News & Stories

French Blue at Indy – The 1938 Maserati 8CTF

May 25, 2018 In the News

By John Lamm

It is Memorial Day weekend, which of course means the Indianapolis 500. It’s also 2018, which marks the 80th birthday of a Maserati 8CTF – one of only three ever built – that raced at Indy and is housed at The Revs Institute.

The car, Chassis 3030, didn’t win at Indianapolis. But one of its siblings won the 500 twice under the ownership of a mob-linked Chicago labor boss nicknamed “Umbrella Mike.”  So it’s a good time to gear up for race watching by reviewing the history of the 8CTF triplets, which sport a history as colorful as the French-blue livery on the car that’s housed at Revs.

Two Maserati 1938 8CTFs were entered by Ecurie Bleue in the 1940 Indianapolis 500. This one, serial number 3030, finished 10th driven by René Dreyfus and René Le Begue. It now resides at the Revs Institute. Photo: Peter Harholdt

The history of these cars began as an Italian quest to beat the Germans — specifically Mercedes-Benz and Auto Union (now Audi) — on the tracks of Europe. The five Maserati brothers had sold their company but stayed on to oversee engineering. Businessmen they weren’t, but they did know cars.

The brothers designed a 3.0-liter straight-8 engine. A pair of Roots-type superchargers huffed into the cylinders with a fixed twin-cam head – testa fissa (hence the TF in the name) – with no head gasket. The 360-horsepower engine and its 4-speed transmission went into a box section frame strengthened by an X-shape magnesium oil tank. Weighing in at 1716 pounds, the 8CTFs had potential.

For the 8CTF the Maserati brothers created a straight-8 with dual overhead camshafts, a pair of superchargers and a fixed cylinder head. It was rated at 360 horsepower. Photo: Peter Harholdt

But the Maseratis, though quick, were fragile. Instead of 8CTF the cars could have been named 8DNF…Did Not Finish. The only result of note was a 3rd place in the 1939 German Grand Prix with chassis 3031. Then things got interesting.

Another of the 8CTFs — Chassis 3032 — was shipped to the U.S. in 1939. It became the Boyle Special owned by “Umbrella” Mike Boyle, who got his nickname because he always carried an umbrella, rain or shine. If the umbrella was open, that signaled the coast was clear to slip him a bribe. If closed, it meant the Feds were watching.

Thanks to the technical wizardry of Cotton Henning and the driving expertize of Wilbur Shaw, this Maserati 8CTF — serial number 3032 — won the Indianapolis 500 in 1939 and 1940. It was entered by “Umbrella” Mike Boyle.

Umbrella Mike, who loved auto racing as well as money, enlisted the help of engine guru Cotton Henning who developed a new crankshaft and changed the firing order of the straight-8. Raced in the Indianapolis 500 eight times, 3032 won in 1939 and 1940, driven both times by Wilbur Shaw. The car sits on display at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum.

The other two 8CTFs, 3030 and 3031, were purchased by the Schell family, wealthy American expats who lived in Paris and Monaco. The Schells created the race team Ecurie Bleue, painting their competition cars the racing color of their adopted country.

A rare photo of Larry Schell (on the right) in the Delahaye 135CS that Ecurie Bleue raced at Le Mans in 1937. Behind the wheel is his co-driver René Carriére. They DNF’d.

In early 1940 Lucy Schell, by then a widow, shipped the pair of Bleu de France 8CLTs to Indianapolis for the 500. As important as the cars were two men who came with the team.

One was driver René Dreyfus, the French Jew who had who beat the Germans at the Grand Prix game at Pau in 1938 with an Ecurie Bleue Delahaye. (Hitler presumably was not pleased.) Also along was mechanic Luigi Chinetti, who later launched Ferrari in the U.S. Rounding out the driving crew was another Frenchmen, René Le Begue.  Among them the three spoke no English, surely a handicap in understanding Indy’s idiosyncratic racing rules.

René Dreyfus at the Indianapolis Speedway in 1940 in one of the Ecurie Bleue 8CTF Maseratis. Behind him is the Speedway’s famous pagoda.

There were other handicaps too. The cars had been mis-tuned back in France, as the mechanics there did not know that lower gearing was needed for maximum acceleration out of the turns. Having never been on the track, the French didn’t realize top speed was only reached for a few seconds, so overrevving was never an issue if the cars were correctly geared.

There was another handicap too.  Dreyfus’ car — 3031 — broke a connecting rod in practice. Bending the rules, the Indy officials allowed the engines in 3030 and 3031 to be switched. The rules mandated that Le Begue had to start the race, complete half, and then Dreyfus would finish. So the pair of Renés shared Chassis 3030 and finished 10th. Engine 3031 still rests in chassis 3030 here at The Revs Institute.

A classic instrument panel faced by the two Renés as they battled such oddities for them in the 500 as a race run counterclockwise under a set of tough, unusual rules. Photo: Peter Harholdt

After the 1940 Indy 500 the Schells sold their two 8CTFs. The cars would be raced on the Brickyard again without major results. Chassis 3031, driven by Louis Unser, scored 1st place finishes in the 1946 and 1947 Pikes Peak Hillclimb. Chassis 3030 later entered Watkins Glen in 1952 under different owners and drivers, but it did not qualify for the race. Watkins Glen would be its last contemporary racing appearance.

Since then, both Maseratis moved through various owners until chassis 3030 became part of the Collier Collection in Naples, Florida. The car plays an important role in the collection because it achieved something that few pre-war cars can boast: it raced competitively in the both America and Europe in some of the highest-level races each continent had to offer. As an artifact, chassis 3030 is also the only 8CTF Maseratis that did not have its engine replaced by an Offenhauser sometime in its career. And, as we tune in to the Indianapolis 500 this weekend, we remember Maserati 8CTF Chassis 3030 as a rare example of a foreign car challenging the American-made competitors on their home turf at the Brickyard.

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John Lamm started his automotive journalism career in 1965 as a racing photographer for Autoweek magazine. After a tour in Vietnam, he joined Motor Trend in 1969, then Road & Track in 1975, where he worked for 37 years. He has also written for Car and Driver and Automobile magazines. Credits include 10 books and Lamm has been honored with the International Motor Press Association’s Ken Purdy and the Motor Press Guild’s Dean Batchelor awards for writing. Lamm’s photo archives include hundreds of thousands of images ranging from an 1893 Benz Victoria to many of the latest automobiles. He is on the organizing committee for the Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion and been a judge at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance for two decades. Lamm lives in San Clemente, California with his wife, Scheri.

6 Responses

  1. andrew sapiro

    good stuff – I’ve photographed the Rev’s 8CTF at the museum, and the Indy winner
    and I’m interested in the 8CTF’s racing history at Indy post-war
    color photos were rare then – do we know what colors the Offy powered cars were raced with/in ? Were they black, red, or the same wine red color as the Boyle car ???

  2. John Staten

    Love this story. Enjoyed my trip to REVS last year and hope to come back

  3. George Webster

    This has always been one of my favourite race cars (the Wilbur Shaw version). It’s great to learn about another example of this model. And, I’m from the era when Rene Dreyfus was a big name among sports car fans as the proprietor of his restaurant in NYC I’ll have to take a closer look at this one next time I’m in Naples …

  4. Richard Collier

    Hi John:
    Any idea how much of the gross weight of 1,716 lbs is the engine/gearbox?
    Regards
    Dick

  5. Alberto Maurício Caló

    First of all my congratulations for the excelent article. I take the opportunity also to greet all the friends of the Revs Institute.

    The history of the pre-war Grand Prix Maseratis is fascinating

    8 CTF’s predecessor in the Grand Prix league, the Maserati V8- RI, 4.8 was a innovative car with independent suspension all round
    Althougt not a very successful racer, interestingly was the car that gave opportunity to famous drivers in their initial steps in grand prix racing.

    Doctor Giuseppe Antonio (“Nino”) Farina raced a R I V-8 in the 1935 Italian GP for Scuderia Subalpina, Maserati´s “semi official” racing branch of the Maserati benefactors Gino Rovere and Luigi Della Chiesa.

    In the same model, Farina actually led the inaugural Donington GP (1935) for several laps.

    Also at the wheel of a RI V-8 Richard Beattie (“Dick”) Seaman raced in 1936 German GP, courtesy of Scuderia Torino led by Count Carlo Felice Trossi.

    I ve watched a well known documentary called “The making of victory by design”- of 2004, where Alain de Cadenet presents the Maserati 8CTF chassis 3031 (painted red).

    De Cadenet remembered that the 8CTF was the first Grand Prix Maserati product under the ownership of Adolfo Orsi. With the changing rules of Grand Prix racing, De Cadenet says that the 8CTF was more a “back to the basics” design if compared to the R1 V8.

    But De Cadenet suggests that 3031 carries its´ original engine stamped 3031.

    If the “Ecurie Bleue” 3030 from The Revs carries engine 3031, was it swaped since then?`(the documentary dates from 2004)

    One further question: history says that Boyle Special (chassis 3032) when shipped to America was carrying water in its cooling sistem which frozed during transportation from Italy, arriving to ,America with a cracked engine block.

    Maserati provided a replacement block.

    Anyone know whats the number stamped in the engine block of Boyle Special nowadays? In other words, the replacement block received number 3032 or other number?

    One eventual conclusion is –perhaps- that none of the three 8CTFs has its original engine block. (i.e. none is a “matching numbers”). Who knows?

    I ask, please, the help of friends of the Revs Institute to answer the questions,

    In 1939 the 8CTF actually lead, though briefly, the German Grand Prix in the hands of Paul Pietsch and was the only real threat to the german cars.

    So, the 8CTF led an european grand prix and won the Indy’s 500 in the very same year, a fact that , even for regulatory issues, probably will never be repeated.

    Thats why the history of Maserati 8CTF will stay in our hearts forever as one of the most enchanting cases of motor racing

    One more time my greetings to all members and friends of The Revs Institute

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