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Lot 130: Maserati V4 Sedici Cilindri By Hartley Formule Libre Grand Prix Racing Two-Seater

Goodwood Revival Sale, Bonhams (15 September 2012)

Back in the mid-1960s Peter Coltrin, the American-born honorary Modenese who was very much the most sage observer of the Italian racing and high-performance car scene, made us aware of a critical difference between Italy's leading postwar marques, Ferrari and Maserati. "While Ferrari", he declared, " a one-man dictatorship with Enzo playing tunes his clients must dance to, Maserati is more like a family or a club. If they recognise you as a kindred spirit, you're in...". For decades Maserati really did present the warm, engaging and thoroughly friendly face of the Italian commercial racing car industry, and through changing ownerships the marque achieved a remarkable consistency in its personnel – many of whom grew-up, lived, worked and indeed died as, to the core, Maserati people. Perhaps this distinctive 'family' feel which the company enjoyed and demonstrated for at least its first four decades was inevitable, given the unique family ties of its creators – the brothers Maserati themselves. Rodolfo Maserati had been a mechanically-minded 19th century artisan – an engine driver on the Italian railways. He and his wife Carolina (nee Losi) lived in Piacenza. They had seven sons, Carlo (born 1881), Bindo (1883), Alfieri (born 1885 but quickly died, this son's name then being given to the fourth born, in 1887), followed by Mario (1890), Ettore (1894) and Ernesto (1898). Amongst them all the second son, Alfieri, and kid brother Ernesto, would prove to be the brightest and shrewdest, the natural leaders. But the oldest boy, Carlo, had already shown them how. With the exception of Mario – who became an accomplished painter – they all followed Papa into the world of mechanics and engineering. At just 17, Carlo - apprenticed to a bicycle manufacturer outside Milan - conceived a single-cylinder motor-cycle engine, which attracted a sponsor in the Marchese Carcano, and at 19 Carlo Maserati was winning his class in local events astride a Carcano machine of largely his own design. He moved to Fiat, then to Isotta-Fraschini as engineer/test driver, followed – in 1908 – by Bianchi, where he became General Manager. But in 1919 he died. During his time with Isotta he had secured places there for brothers Alfieri – aged just 16 – Bindo and Ettore. Alfieri progressed rapidly from gopher to tester, then service engineer. He and Ettore were despatched to Isotta Argentina for a time, then London before settling in Bologna to run customer service. Alfieri chafed under direction from Milan, and on December 14, 1914, he founded the Societa Anonima Officine Alfieri Maserati in tiny rented premises in Bologna's Via de' Popoli. Tempering his independence with the security of a major client umbrella, Alfieri was to specialise in race-preparing Isotta engines. Twenty-year old Ettore and 16-year old Ernesto joined their 27-year old big brother, and five mechanics, in the new business. Ernesto kept it afloat while his elder brothers served in World War 1. Alfieri celebrated 'demob' by founding a spark-plug business in Milan, which he moved to Bologna in 1919 as the family reunited, taking a larger workshop in the Alemanni district, or Ponte Vecchio. While Bindo would stay with Isotta for 20 years, Alfieri developed some very quick Isotta specials which he raced with flair and success, 1920-22. His exploits won him a consultancy with Diatto who loaned him one of their cars to develop and race, alongside a ferocious Hispano-Suiza V8-engined special of his own. Diatto eventually commissioned Alfieri to build a supercharged 2-litre straight-8 Grand Prix car for 1925, probably designed by their in-house Chief Engineer Giuseppe Coda, but they ran out of finance. Using the GP Diatto experience, Alfieri then led his brothers in constructing the first Maserati - the Tipo 26 - for 1926. The artist brother – Mario – was probably responsible for their chosen badge, the trident inspired by the statue of Neptune adorning Bologna's Piazza Nettuno. Customers who had previously had Isottas prepared by the boys were now exhorted to buy new Tipo 26s. For 1927 a 2-litre Tipo 26B was developed. Alfieri drove it to 3rd overall and a class win upon its public debut, in the Targa Florio. Maserati ended 1927 as Italian Champion Manufacturer in their class. The 1928 Mille Miglia saw a memorable drive by Mario Umberto 'Baconin' Borzacchini/Ernesto Maserati whose 26B led the favoured Alfas and Bugattis. Maserati cars were more literally handbuilt than most rival manufacturers'. Alfieri then increased the pressures upon himself, his brothers and their men by forcing through completion of a fantastic new Grand Prix car – the Maserati V4. This was the prototype Maserati Sedici Cilindri–V16 – employing two 26B straight-8 blocks side-by side in a 12.5-degree vee on a unit crankcase – 4-litres, 280bhp and around 2,250lbs weight. In this projectile, Alfieri was rocket fast at Monza lapping at 124.2mph , a circuit record which survived until 1954. On September 28 at Cremona, 'Baconin' Borzacchini raised the 10-mile International Class C World Speed Record tono less than 246.069km/h – 152.93mph. To achieve such an average speed over such a distance was reported by the British magazine 'The Motor' as demonstrating "...a speed which would have beaten the Land Speed Record itself if established five years before...". The young company's feat with 'V4' attracted banner headlines, fresh capital was injected – up to L1-million from Alfieri's original L50,000 – and early in 1930 with 1-2 domination of the Tripoli GP – Borzacchini scoring the first-ever major-league Maserati Grand Prix victory in V4 from Luigi Arcangeli's 2100 – the new marque's cup runneth over... Its wealthy sporting clientele and generous new funding enabled Maserati to weather the depths of the Great Depression. Alfieri's latest 26M model with 2.5-litre straight-8 supercharged engine delivering a reliable 180-190bhp emerged in both Gran Premio and Sports trim. One led the Mille Miglia again, driven by the irrepressible Arcangeli, 'til it broke. Then he won the Premio Reale at Rome's Littorio circuit, where Alfieri debuted the new 1,100cc Maserati Tipo 26C Vetturetta – and won his class. Win on Sunday – sell on Monday. Maserati was in demand... Borzacchini's trip to the Indianapolis '500' with V4 proved abortive, but Maserati's stock was still rising fast beyond Italy's borders as the great Achille Varzi – estranged from Alfa Romeo – drove a 26M to victory in the San Sebastian GP. Maserati had earned its second Italian Manufacturers' Championship title. The company was regarded purely as a racing car manufacturer, until the 1931 Milan Salone saw a touring 26M-based Castagna-bodied Gran Sport displayed, Zagato built a 26M Spider and Castagna a Cabriolet. Italian dictator Benito Mussolini, himself a racing enthusiast, effectively knighted Alfieri with the Fascist title Cavaliere. But having lost a kidney following a racing accident at Messina, Alfieri's remaining kidney began to fail and he died under surgery on March 3, 1932, aged just 44. Brother Bindo now left Isotta Fraschini to join Ettore and young Ernesto as President of the Bologna business – and seven weeks after Alfieri's death a new V5 5-litre Sedici Cilindri demolished all opposition upon its debut to win Rome's Premio Reale, in the hands of Luigi Fagioli. By that time Maserati was a name truly to be conjured with, and its two successive V16-cylinder racing designs had proved themselves the world's fastest cars. Anthony Hartley was inspired by seeing fellow British enthusiast John Howell's ongoing restoration work upon the original Maserati V4 Sedici Cilindri. One day he collected the power-boat 'V5' V16-cylinder engine crankcase No '5002' on Mr Howell's behalf, and while he had it he prepared drawings from it "just out of interest". Subsequently, studying the drawing, he began to consider building himself a reproduction of it because the V16's cylinder blocks, heads and most of the internals were pure Maserati Tipo 26B, of which he had already accumulated immense knowledge, and numerous parts. This amazing recreation has taken some 20,000 hours work to complete. Anthony Hartley himself hand-made most of the components. The two 2-litre blocks are mounted each at 12.5-degrees on the common crankcase, in which the two individual crankshafts rotate clockwise, driving a central power-take-off gear which rotates anti-clockwise. This dictates that the crown-wheel and pinion are mounted the opposite way to normal. This stupendous mechanical assembly includes two crankshafts, 16 connecting rods and pistons, 32 valves, 64 valve springs, 55 ball races, 29 gears – plus eight in the oil pumps – two superchargers, four oil pumps, two water pumps, four camshafts and in all some 3,500 individual component parts. Just the crankshafts alone started out as 220lb steel billets. Anthony Hartley removed some 140lbs of that metal while hand-crafting them to shape on his lathe. All castings are in aluminium, whereas the originals were in magnesium apart from cast-iron heads and blocks. A note written by Mr Hartley within the documentation file provided with this Lot, declares simply: "For the record my 'V4' is a replica built around an original 8C-3000 fifty years' time someone will be saying it was found in a shed in Bologna in the '90s...". He confirms that the chassis frame, made for him by specialist Gino Hoskins, is 150mm longer than the original so as to accomodate a longer legged driver, while main castings are in aluminium instead of the original short-life magnesium; the front axle was made to an original 'V5' drawing; the drum brakes are 'V5'-type 400mm diameter drums with twin-circuit hydraulic actuation, Mr Hartley explaining: "So it stops, since the original V4 brakes were much smaller and cable-operated!". The engine cylinder heads and blocks – all patterned and machined by Mr Hartley himself are cast in aluminium instead of cast iron. Throughout the project, the car has benefited from its constructor's accumulated decades of Maserati knowledge, experience, factory drawings and parts that could be copied or inspected for further information. Today this car is offered for sale accompanied by a comprehensive file including drawings and photographs, while top and lower crankcase halves, patterns and core boxes are also included, along with the wooden buck used to create the car's aluminium nose cowl. Amongst the documentation, some letters speak volumes about this remarkable recreation's imposingly charismatic qualities. One from a fellow Maserati enthusiast in 2006 declares:"What a pleasure it was to see you at Dunsfold with all 16 cylinders chiming merrily. I wish there were words of praise suitable to your achievement in replicating the original car so beautifully. Many pundits in the VSCC voiced the opinion that it could never be achieved, but to see you rocketing down the straight at Dunsfold and to hear the heady sound of 16 pots singing together, made my day...". Mr Hartley recalls that "According to the rev counter at Dunsfold that day it reached about 140mph – I was a bit concerned it would end up in Guildford..." In period the Sedici Cilindri Maserati V4 was absolutely the fastest road racing car in the world. Enthusiastic crowds flocked to see it race at Monza, at Littorio and in Tripoli while it was also a rousing sight – and sound – howling around the brick-paved American Speedway at Indianapolis. Right now this wonderfully reconstructed, intricate and immensely powerful reproduction V16 is poised and ready to do the same again...

Lot Details
Auction Goodwood Revival Sale
Bonhams, Chichester, Goodwood
Lot Number130
Outcome SOLD
Hammer Price£385000
Hammer Price (inc premium)£432700
Condition rating
Registration number
Chassis number4001.AH
Engine number4001.AH
Engine capacity (cc)
Engine - cylinders
Number of doors