Thursday, 1 November 2018

Maserati Tipo 420M-58 "Eldorado" (1958)

Maserati constructed the Tipo 420M-58 for the 500 Miles of Monza race. It was especially designed to succeed on the city's fast, technically demanding circuit.

The car had a tubular chassis inspired by the reduced-weight 250F, the front suspensions of the 450S with the unusual feature of a lever damper on the left and a telescopic one on the right, and De Dion rear axle with oversized components. Tipo 420M-58 was better known as the “Eldorado” thanks to the famous sponsor. The car's white bodywork carried a large Eldorado logo, which gave it its nickname.

The engine was a V8 derived from the 4.5 litre unit, with displacement reduced to 4.2 litres and vertical carburettors. In view of the anticlockwise running direction chosen by the organisers of the 500 Miles of Monza, the engine was mounted on the left of the chassis, and not aligned with its longitudinal axis. The gearbox with just 2 speeds, the first only used for the start, was mounted on the rear axle which, interestingly, had no differential.

The car's overall layout provided excellent weight distribution, a factor more than fundamental for high cornering speed, particularly important at Monza, a circuit famed for its long, very testing banked “Parabolica” corner. After the initial test drives, the spoked wheels were abandoned in favour of light alloy alternatives fitted with large Firestone tyres inflated with helium for the utmost weight reduction.

At Monza on 29 June 1958 the “Eldorado” with Stirling Moss at the wheel performed well in the first two heats, finishing in 4th and 5th places. Unfortunately, the steering failed in the 40th lap of the third and final heat and the car went off the track at over 260 km/h. In spite of the accident and retirement, Moss was still awarded seventh place by reason of the three heat results and the total number of laps completed. He walked away unscathed from the crash and, all things considered, the “Eldorado” too suffered only limited damage, proving the value of its solid structure.

Despite the success in terms of spectator numbers and entertainment value, the 500 Miles of Monza did not become a regular event on the racing calendar. Based on the findings from the race, the “Eldorado” was modified by the Gentilini bodywork shop, which removed the rear fin and reduced the hood scoop, after which the car was entered in the Indianapolis 500 in 1959.

This time it was finished in red, the colour denoting Italy in competitions, but still emblazoned with the Eldorado sponsor’s name in white lettering on the sides, as well as the cowboy logo in a white circle on the nose and tail. The inexperience of the gentleman-driver, Ralph Liguori, meant that the car failed to qualify, as it set the 36th fastest time, with only the first 33 qualifying.

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