Yes, Maserati Really Did Win The Indianapolis 500…Twice
It’s tough enough to win the Indianapolis 500 once, but twice and in the very same race car? Yet that’s what Wilbur Shaw did in 1939 and 1940 in the Maserati 8CTF. It was also the first victory by a “foreign” car since Dario Resta’s win in a Peugeot in 1916.
First created as a Grand Prix car, the 8CTF’s initial race was the 1938 Tripoli Grand Prix. This was, of course, the era of the commanding German GP machines and while the Maserati showed speed, it lacked reliability and long-term endurance.
That lack of reliability seemed odd when Mike Boyle bought an 8CTF -chassis 3032- to be raced 500 miles at Indianapolis. Looked after by master mechanic Harry “Cotton” Henning, it proved to be a natural with those wins in 1940 and 1941.
Boyle’s 8 CTF not only won in 1939 and 1940, Ted Horn drove it to third place in 1946 and 1947. Now known as the Bennett Brothers Special, he also took it to fourth in 1948, making this the most successful race car in Indy 500 history.
As the most famous Indy car, the Boyle Special Maserati has a special place at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum, which is on the grounds of the Speedway.
Born in Indiana, Wilbur Shaw competed in the Indianapolis 500 13 times between 1927 and 1941. He was a three-time winner–1937, 1939, 1940–and also finished twice three times. Shaw not only won at the Speedway, but also saved the track. Tire testing there during World War II, he found the track in great disrepair. Told it would likely be demolished, Shaw found a backer, Tony Hulman, who bought the Speedway, had it refurbished, and made Shaw the president of the facility.
With his win in 1939, Shaw started from third spot at 128.9 mph and led 51 laps. The next year, Shaw qualified second at 127.0 mph, lead for 136 of the laps and took home $31,875 and, it’s reported, a car and a refrigerator.
“Umbrella Mike” Boyle, who owned the Maserati, was as interesting as Wilbur Shaw. Indy historian Donald Davidson told the IndyStar, “A lot of people think of Mike Boyle as a bad guy, and maybe he was, maybe he was a gangster. But performance-wise, on the race track, clearly he was the outstanding car owner for several decades.”
Your hand can’t span the width of a modern IndyCar tire, but it can with the Maserati. Mounted on wire wheels, they measure 6.00-19 front and 7.50-20 at the rear.
Maserati’s 3.0-liter twin-cam straight-8 had two blocks of four cylinders and two superchargers. Its cylinder head was a Testa Fissa, meaning it was fixed to the blocks. This did away with the head gasket and allowed for higher boost pressures. Horsepower was said to be 350-365.
Based on two main frame rails, the 8CTF has an independent, torsion bar front suspension and rear live axle with quarter elliptic leaf springs. Around this wraps a beautiful aluminum body.
Formula 1 champ Phil Hill drove the Maserati for Road & Track and wrote: “Imagine the roar and response of that wonderful straight-eight under your foot, and not much of a tire patch connecting you to the track. Not to mention Louis Meyer or Rex Mays just feet away from you, and 145,000 fans on their feet.”
He also commented, “The seating is comfortable with plenty of room, though not so much that you get tossed around. The gear lever sprouts up from the center of the car, and all the movements have a real quality, positive feel.”
Phil Hill also mentioned the Maserati’s “panel of instruments that qualify for museum status on beauty alone.” And with that we leave you with a gallery of the 8CTF’s details, the bits and pieces that make up this legend.