Maserati Celebrates The 80th Anniversary Of Its Historic Victory At The Indianapolis 500
Photography by John Lamm
Maserati has a long and impressive motor racing history, and one of its most memorable early successes on US soil was when its 8CTF race car triumphed at the Indianapolis 500 in 1939. Twenty-seven-year-old Indiana-born Warren Wilbur Shaw crossed the line after 200 laps in a time of 4 hours and 20 minutes at an average speed of over 115mph. He went on to repeat his achievement a year later, also at the wheel of a Maserati 8CTF, and remains one of the most successful Indy 500 competitors of all time with three race victories (he also won in 1937) and three second places over a total of 13 appearances.
That first win with the Maserati took place 80 years-ago today, on 30 May 1939, and it also marked 20 years since the last European win at the Indy 500. Alfieri Maserati had taken part in race on US soil before, but it wasn’t until the injection of some much-needed cash from sales of shares to the Orsi Group in 1937 that the Maserati brothers could finally focus on building new racing cars.
The international racing authority had just announced new stricter rules regarding Grand Prix cars and Ernesto Maserati based the new 8CTF racer on these regulations. The chassis used a standard single-seater layout while the engine was a newly developed 3.0-liter straight-eight with two groups of four cylinders being fed fuel by two carburetors. Air was forced into the combustion chambers via a supercharger, which allowed it to develop 350hp in race trim (it gained 15hp the following year) and gave the 1720-pound race car a top speed of over 180mph.
After showing great promise in a number of European races; most notably leading the Tripoli GP driven by Count Carlo Felice Trossi and taking pole position in the Coppa Ciano at the hands of legendary Luigi “Gigi” Villoresi, a number of customers placed orders for the car. One of these was Chicago-based team Boyle Racing Headquarters, owned by Irishman Michael Joseph Boyle.
The team had competed many times at the race but with no significant results. That all changed in 1939 when Shaw took the overall victory and the 8CTF went on to race at both Indianapolis and other US ovals for a number of years afterwards. In fact, the 8CTF had one of the longest and most glorious careers of any single-seater racer, finally ending in 1950, after Bill Vulcanich failed to qualify for that year’s Indianapolis 500.
In 2014 the United States HVA (Historical Vehicle Association) registered the Maserati 8CTF as the first non-American production car to be awarded a permanent place in the annals of the US Library of Congress. Chassis number 3032, the one in which Wilbur Shaw won in at both the 1939 and 1940 races, has been repainted in the same livery it wore for those momentous wins and it is currently on display at the Indianapolis Speedway Museum.