If you ask me, the video above is simple, serene driving bliss. By today’s standards, it is a dinosaur. Piloting the Maserati 250F was something akin to riding a bull. It tried to buck you out of the seat as its leaf-spring, de Dion tube suspension struggled to compensate for the bumps in the road. It heaved and dove constantly with both acceleration and breaking. Every maneuver required the car to be placed in just the right posture to correctly flick it in the desired direction.
Fangio, in practice and in race, hit his apexes with scientific accuracy. Although substantially down on horsepower compared to a modern racer, it was down even more grip. The end result was a car that took more than precision to drive, it took clairvoyance.
Much quality material has been written on the Maserati 250F, and I encourage you to search it out. This post could not possibly summarize the totality of the accomplishments of this the great car; however, this post does present a brief defense of the Maserati 250F. The Maserati 250F is the epitome of front-engined grand prix cars.
The Maserati 250F, chassis and engine were penned by Gioacchino Colombo (1903-1988). This gives the 250F engine one-hell of a pedigree, considering the trajectory that Colombo’s career had taken thus far.
At 35 years old, Colombo designed the Alfa Romeo 158 “Alfetta” engine, an itself legendary car that saw success both before and after World War II. In creating such a successful racer, he attracted a new employer, Enzo Ferrari. Enzo convinced Colombo to design a (tiny by todays standards) V12. It was only one-and-a-half liters, but it was used in a number of early Ferraris including the Tipo 125, 159, and 166 sports cars. Eventually enlarged to 4.8 liters, it was also the basis for the legendary Ferrari 250 engines.
Next, Colombo parted ways with Ferrari in 1950 and returned to Alfa Romeo. He was involved with the success of Nino Farina in 1950 and Juan-Manuel Fangio in 1951. When Colombo returned to Maserati in 1953, he began work on the straight-six engine and the whole of the Maserati 250F.
In some regards, the Colombo merely evolved an existing Maserati—their 1952 Formula 2 car. Initially, he was tasked with directly improving this car. He raised the horsepower from 175 to 190. He also improved the suspension, brakes, and various other components.
190 horsepower might not seem like a lot of horsepower, but on the tires of the day, it would have been brutal to control. In fact, the car had some success taking it to the Scuderia Ferrari in 1953. By the time that happened, Gioacchino Colombo was already at work in developing the new 2.5 liter Maserati 250F. This car was designed by a master engineer at the apogee of his career.
The Maserati was, and is, the archetypal front-engined grand prix car. In law, there is something called a “model plaintiff.” In a class action suit, involving dozens or hundreds of plaintiffs, one must be chosen to represent all the others. In this regard, the model plaintiff has the most in common with everyone else in the class, but it also paints their cause of action in a favorable light. Of all front-engined grand prix cars, I believe the Maserati 250 would be the so-called “model plaintiff.” Thus, I consider it to be the archetypal front-engined grand prix car.
There were only a handful of front engined 1950s racers that could outperform the Maserati 250F. It had all the modern race-tech of a car from that period. These cars were built on an all-new multi-tubular frame, a precursor to the full-on space frame. These represented an advancement from the traditional twin frame rails.
There were between 31 and 34 Maserati 250F’s produced, depending on who is counting. The cars were continually evolved between 1954 and 1957. The first Maserati 250F put out around 240 horsepower, at 7,200 revolutions per minute (RPM). By 1957, the straight-six was putting out 270 horsepower, at 8,000 RPM.
A Maserati 250F, usually in six-cylinder form, but occasionally in a 12 cylinder variant, won over 40 major race wins during its most active years. Taking an egalitarian approach to racing, Maserati supplied cars to its works team and customers. The sheer numbers of the cars helped to gain its legendary status. But, ultimately, it was the excellence of the 250F in the hands of a true master, such as Juan-Manuel Fangio or Stirling Moss, which cemented its reputation.
Travis Turner of GPevolved.com