra Daytonas, and beat all 250 GTOs in qualifying, only to retire with ignition problems. An outing at Montlhery yielded another DNF and with that the team shifted their focus to the next year’s Le Mans effort.

Developments for 1965 were plentiful and ranged from chassis, to engine, suspension and body. Amongst other tweaks, the chassis was again redesigned, the body had a smoother nose, higher wing arches and larger rear window and the engine had twin-spark ignition (in an attempt to solve 1964’s recurrent issue). Maserati called the updated car the 151/4, whilst Simone dubbed it the 154. Casner was joined by compatriot Masten Gregory. Painted in crisp white with blue and red stripes, the car arrived in Le Mans looking absolutely stunning and the team no doubt cautiously optimistic. 

In first practice and on a cool clear morning, Casner set off. After a few exploratory laps he set off on a fast one. Tragedy struck however when cresting the rise at the end of the Hunaudiere straight, Casner lost control, and the car barrel-rolled into two trees before coming to rest. Trintignat later commented that he believed Casner had fully lifted off the throttle instead of only partially doing so (a necessity for most cars to avoid the risk of aviating). He felt this was what had severely destabilised the car and resulted in the roll that ultimately claimed Casner’s life. Rather staggeringly Colonel Simone insisted upon his team participating in the race itself, and so Maserati hastily built a new car for him in less than two months. Predictably the car was terrible and retired after only three laps when crashed attempting to keep up with the Ford GTs.

Skipping forward in time to the late 1970s and the story of 151 002’s rebirth begins. Famed collector and visionary Peter Kaus, the man behind what was for many years the finest sports car collection in the world (Rosso Bianco Museum), wished to celebrate Maserati’s sports car history. Having acquired many iconic and famous models from the 50s and 60s, he wished to bookend things by recreating the final iteration of the 151 to have raced at Le Mans in 1964. After discussions with former Maserati boss Adolfo Orsi, he was put onto original designs and the fact that an original engine resided in the University of Bari. Kaus felt an urgency to try and locate as many 151 parts as possible because a the time Maserati were scrapping huge amounts of old parts to make space for the BiTurbo production. 

After much persuasion Kaus managed to persuade Maserati's new owner, Alejandro de Tomaso, to officially bless the 151/3 rebirth project. With the chassis being constructed in Germany to original designs, Allegretti of Modena were commissioned to revive the original bucks (which had been cut up but stored all the years) upon which to build the body. Kaus found the finished car to indeed be fearsome to drive, and after a wild spin and minor barrier altercation on the Nurburgrin’s short circuit during a race, he elected to retire it to his museum. Rather curiously however the body never appeared to sit on the chassis as it had in the photos from 1964.

When Kaus decided to wind up his museum in the 2000s, several of the Maseratis were consigned to Bonhams’ Gstaad sale in 2006. Passionate Maserati historic racer Barrier Baxter acquired Kaus’ recreation from the auction and immediately sent it to leading UK specialist Steve Hart for restoration. The process would ultimately take over five years because it was discovered that the body fitted so poorly because drawings from an earlier iteration had been used, not those from 1964! It was decided that the best course of action was to fabricate a new chassis from scratch rather than rework the existing one (since it was of course not original), and at this point it was decided to put the car into the very final specification from the Le Mans tests of 1965. 

During the restoration Baxter learned that the original engine from Casner’s wrecked 1965 test day car was in Italy, remarkably untouched and surviving intact ever since that fateful day. Fortuitously it seemed it had been part of the parts sold ‘out of the back door’ rather than being crushed. It was duly acquired and incorporated into the car which made its historic racing debut at the 2012 Goodwood Revival in bare metal. The body was later painted exactly as per 1965 and is how the car is presented today. 151 002 as it stands today represents a fascinating period of Maserati’s competition history and is truly unique. Eligible for many of the world’s finest historic racing and concours events, from Goodwood’s Revival and Members Meeting events, to Le Mans Classic, Peter Auto’s The Greatest’ Trophy, Masters Gentleman Drivers, The Quail, Salon Privé, to name a few. 151 002 will not only provide thrilling motoring for its next custodian, but a real talking point wherever it is shown. It is one of those cars people almost always pause and look back at lustfully. 




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