A History of the Maserati 8CTF and the Indy 500
The Maserati 8CTF s an iconic vehicle recognized by autophiles across the globe. It represents the moment Maserati gained and kept the respect of automakers.
The 8CTF was the brainchild of Ernesto Maserati. It signaled his return to prominence in the industry after its massive successes on racetracks in the United States. The Orsi family was the family of entrepreneurs who had taken over the Maserati business in 1937. They constantly supported Ernesto and encouraged him to focus on race cars.
The result of Ernesto’s newfound focus was the Maserati 8CTF. Powered by a Maserati engine with 8 cylinders cast in a monoblock with a fixed head, the 8CTF was something to behold. The ‘TF’ in the name stands for ‘tessa fissa’ (Italian for “fixed head”). The success of the 8CTF at the Indianapolis 500 conjured up lore around Italian automobile manufacturers that still lingers.
The Maserati 8CTF that raced the Speedway known as “The Boyle Special” became the first non-American produced car to earn a permanent place in the annals of the Library of the US Congress. And cemented its place among the greatest cars in Maserati racing history. Documentation resides in the National Historic Vehicle Register (HVA) and the Historic American Engineering Record (HAER).
Maserati 8CTF at the Indianapolis 500
After taking part in several races in 1938 including the Tripoli Grand Prix, the Maserati 8CTF made its way to Indianapolis. The results from those races attracted new customers including the Chicago-based Boyle Racing Team. Michael Joseph “Mike” Boyle had a goal of winning America’s most famous race. He had raced in different editions of the Indianapolis 500 with other cars: Summers, Cooper, Smith, with nothing to show for it before he purchased the Maserati 8CTF.
Once it arrived in America, the 8CTF was prepared with bigger wheels and Firestone tires. It was entered in the 1939 Indianapolis 500 as the “Boyle Special.”
The Maserati 8CTF went on to glory at the Indianapolis 500 in 1939 and 1940 with 27-year old Indiana-born Warren Wilbur Shaw behind the wheel. Victories in 1937 (not in an 8CTF), 1939, and 1940 (in an 8CTF) cemented Shaw as one of the most successful drivers in the history of the Indianapolis 500. 3 wins and 3-second place finishes in 13 races is an impressive record. He remains in the top 5 today.
In 1939, Shaw raced for 4 hours and 20 minutes at an average speed of over 115 mph and won after leading for 51 laps. The 8CTF was recorded at a high speed of 129 mph. It was a historic victory for Maserati. No European car had won the Indianapolis 500 since 1919. Maserati garnered huge international recognition and the brand took flight. In 1940, three more Maserati 8CTFs were entered in the Indianapolis 500. Shaw won again confirming the 8CTF’s performance and speed superiority.
Shaw seemed destined for a three-peat at the Indianapolis 500 in 1941, but a punctured tire cost him the race. The same 8CTF model would go on to finish the Indy 500 third in 1947, and fourth in 1948. Ernesto Maserati’s original design from 1938 proved its longevity remaining competitive at the highest levels of racing for a decade.
The Legacy of the 8CTF
The success of the Maserati 8CTF was not limited to traditional oval racetracks. It won the Pike’s Peak hill climb in Colorado with Luis Unser behind the wheel in 1946 and 1947. That course featured 12.5 miles uphill on mostly unpaved roads with 156 dangerous bends. It was a test of man and machine with an increase in elevation of approximately 2,800 meters. Winning races in two completely different disciplines was a testament to the Maserati 8CTF’s status as an engineering masterpiece.
The Maserati 8CTF’s prestigious racing career ended in 1950 after Bill Vulcanich failed to qualify for the Indianapolis 500. The car that Warren Wilbur Shaw drove in 1939 and 1940 is currently on display at the Indianapolis Speedway Museum. It was redone with the same paintwork that it had during those races.
The indomitable 8CTF and its legendary drivers are not forgotten. After all these years, the 8CTF most certainly remains a high point in the long, rich history of the Maserati brand.