For Bindo, Ettore and Ernesto, the three remaining Maserati brothers, motorsport competition was the true raison d'etre. Whether overseeing their original namesake company, Maserati S.p.A. or founding and running OSCA – Fratelli Maserati, the ambition to compete and win at the uppermost echelons of motorsports was the clear motivator.
At OSCA, the brother’s philosophy did not differ much from their pre-war days at Maserati S.p.A. They continued to focus on Italian and international sports car and single seater racing, offering very competitive machines, hand-fabricated specially for the specific purpose of the underlying course or type of competition. Alternating with highly skilled professional drivers and a multitude of amateur “gentleman drivers”, the brothers were able to attract the cream of the motorsport elite by offering them a very competitive mount. To guarantee competitiveness, the racing machines underwent constant and rapid technical evolution, thus ensuring that OSCA race cars became sure victors in the hands of the right drivers everywhere they set foot. By the early 1950’s the OSCA Mt4 became the car to beat in under 1500cc Sports cars racing, dominating its class and -remarkably- often vying for first overall.
OSCA – Fratelli Maserati business model focused on producing fantastically competitive cars, manufactured in small batches. While this romantic approach to race car manufacture allowed the Maserati brothers to solely attend to their passion, it had its clear limitations. The brother’s persistent resistance to selling road versions of their cars meant that OSCA was perennially financially constrained. Astonishingly, all design, engineering and development work was done in house and singlehandedly by Ernesto Maserati. The company not employing any additional design or test engineers in its close to two decades of operations! As the 1950’s wore on, the advent of large factory teams -from mainly Porsche, Maserati and Ferrari- meant that the brothers started to find it increasingly difficult to stay competitive. By the time the 1960’s came around, the three ageing Maserati siblings were struggling to find the resources for further race car development.
OSCA’s competitive chronology can be dissected into three main periods of activity, each characterized by a different competitive landscape, product offering and focus.
Racing debut took place on August 16th 1948 in Pescara Italy, with the first OSCA produced, Mt4 Chassis #1101. The Siluro (torpedo) shaped car equipped with a 1100cc single cam, inside plug head engine, was placed in the hands of Franco Cornacchia for the race. The fresh car showed promise in its first outing but failed to finish. Within a month Luigi “Gigi” Villoresi would pilot the same car to an overall victory at the 1948 GP of Napoli (for sports cars), handily beating the latest offering from Ferrari, Maserati, Cisitalia and others – OSCA’s first victory!
For the rest of 1948 and the entire season of 1949, race entries consisted of a combination of official factory entries and accomplished “gentleman driver”. The factory focused on contending for the 1949 1100cc Italian championship, which it handily won. By mid-1949, the single cam, inside plug head was replaced by a state-of-the-art twin-cam head on all OSCA engines, with a larger 1350cc engine option also becoming available.
By 1950, the Mt4 was considered the car to beat in the Italian 1100cc sports car racing class, at that time a highly popular and competitive field. 12 Mt4 race cars were competing all over Italy in the hands of select amateurs and professional drivers, yielding dominating results. However, factory support was sporadic - the further the event was from Bologna, the less likely a factory support crew. The body style took on a more aerodynamic enveloped shape, however the same basic mechanical principles continued to be applied to all OSCA racing machines – light, robust, neutral handling, with a powerful but efficient engine. In May, Fagioli, won his class at the 1950 Mille Miglia, in September Felice Bonetto won the Monza Gran criterium driving an Mt4. Earlier in the year, a young unassuming amateur from Verona named Giulio Cabianca, started to make a name for himself racing OSCA machines all over Italy. In the years to come he will become the pre-eminent driver for OSCA - Fratelli Maserati. At the conclusion of the season, OSCA won the 1950 Italian 1100cc championship for the second consecutive year.
Fagioli wins the 1100cc class at the 1950 Mille Miglia
1951 saw rapid expansion, with the Maserati brothers boldly accepting the challenge of building a 4.5 liter V12 GP engine financed with the help of the French Amadeo Gordini, as well as designing a complete GP car. Although from the outset the engine’s potential was clear, rule changes at the end of 1951, would make the GP machine (code named Tipo G) obsolete, even before full development. Away from the Tipo G project, OSCA sports racing success continued highlighted by a class dominating 1-2-3 in April’s Mille Miglia and a 1-2-3 overall achievement Monza GP Voiturette held in September. OSCA’s geographical reach was still largely limited to Italy, but the dominance and consistency of the Mt4’s racing results meant that overseas export markets were starting to take notice.
Such was the abrupt change of F1 GP rules at the end of 1951, that 1952 was labeled a transition year, and the FIA had F2-spec cars running as the uppermost echelon of the sport. OSCA responded with its own 2 Liter, 6-cylinder F2 machine. By now it was clearly evident that motorsports away from the amateur weekend worrier, were serious business and required a consistent factory effort along with the corresponding financial resources. For the Maserati brothers, still keen to maintain an organic gentleman-driver atmosphere, results proved elusive as the 1952 F2 season wore on.
More satisfying were the results for the core sports racer category utilizing the ever evolving Tipo Mt4 . A MIlle Miglia class dominances became a usual feature (another 1-2-3 in 1952). All over Italy class wins were de-reguer, often along with a high placing in overall ranking, beating much larger-capacity machines. The Mt4 was proving ever effective, so much so that 1952 saw the first appearance of an OSCA at the 24 hours of Le Mans (#1120 – DNF). More importantly by May the first OSCA racecar (#1112) reached USA shores, winning in its first race appearance. In the following years the USA would become OSCA’s biggest and most important export market.
Some efforts away from amateur racing
Key models: Mt4, 4500G, F2
Key drivers: Velloresi, Fagioli, Bonetto, Chiron, Cabianca, Serafini, Bayol, Rol
These years represent the golden period of OSCA – Fratelli Maserati racing success. By this time Mt4s dominated the under 1500cc racing class, not only in their native Italy but also in the all-important continental Europe and American markets. OSCA racecars came to be associated with purity of design and engineering, quality of workmanship, ultimately resulting in an ultra-competitive package. In the hands of the right driver and with proper support and logistics, an OSCA Mt4 1500cc racer was not only expected to win its class but often produce an overall win. All the while fending off the best of the continental racing machinery from Ferrari, Maserati, Porsche and others.
By mid 1952, OSCA race cars were expanding their sphere of racing influence, regularly competing in top French and American events. Through their long-time business partner the Chicago-based sales representative Edgar Fronteras, the Maserati brothers found a burgeoning market in the emerging US amateur racing circuit. From now on significant percentage of their factory output would be sold into the USA.
Back to racing; the 1952 season appeared to be another step in the right direction, with an expended number of cars racing in events inside and outside Italy reaping meaningful wins wherever they went. A fledgling F2 effort saw two cars being raced by Louis Chiron and Elie Bayol, initially showing good potential. Sadly, the F2 development would take a back seat to OSCA’s bread and butter sports racers, and by the end of the 1953 season the brothers would lose interest in this project.
September 1952, Watkins Glen, NY USA - Bill Spear crossing the finish line in first place winning the Queen Catherine Cup race for sub 1500cc displacement
1953 and 1954 were explosive years for OSCA. In March 1953 OSCAs placed 1-2-3 in class at the ultra-competitive 12 hours of Sebring endurance race in Florida, USA. An almost -by now- standard 1-2-3 class showing at the 1953 MIlle Miglia, was a prelude to a class win at the 24 hours of Le Mans. With hundreds of race entries with a stunning percentage of class and overall wins, OSCA’s were vanquishing the competition everywhere they raced. By far the most important win of 1953 came in September, when in the hands of Jacques Peron driving Mt4 #1134, OSCA scored a first place overall at the arduous and highly competitive Tour de France. If there was a season that cemented the brother’s ability to conceive and produce a world-beater race car, 1953 was the one.
By the time 1954 rolled around, Mt4 engine capacity grew to 1500cc, now with twin spark ignition producing circa 120bhp output. This seemingly modest output did not constrain the OSCA sports racers from competing across the entire racing field. In March 1954, OSCA’s most famous victory took place at the 12 hours of Sebring in Florida USA. Fielded by the semi-professional Briggs Cunningham team and driven by Sterling Moss and Bill Lloyd, a 1450cc Mt4 (chassis #1137) beat a world class field to take first overall. This victory firmly secured OSCA reputation as a true giant killer.
Meanwhile, the F2 single seater program was redesigned and evolved into a 2000cc sports racing car, called the 2000S. The 2000S model with its 165 bhp, 6-cylinder, twin spark engine mated to a De-Dion rear end, proved the match to the best that Ferrari and Maserati could put up. A celebrated victory by the Sgorbati brothers driving #2005 at the 10 hours of Messina, showed the cars true potential. However, with only 4 specimens build, the ability to stay consistently competitive was hampered. Development work on the 2000S model again faded as the brothers kept their focus on the sub-1500cc sports racers. With the string of success continuing in 1954, demand for the Mt4 product kept growing, and while not cheap by any means (in 1954 a 1500cc Mt4 would cost upwards of $7,500, only slightly less than a racing Ferrari with double the capacity, and about 10% more than a Porsche 550 Spyder), a new factory was necessary to be able to satisfy the seemingly never ending demand. By 1954 the waiting list for an Mt4 stretched to over a year, which in racing terms is eternity. The result was that many OSCA clients would be turned away and find their mount at Porsche. The brothers, ever pedantic, did not seem to be concerned, quality over quantity was an obvious choice.
Porsche, the ever-enterprising German marque, kept on closing the competitive gap on OSCA as the decade wore on. Porsche was gaining ground by utilizing its much superior financial position (attributable to the fact that they also sold road cars, unlike OSCA), a highly enthusiastic dealer network (“win on Sunday sell on Monday”) that was spread out in all corners of the globe, and its willingness to provide factory support for racing.
At the 1954 Mille Miglia a Porsche 550 Spyder equipped with the quad cam 1500cc engine, narrowly beat Cabianca’s OSCA to take the under 1500cc category. This Porsche win on OSCA’s home turf signaled the beginning of a true competitive arms race between OSCA and Porsche, each fielding their 1500cc machines - the Mt4 and 550 Spyder. The tug of war lasted well into 1957, by which time, OSCA’s focus moved into the 750cc classes, and left the 1500cc largely solely to Porsche. The following highly insightful article discusses the mythical OSCA Mt4 – Porsche 550 duel on the American racing circuits (Link to PDF). Needless to say, by all measures the two were the equal of each other.
1955 was characterized by an ever-growing number of Mt4s racing in continental Europe, Latin and North America. OSCA regained its usual class dominance (1100cc) 1-2-3-4 at that year’s Mille Miglia and continued to dominate sub-1500cc classes across Italy and the USA. By mid 1955, a new model, Mt4-TN (TN for Tipo Nouvo) was released. Meant to be OSCA’s response to Porsche 550A Spyder, it featured a much more aerodynamic body, redesigned rear suspension and a revised 1500cc engine design, producing circa 125bhp. Compared to the quad cam Porsche 550A Spyder, a true match indeed.
Sebring 1955, LLyod - Huntoon on the way to a 1500cc first in class
Away from the racetrack, an unusual initiative emerged targeting the world Land Speed Records. With the help of US farmer and former Congressman James Simpson Jr, a bespoke-built Mt4 with a specially designed body was conceived. Chassis #1159 was equipped with the first TN type engine upgraded with twin magneto ignition and sporting large valves producing 145 bhp (from a 1500cc engine!). At the Bonneville Salt Flats the car broke no less than 18 International Records in the F Class (1500 cc) including an average of 261 Km/h over 10Km. Drivers were Indy ace Tony Bettenhausen and Marshall Lewis. A great achievement for a small outfit in Bologna!
If 1954 and 1955 saw OSCA give way to some competition. At the annual 1956 Mille Miglia race, the OSCA contingent responded with an emphatic triumph. Cabianca won the 1500cc class, Brandi took the 1100cc class and Capelli won the 750cc class in the maiden race outing for the new S-187 Model (750cc) - A clean sweep! The famous Targa Florio race yielded another class 1-2-3 sweep and a 2nd OA for Cabianca. Worth highlighting the impressive overall win for Cabianca at the fiercely competitive Coppa d’Oro delle Dolomite, beating the world’s best sports car machinery some twice the capacity. This win capped a full and successful continental season for OSCA.
Over in the USA, the onslaught of Porsches 550A Spyder -now in the tens-, meant that each race became a close duel. Important wins at Santa Barbara for McAfee, Wheeler at Pomona and Shelby at Road America, kept OSCA in the limelight.
The great Louis Chiron getting ready for a pre 1956 Mille Miglia test run. Overlooked by the Italian champion Umberto Maglioli
When 1957 arrived, the focus of attention at OSCA shifted more and more towards the 187/N - 750cc Sports racers, while balancing the need to keep the 1500cc Mt4/S racers competitive. The newly designed 750cc racers, with their asymmetric tube chassis and jewel-like 70bhp engines they quickly became the class of the field, dominating the class on a regular basis. The 1957 Mille Miglia, still featured a 1-2-3 OSCA class sweep (750cc), ominously, the larger engine capacity racers started to look dated. Early in 1957, a De Tomaso class win at the 1000km of Buenos Aires looked promising, but as the year wore on, the stretched resources at the small OSCA factory vs. the Porsche organizational machine meant that the OSCA competitive edge was wearing off. By the end of 1957, reliability issues started to plague the larger capacity sports racers, mainly attributable to an inadequate sales and service operations. While the Maserati brothers stuck with tier romantic notion of racing as a gentleman sport, big money and public attention would change the sport forever. No longer could a small shop from Bologna producing only race car keep up with the pace of change.
Export to USA and France
World class domination of the sub 1500cc class, with giant killer results
Porsche developing the sports racers
MB remained behind due to “Gentleman Racer approach”
MT4, 2000S, TN
Velloresi, Fagioli, Chiron, Cabianca, Shelby, Moss, Makins, Sgorbati, De Tomaso, Peron
By 1958 OSCA’s entire sports racer lineup went through a deep redesign, meant to help it stay competitive. The new 1100cc racer called the “S-273” and the revised 1500cc machine - the “FS-372” (Ferrari-like nomenclature the numbers representing a single cylinder’s cc capacity), joined the now proven S-187 model. The in-house designed body shapes where much slicker (bcrafted by Morelli in Ferrara), and clothed the chassis with easy to reach -for maintenance- clam shell opening. Asymmetric chassis construction meant that the driver seat was placed lower than the passenger seat, reducing the overall height of the package. Engine outputs were bumped by 5-10 bhp depending on engine size, still mated to the trusty 4 speed ZF gearbox. In fact, the obvious lack of 5 speed gearbox coupled with a traditional drum brake set up, did not help the cars stay competitive for too long. Early in 1958, 1500cc class wins in Cuba and Sebring, followed by overall wins for Colin Davis in April’s Trofeo Shell raced in Monza, allowed the 1500cc racing machines to still be counted among the most competitive offering available. During June’s Le Mans 24 hours another class win was notched, this time for the S-187 driven by Davis and De Tomaso. Overall, 1958 was characterized by a retrenching of OSCA racing efforts closer to Italy, and while the local factory support mattered, outside Italy, racing successes became more sporadic.
1959 and 1960 were defined by the clear emergence of the 750cc sports racers as OSCA’s most competitive offering, along with the start of the Formula Junior racing effort. By 1959 the 750cc cars (now upgraded to the S-187N specification) were racing on both sides of the Atlantic, dominating their class wherever they raced. Hill climb events started to feature more prominently across Europe as racing on open public roads became de-facto banned. OSCA machines featured well across all classes of hill climb competition, as the agile, lightweight and balanced design made the cars a very potent weapon. Over in the USA, the Cunningham team as well as privateers populated race courses across America in a deluge of racing wins. James Eichenlaub, the young aerospace engineer won the 1959 SCCA H-mod class National Championship in his S-187 OSCA, Oliver Schmidt would repeat that achievement in 1960 (and 1961!).
1959 Le Mans 24 Hours. Number 51 a187N driven Mexican Rodriguez brothers entered by the NART team, and the Laroche 187N number 52. Both would retire
As the Formula Junior effort gained backing form other manufacturers, the Maserati brothers joined with their offering. Overall a total of 15 examples were manufactured in 1959 and 1960, the OSCA Tipo-J broadly considered the most attractive amongst the Formula Juniors. In North America, Luigi Chinetti’s NART team ran the Tipo-J, while in Europe they were entered by a number of teams. OSCA Formula Junior moment of Glory came in 1960, when Colin Davis won the International Formula Junior Championship driving an OSCA Tipo-J.
Financial resources were always constrained at OSCA, but by the early 1960’s the ageing Maserati Brothers (by 1960 Bindo just turned 77 years old, Ettore 66 and Ernesto 62), sought a new path for their enterprise. By utilizing an upgraded version of the OSCA-designed Fiat 1600cc twin-cam engine, placed in a lightweight Zagato- built coupe body, the brothers hoped they could produce -for the first time in their career- a dual purpose race/street car. Disappointedly, only in early 1962 the 1600GT (as it was known) received FIA homologation delayed by production constraints. By the time the car was able to complete in the FIA GT class, the package was somewhat outdated, resulting in a competitive career that was relatively short and limited. The 1600GT did find its success in Hill Climb events, during which agility and balance were at a premium.
Alas, the brother’s willingness to append their singular racing focus with a potentially revenue-generating scale street car production, came too late.
Into the final years of OSCA - Fratelli Maserati, the trusted Mt4/S and S-187/N racers still kept the marques name on the worlds best circuits. Wins were becoming rare, the cars quickly ageing, and the philosophy of “gentleman Racing” a distant memory.
Move down displacement
Focus on aerodynamic and chassis developments
750cc a great success although competition was sparse
GT effort stillborn due to homologation delays, the minimum car production took longer than expected
Desmo as an innovation proof of concept, but lacked funds and energy to catapult OSCA back onto the world stage
Key models: TN, S-1500, Tipo-J, 187
Key drivers: De Tomaso, Davies, Scarfiotti, Gordon, Stanga