This week, Maserati celebrates the 80th anniversary of the Maserati 8CTF’s fantastic win at the Indianapolis 500. On Sunday May 30, 1939, the Maserati 8CTF, driven by 27-year-old Warren Wilbur Shaw, crossed the line first after a race lasting 4 hours and 20 minutes at an average speed of over 115 miles (equivalent to 185 km) per hour. Even today, Indiana-born Wilbur Shaw is still one of the 5 most successful drivers in the history of the Indianapolis race, with 3 victories (1937, 1939 and 1940, the last two at the wheel of an 8CTF) and 3 second places (1933, 1935 and 1938), out of a total of 13 appearances.
This was not the first experience in the U.S. for the Trident marque, as Alfieri Maserati had previously been invited by the organizers to attend a number of races, in America, in the early 1930s. Subsequently, the sale of the company’s shares to the Orsi Group, in May 1937, enabled the Maserati brothers to concentrate on designing new racing cars. At that time, the international racing authority had decided to change the technical rules for Grand Prix cars: with effect from 1938 they were going to introduce tighter restrictions, with displacement no longer unregulated but now limited on the basis of the car’s weight, with a maximum of 3,000-cc for supercharged engines. Ernesto Maserati based the development and construction of a new car, called the 8CTF, on these new rules.
The chassis adopted the standard layout for single-seater racers of the era, with two steel-section bar rails and cross-members, while the car had a straight-8 engine with cylinders in two groups of 4, cast in a monoblock with the cylinder head: hence the name “8CTF”, or 8 cylinders “Testa Fissa” (fixed head).
Displacement was 2,991.4-cc with a compression ratio of 6.5:1 and the engine was supercharged, with two carburetors and two superchargers. The timing system, with two valves per cylinder in a 90° V arrangement, was driven by two overhead camshafts.
The Maserati 8CTF came to Indianapolis after taking part in a number of races, in 1938, which revealed its great potential: Count Carlo Felice Trossi had led the Tripoli GP for several laps, and had taken pole position in the Coppa Ciano. The legendary Luigi “Gigi” Villoresi had recorded the fastest lap in the Coppa Acerbo. These results had attracted a number of customers, who had placed orders for the car. This was how Maserati came to sell a Maserati 8CTF to the Chicago-based U.S. team Boyle Racing Headquarters, owned by Irishman Michael Joseph “Mike” Boyle. Boyle, passionate about motorsports from an early age, had set himself the goal of winning America’s most famous race, the Indianapolis 500, with a car funded by himself and managed by his team. Before purchasing the Maserati 8CTF, Boyle had taken part in several editions of the race with other cars: Summers, Cooper, Smith, entered in the various years under the Boyle Products/Henning, Boyle Motor Products or IBEW Boyle Racing names, but with little to show for it.