Eighty years ago, the Maserati 8CTF “Boyle Special” triumphed on the Indiana oval…
On May 30th, 2019, Maserati celebrated the eightieth anniversary of the Maserati 8CTF’s fantastic win at the Indianapolis 500. On Sunday May 30 1939, the Maserati 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 115 miles.
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.
In 1938, 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 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 just under the 3000 cc cap, the engine was supercharged, with two carbs, and two overhead camshafts, all powering the 1700 pound Italian to near 180 MPH top speed.
The Maserati 8CTF came to Indianapolis after taking part in a number of races in 1938 which revealed its great potential. These results had attracted a number of customers, who had placed orders for the car. This was how Maserati came to sell a Maserati 8CTF to the Chicago-based US team Boyle Racing Headquarters, owned by Irishman Michael Joseph “Mike” Boyle. Boyle, passionate about motorsports from an early age, had set himself the goal of winning America’s most famous race, the Indianapolis 500, with a car funded by himself and managed by his team.
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 almost 129 miles an hour (or 207.7 km/h), and came home victorious after leading for 51 laps. 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.
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.
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.