Spotlight on Two Classic Maseratis: The Tipo 60 and 61
Before Maserati developed its lineup of high-performance luxury vehicles, the company designed and built racecars.
This heritage is evident in its modern vehicles, which are among the fastest cars on the road. Even after Maserati began creating road vehicles, the company continued to revolutionize racing with its designs. One example of Maserati’s disruption of the racing industry is the Tipo 60 “Birdcage,” which made its debut at Rouen in the Sport category with a young Stirling Moss behind the wheel. The Tipo 60 beat two Lotus 15s and achieved the fastest lap with an average speed of more than 158 kilometers per hour. For 1959, this was an impressive feat. The Birdcage went on to win four Italian hill climb championships and two Italian circuit racing championships.
A Push for a Lightweight, Durable Chassis
The story behind the Tipo 60 begins in 1958. At that time, the Orsi family owned Maserati and enlisted engineer Giulio Alfieri to identify new technical features that would make their vehicles even more competitive on the track. Alfieri received complete freedom in this task, and he came up with a truly unique idea: a monocoque structure. However, this design did not pan out, and Alfieri returned to the drawing board with his team to rethink how they could make a lightweight vehicle that also had high torsional rigidity to withstand rapid acceleration. The chassis they ultimately designed was made from extremely small steel tubes with diameters between 10 and 15 millimeters. Cut to short lengths, these tubes formed a complex mesh that gave the car its nickname: Birdcage.
Alfieri’s team put a small, two-liter, four-cylinder engine at the midpoint of the car, at a 45-degree angle so that the space at the front of the car could be reduced and the center of gravity could be lowered. As a result, the Tipo 60 had incredible balance in terms of weight and aerodynamics. The engine is actually a derivation of that found in the 200S, but with completely restyled cylinder heads and the exhaust shifted to the right side. In addition, the engineers tweaked the bore/stroke ratio from 1.226:1 to 1.302:1. The Tipo 60 was also outfitted with dual Weber 45 DCO3 carburetors and a twin ignition powered by battery. In total, the Tipo 60 produced an impressive 200 horsepower. The drivetrain was supported by spiral front suspension springs and a De Dion rear axle with a transverse leaf spring. The total weight of the vehicle was only 570 kilograms.
Two Classic Maseratis: Tipo 60 & Tipo 61
The Evolution of the Tipo 60 into the Tipo 61
The first Tipo 60 was completed in May 1959 and had a chassis of chromium steel tubes. Stirling Moss was the first to use the car, and he did a series of performance test drives that called into question Alfieri’s choice of materials. The rigidity of the chromium steel caused a number of hairline fractures to form, compromising the safety of the car. Alfieri was criticized when he responded by using lower quality steel in the chassis, but the cheaper material withstood the stress of driving and prevented the development of fractures. The Birdcage was ready for the track.
The Rouen victory, which occurred on July 12, 1959, quickly raised the profile of the new vehicle. Private racing teams around the globe began requesting the vehicle, as did nonprofessional drivers who could afford the price of the performance car. These drivers’ demands actually led to some changes to the original design. Several teams competing in American three-liter competitions pressured Maserati to put a bigger engine in the Birdcage. The company eventually released a version with a four-cylinder, 2,890-cc engine, which produced a total of 250 horsepower. This model’s weight also increased to 600 kilograms because of a larger propeller shaft. This iteration of the Tipo 60 was dubbed the Tipo 61 to represent these changes.
The Impressive Racing Record of the Tipo 61
One of the most impressive things about the Tipo 61 was the fact that fuel consumption remained virtually unchanged from the Tipo 60, despite the larger engine and heavier weight. This fact proved incredibly important in endurance races, as it dramatically reduced the average number of refueling stops the vehicle required. Fewer refueling stops equates to faster race times.
Interestingly, Maserati chose not to field its own official team in 1960. Instead, the company provided support to the American team Camoradi under the direction of Lloyd Casner. Camoradi brought two Tipo 61 vehicles to Nürburgring, and Stirling Moss and Dan Gurney brought the team to victory, while Masten Gregory and Gino Munaron finished in third place. Shortly thereafter, the Tipo 61 set a new record for a three-liter sports car during the Le Mans 24 Hours with a top speed of 270 kilometers per hour.
The triumphs did not end there. Gregory and Casner continued to race the Tipo 61 at Nürburgring and achieved a remarkable victory over a Ferrari 250 TR 61 driven by the Rodriguez brothers from Mexico. At this point, the Birdcage and its unique design had made a permanent mark on international racing.