Auto d'Epoca - the Italian Classic car magazine


Maserati at Indianapolis 1930 to 1959

'The Trident takes on the '500' at the Brickyard.'

I would like to thank Dott. Maurizio Catozzi, Editorial Director of Edizioni Pegaso s.r.l., for giving me permission to publish, for your enjoyment, my English translation of the fascinating article by Aldo Zano that appeared in the September 2002 issue of Auto d'Epoca magazine.

Auto d'Epoca, one of Italy's top classic car magazines, have included some exceptional in-depth articles on a number of important Maseratis over the years and you may view my list of back-issues and their Maserati content by clicking HERE!

Although the text in Auto d'Epoca is understandably in Italian, the articles always include numerous interesting photographs and with the advent of cheap translators available on the internet, I have never found this a problem. Incidentally, I purchased an Italian/English and English/Italian translator on-line for only US $30. A real bargain!

Prior to Gianpaolo Dallara's three victories at Indianapolis in 1998 (Eddie Cheever Jnr.), 1999 (Juan Pablo Montoya) and 2001 (Helio Castroneves), Italy's only success came from those racing cars, from Bologna and Modena, adorned with the famous Trident of Maserati. These Italian race cars have left their idelible mark on the history of the 'Indy 500'.

Maseratis, often under various guises, have failed to qualify for, qualified for, raced in and even won the Indianapolis 500 and the history of this participation between 1930 and 1959 is a long story, yet to be written in detail: this article is merely a small contribution, based on the reliable sources of leading experts on the history of Maserati.

This tale is essentially a photographic one centred on the cars and drivers of which very little is known, even in the archives of Indianapolis.

Letterio Piccolo Cucinotto from Messina, who, along with Baconin Borzachini, have the honour of being the first Maserati competitors at Indianapolis in 1930. Driving this Tipo 26B, chassis #15, he qualified in 30th place out of 38 entrants. He finished in 12th position, some 15 laps behind winner Billy Arnold, having had a difficult race that included three pit stops. For his efforts he brought home prize money of US $510.

This is an introduction to the long history of Italian race cars in America. There is a story to be told for every car and every driver.

One of the most incredible stories is that of an American lady, who, won over by the charm of the French and the charisma of European cars, was determined to race her Maseratis at Indianapolis. And she did!

Mauri Rose with the 6-cylinder Tipo 6CM 'Boyle Special' in 1938. He qualified in ninth place and finished in 13th place. He won in 1941, together with Floyd Davis, and again in 1947 and 1948. Thanks to a long series of placements in the twelve races in which he took part, he is one of the drivers with the best results in the history of Indianapolis.

When an American woman of Irish descent and passionate about things European gets an idea in her head nothing and nobody can stop her.

The lady in question is one Lucy O'Reilly, the widow of Laurie Schell, who in 1940, in the midst of war, successfully shipped to America two Maserati 8CTFs, chassis #3030 and #3031, to race in the 'Indy 500'.

Babe Stapp with ther Tipo V8RI (chassis #4503) 'Topping Special' in 1937. he qualified in 31st place but retired on the 6th lap with a broken clutch. Babe Stapp has competed 12 times in the '500'. His best result was 5th place in 1939 with an Alfa Romeo. 4503 was originally bought by Philippe Etancelin in 1936 and sold on to Stapp in 1937. Only four examples of the 4.8-litre Tipo V8RI were made between 1935 and 1936.

Lucy was the owner of a small private racing team, which she ran with her French husband Laurie Schell. In 1939 they purchased the two ex-works Maserati 8CTFs that were driven by Luigi Villoresi and Paul Pietsch at the German GP (July 23rd). They had them re-painted in light blue (the national racing colour of France) and entered them in the Swiss GP on the 20th August for drivers Raph and René Dreyfus: only René reached the chequered flag; in ninth position well behind the winning Mercedes driven by Hermann Lang.

Louis Gustave Adolphe Gerard with the 4-cylinder Tipo Maserati the entered but failed to qualify for the 1946 race. A Frenchman, the authentic gentleman driver, he raced from 1937 until 1951 acheiving 6th place in the 1939 Begian GP and 4th place at Le Mans in 1937 driving a Delahaye. Born in 1899, he lived until the year 2000.

In October of that year her husband Laurie was killed in a road accident, Lucy was devastated but didn't give up and, in memory of her late husband, continued to run the Scuderia. All this at a time when war had been declared between France and Nazi Germany and fighting was already in progress on the Polish Front.

At Indianapolis she entered René Dreyfus and René Le Bègue. The former, being a Jew, was already in serious danger and even more so as he was an officer in the French army. The army had granted him leave to cross the Atlantic and race, believing that the propoganda generated would help the French cause in a still neutral America.

Russ Snowberger with the Tipo 8CTF 'Jim Hussey Special' in 1946. He qualified in 10th place and finished in 12th place. Five Maseratis started the race and three finished in the first ten places.

The latter decided that the United States was a safer place to be than a Europe at war. They arrived at Indianapolis just in time to make qualifying. Travelling with them was Lucy and Laurie's nineteen year old son, Harry, who having caught the motor racing bug, decided to become a racing driver when he was older.

Having arrived only one week before official qualifying, their preparation for qualification was not ideal. The Frenchmen, aided by Guido Chinetti, needed to make final adjustments to the cars which had far too high a gear ratio forcing the driver to change gear before the turns. They also had to get used to driving in an anti-clockwise direction, the opposite of racing in Europe.

Duke Nolan with the Scuderia Milano 4-cylinder Tipo that, in 1946, raced alongside Gigi Villoresi (seventh) and Achille Varzi (failed to qualify). Nolan started last on the grid and retired on the 45th lap with transmission trouble. He became famous at the wheel of the powerful but fragile Nova V8 turbo.

The team's progress was followed with great interest from technicians, fellow drivers and spectators alike, curious to see the cars and drivers from Europe at Indianapolis, and in those troubled times time it was a pleasant experience. There were two other Maseratis competing: the Tipo 8CTF of the 1939 winner, Wilbur Shaw, and a Tipo 8CL driven by the Argentinian Raoul Riganti. But it was the blue cars of the French team, number 49 (chassis #3030) of Le Bègue and number 22 (chassis #3031) of Dreyfus, that attracted all the attention.

1950. The ex-Ted Horn (1948) and Lee Wallard (1949) is still good enough for a 'rookie' test for one of the legends of Indianapolis: Billy Vukovich, the 'Mad Russian', first in 1953 and again in 1954. He was tragically killed racing in 1955.

Le Bègue and Dreyfus took turns in their respective cars to find the best race set-up as quickly as possible as they had great difficulty understanding the complex Indy rules for qualification. They knew they weren't fast enough to be on the front rows and their main aim was be one of the 33 qualifiers. With this in mind, they were advised by the 'local' experts who estimated that an average speed of 118 mph could be just about fast enough to qualify, but that this was by no means a sure thing. After four officially timed laps they had both provisionally qualified: Le Bègue in 31st position at 118.981 mph and Dreyfus in last position at 118.831 mph.

Danny Kladis, Morgan Maserati, Indy 1957. This car, though elegant, is by now obsolete compared to the Offenhauser engined cars. Danny failed to qualify. His only participation in the '500' was in 1946 in the Miller Ford 'Grancor Special' owned by the Granatelli brothers.

On returning to the pits, Dreyfus was surrounded by the race stewards and was asked why he did not stop between laps bearing in mind his relatively slow times. Dreyfus replied that he was going as fast as he needed to, given the fact that in Europe all qualifiers had the right to race. The rules of Bumping Out, the process in which drivers are automatically eliminated from the back of the grid by those posting faster times, were explained to him. Given the fact that he was last on the grid, bumping out would be virtually a certainty. Sure enough Drefus was eliminated. He then asked the organisers if he could have another go with his Maserati #22. No, they replied, you are only allowed on turn and you've had it.

Just to prove a point and to satisfy his own ego, Dreyfus was given permission to take out the #49 car of Le Bègue for a few laps to accustom himself to the right line through the turns. He was soon lapping at 123 mph, fast enough to have qualified halfway down the grid. Then disaster; a con-rod broke and the debris holed the block in two places. The engine was 'Kaputt'. Le Bègue, with #49, having qualified, now had a car with no engine. No problem: a few mechanics, supplied by the great Augie Duesenberg, and the drivers themselves installed the engine from car #22 into #49, and got Le Bègue ready for the start.

An official photograph of René Le Bègue (1914-1946) in the Tipo 8CTF 3000. In 1940 he qualified on the last row of the grid. The car finished in 8th position, eight laps behind the winner, Wilbur Shaw, and won $1488 in prize money.

The two Frenchmen agreed to race for 250 miles each and thought 'to hell' with the petty rules of the Indy, after all, once they were racing the rules were the same worldwide: go as fast as you can, nurse the engine and overtake your opponents. Le Bègue, the driver who had qualified in #49, was obliged to start the race: Dreyfus, nominated as reserve driver, would take over at a later stage.

At half distance Le Bèque handed over to Dreyfus, as planned. He was lying in tenth position when it started to rain a little: the American drivers slowed down respecting what today is known as the yellow flag rule i.e. no overtaking. Dreyfus, used to European rules, overtook one driver after another, wondering why the Americans were surrendering their places so easily. He was black flagged, and on returning to the pits it was explained to him that in the event of rain, all drivers must retain their relative positions until the rain stops.

Emil Andres in the ex-Réne Le Bègue Tipo 8CTF #3030, fourth in the 1946 race, the best result of its career.

Dreyfus rejoined the race and took his place in line with the other drivers. It stopped raining and Dreyfus put his foot down quickly overtaking one car after another. He was black flagged yet again. This time on returning to the pits this he was asked why he had ignored the yellow traffic lights on the track. "What lights!", was his answer. So intense had been his concentration during practice, and later during the race that Dreyfus hadn't even noticed them.

He rejoined the race, but by now the race was entering the final stages and he was unable to improve on his tenth position: he finished eight laps behind the winner Wilbur Shaw in the Maserati 8CTF 'Boyle Special'.

An rare photograph of René Dreyfus (1905-1993) in the Tipo 8CTF (possibly #3031) during the first unofficial practice at Indianapolis in 1940. blazened on the bonnet were the crossed flags of France and the United States, motif of Scuderia di Lucy O'Reilly Schell.

After the race Lucy O'Reilly sold both cars to Lou Moore, who had them prepared and ready for the 1941 race as the 'Elgin Piston Pin Special' under the sponsorship of 'Elgin Piston Pin': Mauri Rose qualified in pole position and Duke Nolan was fifteenth on the grid. Rose retired with engine trouble after sixty laps, having led the race for six laps. However, he finally won driving a Floyd Davis car, from the same stable as Lou Moore. Nalon finished in fifteenth place, twenty seven laps behind the winner.

There was no racing at Indianapolis between 1942 and 1945.

In 1946 Scuderuia Milan entered a Tipo 8CL, driven by Luigi Villoresi. The ex-Wilbur Shaw car was entered by Boyle for Ted Horn.

3030 was seen again at Indy in 1946, sponsored yet again by Elgin Piston Pin and driven by Emil Andres, it finished in fourth position. As for 3031, two wins were recorded in the hill climb at Pike's Peak in 1946 and 1947.

Harry Schell, the son of Lucy O'Reilly, at 25 experiences motor racing for the first time at Indianapolis 1946, driving an old Maserati 6-cylinder, numbered 36. He failed to qualify for official practice, nevertheless, it is the start of a memorable career.

Of the two Frenchmen, little or nothing is known of Le Bègue for he died in 1946 aged only 32. Dreyfus joined the US army and after the war, launched a new career, which made him more famous: he opened one of the most well known French restaurants in New York, called Le Chanteclair. He put his motor racing past behind him but never forgot his old racing colleagues and lived happily to the ripe old age of 88: sadly he passed away in 1993.

Maserati Tipo 8CTF #3030 was restored by Tim Dutton for the present owner, Dean Butler, and can frequently be seen today in the more important historic races, usually driven by Martin Walford.


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