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1960-Type Maserati Tipo 60/61 'Birdcage' Sports-Racing Re-creation By Crosthwaite & Gardiner
Chassis no. 2478
Engine no. 2478
Offered here is a faithful re-creation of the Maserati 'Birdcage', a car that no less a driver than Sir Stirling Moss has described as 'fabulous... light, very nimble, fantastic brakes, super steering, enormous torque and good power. Unusually for a Maserati it didn't leak much oil and you could drive it pretty hard and it still stayed together...' Praise indeed from the maestro.
During the winter of 1958/59, Maserati chief engineer Giulio Alfieri, creator of the legendary World Championship-winning 250F Grand Prix car, began designing a new sports-racer to contest the 2-Litre class. One of his main concerns was that this new car should be light, and Alfieri considered using a monocoque chassis, which Jaguar had deployed to good effect in its Le Mans-winning D-Type. However, expertise in this then novel form of construction was lacking in Italy so he drew up a comprehensively triangulated lightweight spaceframe chassis comprised of small diameter tubes, some 200 in number. It was this intricate structure that gave the car its nickname: 'Birdcage'. Remarkably, the chassis tipped the scales at only 36kg (79lb).
This ultimate front-engined sports-racer would be produced in two versions: 2.0-litre Tipo 60 and 2.9-litre Tipo 61. Both were powered by four-cylinder twin-overhead-camshaft engines, canted over to the right at 45 degrees in order to achieve a lower bonnet line and thus reduce aerodynamic drag, an increasingly important factor. New Le Mans regulations stipulated a tall windscreen, and the Birdcage's low scuttle helped keep the car's overall height to the minimum. In addition there was a five-speed gearbox, ZF limited-slip differential, independent front suspension, a De Dion rear axle and crucially Girling disc brakes all round. Approximate maximum power outputs were 200bhp (Tipo 60) and 250bhp (Tipo 61) and the cars had kerb weights of 585kg and 600kg respectively.
Driving the works-entered Tipo 60 prototype, chassis number '2451', Stirling Moss won on the Birdcage's debut at Reims in July 1959, in the sports car race supporting the French Grand Prix, after which it was sold to a private entrant, as were the other five cars in the initial batch produced. The prototype's purchaser was the American airline-pilot Lloyd Perry 'Lucky' Casner, founder of the Casner Motor Racing Division team, otherwise known as 'Camoradi'. Casner would go on to purchase a further three 2.9-litre Tipo 61 cars, having had '2451' upgraded to this specification immediately prior to purchase. A leading figure in the Birdcage story, Casner would provide the car's first major international victory when the Camoradi-entered Stirling Moss won the Cuban Grand Prix in 1960, beating Pedro Rodriguez in a Ferrari.
In other long-distance races, the Birdcages proved fast but fragile and sometimes suffered cruel bad luck, as in the 1960 Targa Florio. In that race the Camoradi entry, driven by local aces Nino Vaccarella and Umberto Maglioli, was leading when a stone punctured the fuel tank with only two laps remaining, causing Vaccarella to crash. Camoradi moved on to the Nürburgring for the 1,000km where one of their entries, driven by Moss and Dan Gurney, won the race in appalling conditions despite losing time with broken oil line. Driving with Masten Gregory, Casner would win this race the following year, making it two in a row for Camoradi and the Birdcage.
The Birdcage's short front and rear overhangs made it highly manoeuvrable and thus ideally suited to racing on short circuits and hill climbs. Le Mans, however, placed a premium on straight-line speed and stability. Camoradi fielded three Tipo 61s at Le Mans in 1960 and had at its disposal a new aerodynamic body that had been developed by Alfieri using a wind tunnel. This new body, which featured a huge, shallow windscreen and a long tapering tail, became known as the 'Streamliner'. Driven by Gregory and Chuck Daigh, the fastest of the three Birdcages had built up a four-minute lead over the pursuing Ferraris after two hours, clocking 169mph (272km/h) along the Mulsanne Straight, a record speed for a 3-litre car. Sadly, the Birdcage later succumbed to engine failure and failed to finish. Neither of the other Camoradi Birdcages completed the race. In the shorter races in North America the Birdcage fared rather better, the Tipo 61s of Gus Audrey and Roger Penske winning the SCCA championship in 1960 and '61 respectively. Indeed, the Tipo 61's first ever race victory was gained in the USA when Edwin Martin won at Dothan Airport, Alabama in October 1959.
In total, Maserati had built some 21 Tipo 60/61 cars by the time production of the front-engined Birdcage ceased in December 1960, the vast majority of which found their way to customers in the USA. As is the case with rare sports-racing exotica, the growth of the historic motor sports scene in more recent times has seen demand greatly exceed supply, leading to the creation of replicas such as that offered here.
A true and faithful recreation of the Maserati Tipo 61 Birdcage, this example was supplied to the renowned competition car collector, the late Rodney Smith by Crosthwaite & Gardiner, one the world's most respected manufacturers and suppliers of parts to the historic motor racing industry. Founded in the 1960s by Dick Crosthwaite and John Gardiner, the company began by specialising in working on and manufacturing parts for Bugattis, moving on to remanufacture classic racing engines including the Coventry Climax FPF, Jaguar D-Type and Maserati Birdcage. Over the years they have looked after some of the world's most important historic racing cars as well as running Alain de Cadenet's Le Mans programme during the 1970s. Having restored a 1939 Mercedes-Benz W154 and a handful of Auto Union D-Types, they were commissioned by Audi to build a recreation of their legendary pre-war 'Silver Arrow' and have made seven so far.
Naturally the dimensions and shape of the original Tipo 61 were all exactly recreated in the production of this car, while the 2.9-litre engine and running gear is also all the work of Crosthwaite & Gardiner. This car has been extensively raced on the historic scene, especially at VSCC meetings in the UK, and has been immaculately prepared and sorted by David Morris Race Preparation, a renowned specialist in preparing Maserati and ERA racing cars. Receipts on file confirm that it has been extremely well maintained at all times.
Acknowledged by Sir Stirling Moss as '...the finest front-engined sports-racing car ever built', the Maserati Birdcage in the right hands is more than capable of giving the mid-engined opposition a run for their money today. Offered with the latest FIA HTP papers (valid through 2025), this Maserati Birdcage is an outstanding, fully sorted and very competitive example. It is eligible for numerous prestigious events including Classic Le Mans, Goodwood Revival, GT & Sports Car Cup, Motor Racing Legends Stirling Moss Trophy, VSCC Sports Car Series, etc and as such is surely the gentleman driver's dream.