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Maserati 450S

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When you delve deeper into the history of the Maserati 450S, you find the stories that make the story of this incredible Maserati even better, more beautiful, more exciting. The story of Tony Parravano must be told, not only because he made the 450S possible, but also because he was one of the most enigmatic personalities in racing in the 1950s. And to bring up the right keyword to attract the necessary attention: Mafia.

Antonio Parravano saw the light of day on 9 June 1917 in Arpino near Naples. After the Second World War, he emigrated to the USA, came to southern California via Chicago and somehow obtained an American passport. In a very short time, he built up an empire of construction companies – and was soon under intense observation by various government offices. Above all, the tax authorities (IRS) had their eyes on him, because Tony spent the money with both hands, but paid hardly any taxes.

He came to racing more by chance. His friend Jack McAfee (also worth a story) invited him to a race – and the virus struck mercilessly. Parravano didn’t want to drive himself, but financed McAfee a Cadillac with which he was able to drive the Carrera Panamericana in Mexico in 1950. A Jaguar XK120 followed – and after the Carrera in 1951, the first Ferrari, a 340 America. And so it went on and on, Tony bought more and more fast cars, hired fast drivers, including Carroll Shelby, Phil Hill, Masten Gregory and Ken Miles – and was quite successful.

But then Parravano really wanted it: He wanted to win the Indy 500. To do this, he ordered two of the new 4.2-litre V8 engines from Maserati, which he wanted to install in a Kurtis chassis. The project didn’t get any further, but Tony had tasted blood, kept sending money to Modena (they say: over 500,000 dollars in 1956 alone, a lot, a lot of money in those days), demanded a more powerful engine and the corresponding sports car to go with it. This was the birth of the Maserati 450S. He received such a car (#4502, which is the subject of this story, official production date 29.10.1956), plus a 250F and a 350S.

But at the time of delivery, the IRS was so close on his heels that Parravano had to leave for Mexico in 1957. He tried to smuggle the nine vehicles he owned at the time south as well, but five of them were intercepted at the border. Among them was the Maserati 450S, along with a whole truck full of spare parts. Tony managed to escape – and disappeared from the face of the earth on 8 April 1960. Nobody knows what happened to Parravano; all his cars are now legends because of their great history. And one cannot underestimate his influence on racing: He drove Maserati to new heights with the 450S, Ferrari had to follow, more and more displacement, more and more power – and as a result, the FIA limited the displacement of sports cars to 3 litres at the end of the 1950s.

With this turbulent history, it is clear that the Maserati 450S with chassis number 4502 could not break any big ropes on the race track. Ritchie Ginther, Jack McAfee and Bob Drake drove a few test laps in Willow Springs in January 1957, but then there was a break until 1959, when Billy Krause competed in a few club races in California on the car, which by then belonged to Italia Motors (a certain Dr. Rey Martinez had advanced the purchase price of $3,000). In the hands of Chuck Kessinger, 4502 was raced on the track until 1962, but with moderate success.

But even after that, the life of the Maserati did not get any easier. At the end of the 60s, it changed hands five times within a short period of time, was disassembled, repainted and restored. In the mid-70s, 4502 came into the hands of Grad Hubertus von Doenhoff (who paid 42,000 D-marks), where it was well looked after and professionally maintained. Two decades later it came to Hartmut Ibing in Düsseldorf (where it also received the blue paintwork), again a good decade later to Willi Balz. And then, almost ten years ago, to the current owner in Switzerland.

The large eight-cylinder was an extraordinary adventure for a Maserati. The Maserati brothers had had completely different ideas: their cars were to be small and light. When the Orsi family took over the reins in 1937 and was able to start production after the Second World War, a 1.5-litre six-cylinder was still the highest of all feelings. The capacity of the latter quickly grew to two litres, and at the latest when Giulio Alfieri was hired as chief designer in 1953, the appetite for more grew; one saw only too well in Modena what successes could be celebrated in Maranello.

These were exciting years for the Modenese between 1954 and 1957 – or maybe it was just: too much. They built four-, six-, eight- and even two twelve-cylinder cars (yes, exactly two). They fought against Ferrari in the sports car world championship, they won one and a half world championships during this period (1954 and 1957), they built perhaps the most beautiful sports car of all time (see: here) and also probably the most beautiful racing car of all time.

And they had unbelievable bad luck. Only rarely can the fate of a brand be pinned down to a single race, a single day, a single place, but for Maserati it was 3 November 1957, Caracas, the capital of Venzuela. At the 1000-kilometre race, which counted towards the sports car world championship for the first time, the Maserati team still had a chance of winning the world championship. They bring two 450S (#4503 with Moss/Brooks, #4507 with Behra/Schell) as well as two 350S to the start, another 450S (#4508 with Gregory/Duncan) is entered by Temple Buell. Moss dominates the practice easily, is half a second faster than Brooks; the Ferraris (two 335S and two 250TR) have no chance. It is true that Moss (starting number 4) and Behra (starting number 2) spar. But already in the first lap Masten Gregory in the private 450S took the lead, even if only for a few metres: When he looked around after the overtaking manoeuvre to see how big his lead already was, he lost his attention for a moment, overlooked a kerb – and rolled over. He escaped injury to some extent, but the pictures of his bleeding head later went around the world.

Meanwhile, Moss worked his way through the entire field. On the first lap he overtook no less than 22 cars, on the 16th lap he overtook the leader Behra, on the 32nd lap he was already two minutes ahead. But then he tried to overtake a slow AC Ace, it took the wrong side, Moss crashed into it with a lot of excess; for #4503 the race was over. Shortly afterwards Behra’s Maserati caught fire while refuelling. Although the fire could be extinguished quickly, Behra did not want to drive any more, the still trembling Moss took over. But he came back to the pits after only one lap – the driver’s seat had a swell fire, he literally burnt his butt. The problem was solved, Harry Schell took over with a gap of meanwhile three minutes. And he drove the race of his life, made up all the lost time and was about to overtake Jo Bonnier’s Maserati 350S, which was leading in the meantime, when one of its tyres blew out. The two Maseratis collided, the 350S was cut in half by a light pole, one half fell onto the 450S, both cars burnt out completely. The two drivers escaped with a scare, but within a very short time Maserati had not only lost three works cars, but also the world championship. Immediately afterwards, the retirement from racing was announced in Modena. And at the same time, bankruptcy threatened once again.

Probably ten Maserati 450S were built (see below). All of them first received a Barchetta body at Fantuzzi, one car was subsequently rebuilt at Zagato with the help of the English aerodynamics genius Frank Costin (the car first had the chassis number 4506, later 4501 – and finally 4512). With the exception of the 12 Hours of Sebring (Fangio/Behra) and the Swedish GP (Moss/Behra), the really big victories failed to materialise – although the car was miles superior to the Ferraris. It was so fast, so brute that some drivers refused to drive the Maserati. And even though Parravano had paid most of the development costs, the loss of the two factory 450S in Venezuela tore too deep a hole in the company’s coffers for the car to be developed any further.

And yet the end of the 450S was somehow a new beginning for Maserati. In 1957, production of the 3500 GT began in Modena, the first vehicle that the brand was able to sell in larger series. The Shah of Persia, Reza Pahlavi, also tried several of these 3500 GTs, but found them not fast enough, not exclusive enough. He wanted more – and Maserati still had this fabulous eight-cylinder engine with almost 5 litres of displacement from the 450S on the shelves. The result was the 5000 GT, but that’s another story, which you can read about here.

What remains of the 450S is the memory of a wild time, of extraordinary races and intrepid drivers and quirky team owners. Above all, however, it is a wonderful example of the fact that not only the greatest, but also the most beautiful racing cars of all time were built in Italy in the 1950s. It is always a pleasure to simply look at such cars, they are works of art, masterpieces of craftsmanship, wonderful symbols of how people in and around Modena understood at the time how to combine the highest level of technology with this incredible sensibility for aesthetics.

Of course, a collection is still needed here:

chassis number: 4501

first owner: Maserati

most important races: 1000 kilometres Buenos Aires 1957, Fangio/Moss, retired; Mille Miglia 1957, Jean Behra, crashed during practice.

Special: the car is officially considered destroyed. But…

Now this is another story: Maserati built the first 4.5-litre V8 into the 350S with chassis number 3501. But the 400 hp almost tore the vehicle apart. So the unit was strengthened, the wheelbase slightly lengthened, and the car was reborn with a body by Fantuzzi as #4501. It was first used in practice for the Swedish Grand Prix in August 1956, then disappeared again into the dark halls of Maserati in Modena. Juan Manuel Fangio then drove #4501 in practice for the 1000 kilometres of Buenos Aires in early 1957, taking 10 seconds per lap off the equally new Ferrari – and calling the car “Bazooka”. Jean Behra then destroyed the car at the Mille Miglia in the same year.
That could have been the end of it. But it wasn’t. Firstly, Maserati revived chassis number 3501, again as the 350S. And 4501 was given a new life as a Zagato coupé, built by Costin – which was later renamed 4512. In 1965, the car is said to have resurfaced, sold by Maserati without the engine, but with the new registration 350SI-10 to Tom Meade (definitely worth reading: here). Meade sold the car to a Mr. Niles Moss, who had it restored in Modena with a Corvette V8, a Ferrari 5-speed gearbox and a new design – and brought it to the USA. In 1981 an Italian collector discovered the whole tragedy, brought the Maserati back to Italy – and had it restored as 4501 in the 1956 configuration.
This vehicle, designated as a Maserati 450S prototype, was put up for sale at RM Sotheby’s in Monaco in 2014. At least 4 million euros were expected, the highest bid was 3.5 million. This could also have been due to the fact that the story is perhaps a bit opaque – a car with three chassis numbers 3501/4501/350SI-10 does not only inspire confidence. We don’t know what happened to the vehicle in the meantime.

chassis number: 4502

first owner: Tony Parravano

most important races: see above

Special features: see above

chassis number: 4503

first owner: Maserati

most important races: 12 Hours of Sebring 1957, Fangio/Behra, 1st place; Le Mans 1957, Behra/Simon, retirement; GP Sweden 1957, Moss/Behra, 1st place.

Special features: Moss destroyed the car at the Venezuelan GP. Was rebuilt at the factory, received the strange chassis number #20. 1961 with Chevrolet V8, in the later 60s then with Maserati engine 4362.

Chassis number: 4504

first owner: Jim Kimberly

most important races: SCCA races in the USA

Special features: engine was installed in a speedboat in the 60s, chassis and engine were not reunited until the 80s.

Chassis number: 4505

First owner: Maserati; was renumbered 4506 in 1957 and sold as a new car to John Edgar.

Most important races: Mille Miglia 1957, Moss/Jenkinson, retirement; 1000 km Nürburgring, Fangio/Moss, retirement; owned by Edgar various SCCA wins (mostly with Carroll Shelby at the wheel).

Special: Received a Pontiac V8 in 1958; received a 5.7-litre Maserati V8 (4513) in 1959. Was for sale at RM Sotheby’s in Arizona in 2008, estimate $1,600,000 to $1,900,000, not sold.

chassis number: 4506

first owner: –

most important races: –

Specials: was renumbered 4501 for Le Mans practice in 1957; was renumbered 4512 and converted to a road car in 1958.

chassis number: 4507

first owner: Maserati

most important races: GP Sweden, Moss/Behra, retirement; GP Venezuela, Behra/Schell, accident.

Specials: the car is officially considered destroyed.

chassis number: 4508

first owner: Scuderia Temple Buell (a story we definitely want to tell then).

most important races: with many famous drivers at the start, Masten Gregory, Carroll Shelby, Maurice Trintignant (because Fangio was kidnapped shortly before the race), Jim Hall.

Special features: –

chassis number: 4509

first owner: Jesse Ebb Rose

most important races: SCCA races in the USA.

Special features: received a Chevrolet V8 in the early 1960s; chassis and engine reunited in 1974. Up for sale at RM Sotheby’s in Monterey on 19/20 August, no estimate yet (story to follow).

Chassis number: 4510

first owner: Carroll Shelby Racing Cars

most important races: SCCA races in the USA.

Special features: received new engine in 1961 (4514)

Engine number: 4511 (engine only)

Chassis number: 4512

Specials: was originally 4506; sold as 4512 to Byron Staver, shortened wheelbase, body by Zagato/Costin.

Photos: Frédéric Diserens (#4502); RM Sotheby’s (#4501, #4505, #4509). Some more nice classic cars can be found in our archives (just in german).

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