1938 Maserati 8CTF: From the Grand Prix Circuit to the Indy 500

by | May 2, 2019 | Car Biographies, Motorsport

Photos: Peter Harholdt

1938 Maserati 8CTF: From the Grand Prix Circuit to the Indy 500

by | May 2, 2019 | Car Biographies, Motorsport

Photos: Peter Harholdt

Since when are Italian race cars painted blue?

Good question: Why is the Miles Collier Collections’ 1938 Maserati 8CTF, famed for racing in the Indianapolis 500, painted bleu de France? Also, why is the story behind this many-louvered machine and its run at Indy as interesting as the car?

This Maserati 8CTF that resides in the Miles Collier Collections at the Revs Institute had a gallant career on both sides of the Atlantic.

We’ll start with the Maserati. For the 1938 Grand Prix season, Maserati created three 8CTFs, serial numbers 3030, 3031 and 3032. The Orsi family now owned the company, but the Maserati brothers still designed the cars, which for 1938 were built to a new formula that stipulated 3.0-liter supercharged or 4.5-liter unblown engines.

Using experience from their 4-cylinder, 1,500-cc 4CM race cars, the brothers created a 3.0-liter straight-8 engine that basically combined two of the four-cylinder “monoblocs“ (in which block and head are single castings) on a common crankcase. This testa fissa design, common in racecars of the era, is reflected in the TF in the 8CTF’s name. At the side of the engine, a pair of Roots-type superchargers huffed into cylinders as twin overhead camshafts activated the valves.

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This engine and its 4-speed gearbox went into a box-section frame further strengthened by a large X-shape magnesium casting that contained the oil tank and doubled as the seat mount. Up front are double-wishbone suspension with torsion bars, out back a live axle on quarter-elliptic leaf springs. Weighing in at 1,716 pounds, the 8CTFs certainly had potential. One problem stood in their way: the Germans, as in Mercedes-Benz and Auto Union.

In reality, the Maseratis were quick but also fragile. Instead of 8CTF, the cars could have been named 8DNF — as in “did not finish.” Of the 14 Grands Prix in which the trio of Maseratis raced, they suffered eight dnfs, one accident and one disqualification. The only finish of note was a third in the 1939 German Grand Prix with chassis 3031 driven, ironically, by a German, Paul Pietsch.

Still more irony: One of the seemingly fragile 8CTFs — No. 3032 — was shipped to the U.S. in 1939. It became the Boyle Special owned by the reportedly corrupt Chicago labor boss “Umbrella Mike” Boyle.

This Maserati was raced in the Indianapolis 500 a staggering eight times. It won twice (1939 and 1940 with Wilbur Shaw driving), finished third two times (1946, 1947) and fourth once (1948). So much for unreliability, but the thanks should go to engine guru Cotton Henning, who engineered a new crankshaft and changed the firing order of the straight-8. Fittingly, the car is on display at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum.

What of the other two 8CTFs? Meet the Schells: Lucy O’Reilly Schell, Laury Schell and their son, Harry Schell — expatriate Americans who lived a life of luxury in Paris and Monte Carlo thanks to Lucy’s family money.

Also meet René Dreyfus, race driver extraordinaire. In 1938, Dreyfus, driving a Delahaye 145 GP backed by the Schells’ Ecurie Bleue team, beat the Germans at their own grand prix game at Pau — a French race car backed by Americans driven by a Jewish driver beating the Nazi-backed German teams. One suspects Hitler was not amused.

In his autobiography, ”My Two Lives: Race Driver to Restaurateur,” Dreyfus wrote that the older Schells were “both crazy about cars.”

The couple created Ecurie Bleue, painting their competition cars the racing color of their adopted country and buying the other two 8CTFs, 3030 and 3031.

Sadly, the parents were involved in a car accident in Paris in October 1939 and Laury was killed. Lucy O’Reilly Schell was injured, but undeterred.

Dreyfus wrote of her: “She was assertive, forceful, aggressive — and since these were qualities one seldom found in European women, French women particularly, I assumed they were entirely native to that large country across the Atlantic. What Lucy wanted, Lucy got …”

Which in early 1940 meant shipping the pair of bleu de France 8CTFs to Indianapolis for the 500. As important as the cars were two men who came with the team. One was Dreyfus as a driver, the other a mechanic by the name of Luigi Chinetti.

Dreyfus would go on to serve with the U.S. Army during World War II and eventually become an important part of the U.S. racing scene, a treasured statesman for the sport. Chinetti, who got his third win at Le Mans in 1949 in a Ferrari began importing Ferraris after the war and went on to establish the marque in the U.S.

As preface to that, Dreyfus, Chinetti and the other driver, René Le Bègue, plus the two O’Reilly Schell Maseratis, arrived at Indy for the 1940 500. What followed was a humorous story of language barriers — the two Renés and Chinetti spoke no English — and Indy’s eccentric rules and track layout. (The three Europeans could have been forgiven for thinking there was no such phrase as “right-hand turn” in English).

It didn’t help that Dreyfus’ drive, 8CTF 3031, broke a connecting rod in practice. So the pair of Renés shared 3030, the car in the Collier Collection, to finish 10th. It likely would have been higher but for confusion over the rules.

After the 1940 Indy 500, the Schells sold the two 8CTFs. Chassis 3030 ran at Indy four more times without notable results. Chassis 3031 was raced at the 500 nine times up to 1953, also with no especially noteworthy finishes. However, Louis Unser scored victories with Maserati 8CTF 3031 in the 1946 and 1947 Pikes Peak Hill Climb.

Chassis 3030 was also raced at Pikes Peak, and its best result there was a second place finish by Louis “Louie” Unser. When its racing career was finished, it passed from one owner to the next. One of them, Robert Rubin, had it restored to its O’Reilly Schell Indy condition by noted restorer Chris Leydon. Then it traveled to England with Dean Butler and, finally, to the Miles Collier Collections in Naples, FL. 

As for the Schells, Lucy retreated to their Monaco home and passed away at age 56 before World War II ended. Her son Harry’s Formula 1 career started in 1950 at Monaco, and he raced in 56 Grands Prix for the likes of Maserati, Vanwall, BRM and Ferrari. Occasionally, under the Ecurie Bleue team title, he drove a Cooper-Climax. While practicing in the rain for a race at Silverstone in 1960, driving a Cooper entered by the Yeoman Credit Racing Team, Schell crashed and was killed.

 Au revoir, Ecurie Bleue.

——–

For added insight into Maseratis at Indy, the Schells and Mike Boyle, search the internet for a copy of Brock Yates’s book, “Umbrella Mike: The True Story of the Chicago Gangster Behind the Indy 500.”

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