In the early 1930s, officials of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway invited Alfieri Maserati to attend their race. He did, and in 1938 he was back, and this time with a car ready to contest the famed 500-mile race.
In 1937, the Maserati brothers sold their car-building company to the Orsi Group, freeing the Maseratis to focus on racing cars. But the rules governing the Grand Prix circuit were changing for the 1938 season, when engine displacement limits would be linked to vehicle weight and with the added limit of 3.0 liters for supercharged engines.
Ernesto Maserati created a new car, the 8CTF, around those rules. The car had a standard single-seat chassis, but with two steel-section bar rails and cross-members, and a straight-8 engine with cylinders in two groups of 4 with a monoblock cylinder head. The cars name was based on 8C (8 cylinders) and Testa Fissa (Italian for fixed head).
The engine displayed 2,991.4cc with a 6.5:1 compression ratio. It had two carburetors, two overhead camshafts and two superchargers.
Count Carlo Felice Trossi put the car on the pole for the 1938 Tripoli Grand Prix and Luigi “Gigi” Villoresi turned the fastest lap in the Coppa Acerbo. Those results led to customer orders for the car, which was how one was entered at Indianapolis for the 1939 race.
Michael Joseph “Umbrella Mike” Boyle was a Chicago labor-union leader of questionable repute, and an associate of Al Capone, and also the owner of an auto racing team. Boyle may have funded his racing team with his umbrella, which he’d hang at a local bar and during the course of an evening people seeking favors would put money into the open umbrella for Boyle to take with him at the end of the night.
Boyle started entering cars at Indy in 1926 but had finished as high as third only once. So early in 1939, he sent his racing-team manager, Harry “Cotton” Henning, to Bologna, Italy, to buy one of the Maserati 8CTF racing cars, which would be equipped with larger wheels and Firestone tires for the 500-mile race.
Wilbur Shaw was hired to drive the Boyle Special, posted the third-fastest speed in qualifying and on May 30, 1939, led 51 laps and won the race. It was the first victory for a European car at Indy since 1919.
“It’s 1939 triumph brought Maserati huge international recognition,” Maserati said as it celebrated the 80th anniversary of the victory, “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.
“These victories on the historic US track bestowed unique prestige on Maserati, reinforced by the fact that in the post-war years 8CTF cars, in typically American liveries, starred not only on the Indianapolis speedway itself but also on ovals across the United States.”
Maserati notes that in 2014, the Historical Vehicle Association made the Indy-winning Maserati the first non-American production car to be included on the Historic Vehicle Registry. It also notes that the winning car, Chassis 3032, is on display at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum.