Published on June 4th, 2019 | by Amirul Mukminin


Maserati 8CTF: Fantastic Win at the Indianapolis 500 in 1939

Maserati is celebrating the eightieth anniversary of the Maserati 8CTF’s fantastic win at the Indianapolis 500. On Sunday May 30 1939, the 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 185 km/h.

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 US for the Trident marque, as Alfieri Maserati had previously been invited by the organisers 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 carburettors and two volumetric compressors. The timing system, with two valves per cylinder in a 90° V arrangement, was driven by two overhead camshafts.

Early in 1939, Boyle’s team manager, Harry W. “Cotton” Henning, arrived in Bologna to buy an 8CTF from Maserati. Once delivered to America, the car was prepared for the race with larger wheels and Firestone tyres, and painted in the Boyle Racing Headquarters amaranth colour livery.

It was entered as a “Boyle Special” in the hands of Warren Wilbur Shaw, who started the race, on 30 May 1939, with the third fastest qualifying time, recorded at 207.7 km/h, and came home victorious after leading for 51 laps ahead of Louis Meyer’s Stevens-Winfield and Jimmy Snyder’s Adams-Sparks. This was a historic victory for Maserati, since no European car had won on the Indiana track since 1919.

Its 1939 triumph brought Maserati huge international recognition, and at the next edition of the Indianapolis 500 three more of its cars were entered as well as the one driven by Shaw himself. Wilbur Shaw won again in 1940, confirming the 8CTF’s superiority in terms of speed, reliability over long distances and excellent road holding.

The 8CTF’s amazing career, one of the longest and most glorious of any single-seater racer, ended in 1950, after Bill Vulcanich failed to qualify for that year’s Indianapolis 500.

In 2014 the United States HVA (Historical Vehicle Association) registered the legendary Maserati 8CTF as the first non-American production car to be awarded a permanent place in the annals of the US Library of Congress. Recorded under the Secretary of the Interior’s “Standards for Heritage Documentation”, the documentation has been placed in the NHVR (National Historic Vehicle Register) and HAER (Historic American Engineering Record).

One of the three cars built, chassis number 3032, the one in which Wilbur Shaw triumphed in at the 1939 and 1940 Indianapolis 500, has been reconfigured with the paintwork it bore on those glorious days and is currently on display at the Indianapolis Speedway Museum.

Key technical features of the Tipo 8CTF:
Engine: vertical straight eight
Displacement: 2.991 cm³
Power: 350 hp; 365 hp from 1939
Transmission: Mechanical four speeds + reverse
Chassis: riveted C-section pressed steel section rails and cross-members
Weight: 780 kg
Top speed: 290 km/h

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