Bred For Endurance Racing, This Zagato-Bodied O.S.C.A. 1600 GT Has Le Mans Provenance
Photography by Will Broadhead
On the 23rd of June 1962, in northern France, Scuderia Ferrari drivers Olivier Gendebien and Phil Hill prepared to compete at the Circuit de la Sarthe in their Ferrari 330 TRI/LM Testa Rossa. 24 hours after the race—the 30th running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans—had begun, the drivers and their front-engine car emerged victorious. That was perhaps the most famous Italian car story of the year, but it was not the only one worth remembering.
For another car, entered that day by the pair of Americans John Bentley and John Gordon, the story began sometime around 1937 when a controlling stake in the struggling Maserati concern was bought by the Orsi family, beginning a decade that would eventually see the design genius of Ernesto, Ettore, and Bindo Maserati walk away from the company that bore their name so they could start a new one: O.S.C.A.
The brothers were intent on designing small-capacity, lightweight racing cars, in contradiction to the GT designs that Adolfo Orsi wanted from the trio at Maserati. The MT-4 was first out of the blocks for the new constructor called O.S.C.A., and the car had success in the hands of Stirling Moss at races like the 12 Hours of Sebring.
Various design updates and revisions followed until 1962, when the 1600 GT2 appeared after being announced at the 1960 Turin Motor Show. With the focus still firmly on racing, chassis 0036 pictured here began as a factory-prepared prototype, designed with one thing in mind: Le Mans. Today it sits resplendent in the color long-associated with Italian manufacturers in motorsport. The specially-designed coachwork by Zagato is unusual in that unlike other Zagato crafted designs, this car retains a flat roof without the trademark double-bubble top.
The 1600 before me also features an upgraded engine, with twin plugs firing the high-strung inline-four and paired up with expansive Weber carburetors. There’s also a tremendously large 80L fuel tank, as well as other features added to withstand the rigors of endurance racing. The body too, had a redesigned radiator inlet to lessen the effects of the high-speed lift that was a feature of the long straights on the French circuit in its pre-chicane times.
Sadly, the O.S.C.A. wouldn’t finish in its debut, retiring somewhere around the four-hour mark after overheating bearings in the engine, despite the requests from the American occupants to have an oil cooler fitted. Following Le Mans, the car came to America to embark on a fascinating racing career, first in the hands of Luigi Chinetti’s North American Racing Team (N.A.R.T.), and then with various drivers, including George Waltman who after extensively rebuilding the car competed with it in the 1968 running of the 24 Hours of Daytona, solo, with no co-driver or crew. No mean feat, even for a B-29 Superfortress veteran like Waltman.
A performance and effort befitting for a car as beautiful as this perhaps, we would go to the ends of the earth for those that we love they say, and with lines as flawless as the ones that sketch the outline of this motorcar, I can see why Waltman would put himself through such an ordeal to race it at a place like Daytona.
The deep crimson of the paintwork carries a luster that cannot fail to catch one’s eye despite laudable company parked nearby, and although the weather forbids us from taking the car for a drive, I’m content enough just spending some time with it in the warm indoors.
Everywhere you look you find details that point to the purpose of this machine, the little accent lights that point at the racing roundels—designed to illuminate the car’s number during the long night hours—are a favorite of mine on endurance cars like this. As is the side-exit exhaust and the relatively oversized fuel tank, which seems ludicrously vulnerable suspended beneath the vehicle. The engine bay is a thing of ordered beauty, period HT leads, and those stunning twin Webers with massive bell-mouthed intakes.
From Le Mans to Sebring, Nassau to Daytona, Marlboro and beyond, this car is one that was born for the track without sacrificing any curbside charm. The twin-cam, twin-spark motor is one of a kind, as is the flat roof top, and of the 98 Zagato-bodied 1600 GTs that were built, this one is unique for these pieces, or lack thereof. To be in amongst such history feels special indeed, the external and internal materials feel somewhat alive in cars like this one. Of course, while it’s a privilege to spend time with the O.S.C.A., one wishes that it were in its more familiar environment of the track, something that I hope is in this car’s future. Thanks goes as always to my friends at the Classic Motor Hub for lending me the car to photograph.