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June 9th, 2017

In late 1950’s, the sports car racing world was going through some ups and downs. That however, did not stop manufacturers from introducing bigger, better and more powerful machines. Maserati had taken quite a hit due to the new pump petrol regulations of Formula One and were in a severe financial trouble. Maserati decided to design and develop a completely different sports racing car, under the guidance of their chief engineer Giulio Alfieri that would bring them back into the game. This saw the birth of the Maserati Tipo 61 Birdcage.

Maserati unveiled the Tipo 61 in 1959. Only 16 units of the car were produced and the production finally ceased in 1961. The Maserati Tipo 61 was the successor to the Tipo 60. The 60 used a 2.0-litre naturally aspirated 4 cylinder engine, which was then revised and the capacity was increased to 2.9-litre to do the duty in the Tipo 61. It tipped the scales at just 600 kilos – 30 more than its predecessor, while producing more horsepower, 250hp to be precise. Tipo 61 had a front-mounted engine setup, which was then paired with a Maserati sourced 5-speed manual gearbox equipped with ZF’s limited slip differential. Thanks to its relatively low weight and 45ᵒ inclined engine placement, the 61’s centre of gravity was pretty low. However, the star of the show was the Maserati Tipo 61’s frame. It was inspired from the Superleggera construction setup and had small diameter, chro-moly steel multi-tubular pipe latticework, hence nicknamed ‘Birdcage’. Not only was it intricate and light weight but also had the right mix of rigidity and flex characteristics required on a racing car.

The racing pedigree of the Maserati Tipo’s isn’t all that impressive though. One big obstacle in its racing success was its reliability. Tipo’s were known to be unreliable. When launched, the 61 caught Lloyd Casner’s attention; soon he bought three of them to race. He was an ace in the Maserati Tipo 61 Birdcage saga, for which he formed the Camoradi Team – Casner Motor Racing Division. Hard luck for him as his car’s engine blew out at the 1961 Sebring 12 Hours event. The team had to face defeat at Le Mans too, as Gregory’s car refused to start at first pit stop and succumbed to engine troubles later in the race. It was the 1000km of Nurburgring where the Tipo’s finally made a mark. Stirling Moss secured his victory after a valiant battle at the event. The Camoradi team won at Nurburgring in 1960 and 1961.

One special Tipo 61 is the Chassis #2549, which was built for Briggs Cunningham and prepped for racing by Alfred Momo. The #2549 was completely destroyed in a practice run in 1962 at the Daytona International Speedway and its remains were taken back to Momos’s workshop. After complete restoration it was brought to auction for around $1Million. However it did not find any takers as critics questioned its ingenuity. It is now owned by an anonymous Italian collector. The Maserati Tipo 61 was the last Birdcage to feature front mounted engine setup, later Maserati opted for mid-engined sports cars. Maserati’s new car, the MC12 was made available only in white and blue paint scheme to serve as a tribute to the Tipo 61 and the Camoradi Team.

Photos taken by Antoine Dellenbach at Spa Classic 2017

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