By : Joan MacKay Petti - Foreign Editor
In 1937, the Maserati brothers had sold the company they had founded to the Orsi family. One of the conditions of the sale was that they continued to work for the specialist racing car manufacturer for continuity's sake. Working for somebody else did no wonders for the brothers' motivation but their passion for engineering still resulted in some remarkable machines. The best of these was the 4CL voiturette racer, which featured a sophisticated sixteen-valve, four-cylinder engine.
Encouraged by the success of the 4CL, Ernesto Maserati set about creating an eight-cylinder derivative in 1939 to compete in Grand Prix racing. Although it was not quite as straightforward, Maserati merged two of the 4CL's engines to create a three-litre, straight eight engine. This new 8CL was the replacement the 8CTF of 1938, which featured an eight-cylinder engine of the previous generation with just two-valves per cylinder but did win the Indy 500 in 1939.
Mounted on a single crankcase, the 8CL engine featured a pair of cast-iron cylinder blocks with the heads casted integrally. For each cylinder there were two exhaust and two intake valves. These were actuated by a pair of overhead camshafts, which in turn were driven from the crankshaft through gears mounted on the nose of the engine. Showing its close relation to the 4CL engine was the identical bore and stroke of 78 mm, which provided a swept volume of 2,981cc.
The eight-cylinder engine featured a dry-sump oil system and single spark ignition. Two Roots-type superchargers were mounted at the nose of the engine. Each supercharger was fitted with a double barrel Memini carburettor and fed one of the two banks of four cylinders. Each of the sixteen exhaust ports had a separate header pipe, so it was immediately obvious the 8CL had four valves per cylinder. The three-litre engine was rated at 415 bhp at around 6,600 rpm.
Mated to a four-speed gearbox, the eight-cylinder engine was installed in Maserati's familiar pressed-steel ladder frame. Suspension was by double wishbones with torsion bar springs at the front and a live axle with semi-elliptic leaf springs at the rear. Hydraulically actuated drum brakes were fitted on all four corners. The 8CL was clothed in a tightly wrapped single seater body that consisted of aluminium panels mounted on a steel frame. The dry weight of the car was 630 kg.
There was some interest in the 8CL, including from 1939 Indy winner Wilbur Shaw, but ultimately only a single car was built for the 1940 season due to the outbreak of World War II. This car was bought by Argentinean Raoul Riganti, who intended to race the car at Indy as motor racing in North America was not yet suspended. Unfortunately, he crashed his 8CL heavily in practice and could not take the start. Eventually repaired, it was raced with little success in South America after the War.
With peace returned in Europe, Maserati received an order for a second 8CL in 1946 from Scuderia Milan. The car benefited from some updates including a revised carburettor setup, which freed a further 15 bhp. No longer eligible to race in Europe, the new 8CL was immediately shipped to the United States where Luigi Villoresi finished eighth in the Indy 500. Occasionally raced in Libre events in Europe, it later made three more Indy 500 appearances with a 25th as the only noteworthy result.
In 1950, two further eight-cylinder cars were built using an all-new tubular spaceframe chassis. These 8CLTs were not successful and ultimately sold to race in New Zeeland. This was a low profile to the end of an era for Maserati. The brothers had left the company and were now operating under the O.S.C.A. moniker, while Maserati rolled a new generation of six-cylinder engine racing and road cars.