TeamsOSCA Automobili: 1959 Formula One Season By Jeremy McMullen
The very moment the Maserati brothers lost their name to Orsi in the late 1930s, and then into the 1940s, they would suffer much greater. They would lose their identity altogether. Though their last venture, OSCA, would be a name that would be seen here and there within Formula One throughout that first decade, the name would barely be remembered compared to the 250F that shared their name.
Throughout the 1950s the Maserati brothers tried to replicate their touch of genius that had made them so competitive during the 1930s. Sadly, their efforts would be largely unsuccessful. It would culminate with a failure to qualify for the 1957 Monaco Grand Prix. At that moment, the brothers knew their Formula One grand prix days had drawn to a close.
They would be, however, far more competitive in sportscars. Developing cars like their MT4, OSCA would become known for designing small cars that were routinely fighting amongst those with far superior horsepower. In many ways, they were similar to Porsche. To find a comparison in Formula One, one only had to look as far as the outfit based in Surbiton, England.
Cooper Car Company had been in existence since the mid-1940s. However, the company's efforts in Formula One had been relatively recent. Utilizing their mid-engine design, this small company would go on to win a couple of grand prix in 1958 and appeared the team to beat heading into 1959. Talk about punching above one' weight class, Cooper was doing that on a consistent basis, and only getting stronger.
This is what the Maserati brothers intended with OSCA. By starting out with smaller sportscars and single-seaters they would try and build upon their success, doing things the right way this time, so to ensure their survival. Therefore, after years of making appearances here and there in Formula One, and often coming up short against the competition, they would believe they found the key they were looking for in Cooper.
Cooper's small mid-engine car needed, and made good use of, smaller engines. Cooper had built the chassis capable of competing. Proven to be surprisingly competitive over the last few years, the Cooper chassis made it unnecessary for the Maserati brothers to concern themselves with building a chassis. Instead, they could focus on what they believed they had to offer to the equation, their apparent strength—their engines.
Argentinean-born Alejandro de Tomaso had come to Italy in 1955. His flight to Italy was not necessarily without drama. In fact, he would flee his home country after he was implicated in a plot to overthrow Juan Peron. However, upon settling in Modena, he would soon turn his passion to throwing cars around race tracks. Working as a driver for Maserati, and then OSCA, de Tomaso's racing career fit neatly into the narrative of the Maserati brothers. Leaving Maserati behind, de Tomaso would join OSCA focusing on sportscar racing mostly. However, like OSCA, he too would make forays into the world of Formula One.
Following the deposing of Peron, de Tomaso would find his travel much less restrictive. And, in 1959, there was an opportunity afforded him. By this time, Alejandro was already making strides to establish his own car company bearing his own name. However, he was still taking part in some races with OSCA.
In 1958, de Tomaso partnered with Colin Davis to take a class victory at Le Mans. In 1959, while driving an OSCA FS 1500 and S750, de Tomaso would enjoy a number of strong results, but all of these would come in sportscars. Able to travel much more freely, de Tomaso planned to make another appearance in a Formula One race a little closer to his home country of Argentina.
Focusing on the beginnings of De Tomaso Automobili, Alejandro would not see too much time behind the wheel of a racing car after August of 1959. However, the United States market was not to be overlooked. And, the final round of the '59 Formula One World Championship was set to take place in Sebring, Florida. One year earlier he had taken a class victory there while driving an OSCA. Therefore, de Tomaso and OSCA Automobili would come together one last time.
But, considering it was mostly a one-off project, OSCA was not going to build a whole new car. Again, Cooper had already proven its car to be more than capable. What those at OSCA would focus on doing was uniting its four-cylinder 2.0-liter engine to the backend of the car.
OSCA would gain use of a T43 and would begin to go through the process of mating their engine to the back of the car. This was to be an important marriage as de Tomaso planned to use the United States Grand Prix as a means of building a customer base for his 750cc racing car, his first.
The work would be completed and the car would be shipped across the Atlantic for the final round of the '59 Formula One World Championship. With it went the hopes of two famous names.
OSCA Automobili would make the trip across the Atlantic and would be one of twenty entries for what was the final round of the 1959 Formula One World Championship. Not all would be well coming into the event. Tony Brooks would be ill while Jack Brabham would have some ill words for the race being nothing more than a promotional event for Stirling Moss' first World Championship. But, as far as OSCA Automobili and de Tomaso were concerned, the race would be very important, and therefore, welcome.
OSCA had enjoyed success at Sebring in the past winning the 12 hour event. If the brand could do well in the single-seater grand prix then there was a good chance for its customer base to grow. Alejandro would look forward to the event having won at Sebring just the year before. Success in this race meant his own automobile line could grow. The World Championship was not in their reach, but much more would be riding on the race.
Sebring would be a tough test for both man and machine. Its first life would be as a United States Army Air Force training base and would be known as Hendricks Army Airfield. Between 1941 and 1946, the base would serve to train pilots to fly the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress. Boasting of four concrete runways 300 feet wide and 5,000 feet long, Hendricks was established as an air school in June of 1941. For nearly five years the airfield would serve as a serious training ground for men going to war. By early 1946, the base would be deactivated and turned over to the city of Sebring.
Having become a city in and of itself, Hendricks, which would now be known as Sebring Regional Airport, would also include a commerce park. However, Alec Ulmann would have different ideas.
Serving as an aeronautical engineer during the war, Ulmann would turn his attentions to restoring military aircraft for civilian use after the war. Based out of Sebring Regional Airport, Ulmann would have time on his hands to reflect upon the former training base. In time, an idea would come to him. Between the runways and roads that connected the base, Alec saw the potential for a site to stage an endurance race. By New Year's Eve of 1950 Sebring would host its first race. That first race, which happened to be the Sam Collier 6 Hour Memorial race, would eventually transpire into the 12 Hours of Sebring, first held in 1952. Now, just about seven years later, the circuit would be ready to host the first United States Grand Prix.
Drivers and teams alike knew the challenge coming to Sebring. At 5.38 miles, the Sebring circuit was long, but it also consisted of nearly 50 percent of a lap run on concrete. This would not be a problem other than the fact the runways had been laid down for the use of aircraft and not sensitive race cars. The concrete was terribly bumpy and required both man and machine to endure some terrible punishment over the course of a race.
In an endurance race a driver could find a line that wasn't so destructive because it was going to be a long race. A Formula One race was nearly an all-out sprint. Drivers could not choose the smoother line. They had to find the fastest way around the circuit and that often consisted of some terrible bumps and bruises.
Already feeling under the weather by the time practice was set to take place, Brooks would not find the bumps and banging of the concrete terribly pleasurable. Compared to Moss, he would be a bit off the pace. Jack Brabham was leading the championship, but only by a very small margin over Moss. So while the factory Cooper driver could play things a bit more conservatively he could not relax altogether. This would be especially true following Moss stormer of a lap time.
Also driving a Climax-powered Cooper, Moss would be flying around the old airfield. His best effort would be a time of three minutes flat. Jack Brabham would do his best to keep pace but he would end up three seconds slower. Harry Schell would complete the front row of the grid having set a time of 3:05.2. Schell's pace would draw some criticism from Scuderia Ferrari as it would displace Brooks to the second row of the grid. It was believed by some at Ferrari that Schell could not have set such a time without aiding himself in some way. But there would be no investigation.
While Ferrari would be upset with Schell, Brabham would be upset with Moss and the whole race. Stirling's times in practice certainly made the Australian nervous. Moss was on a roll coming into the race, however, the way the whole event came off in the schedule it had Brabham suggesting there were some interested parties involved trying to give Moss an opportunity to win the championship.
As far as OSCA Automobili and de Tomaso were concerned all of this was mere background noise to what they were dealing with. Powered by a 2.0-liter OSCA engine, de Tomaso's Cooper was certainly going to be underpowered coming into practice. If there ever was a time in which OSCA needed to punch above its weight it was right then and there.
In spite of all the struggles and challenges, de Tomaso would put together a rather respectable time in practice. In the end, he would find himself on the sixth row of the grid in the 14th starting spot. He was a rather sedate 28 seconds slower than Moss, but, there would be five others that would qualify with slower times, this included the Indy 500 winner from that year Roger Ward.
Against mostly cloudy skies, the spectators would fill up the grandstands and all around the circuit. The teams would begin wheeling out their cars to the grid and the drivers would slowly begin to make their appearances. It would be an interesting sight looking around the grid leading right up to the start of the race. Being situated in Florida, where the Atlantic and Gulf coasts were not all that far away, Sebring would be a popular destination for racing fans from all walks of life. This would include Navy servicemen, who could be spotted around the grid right alongside drivers like Brabham and Moss.
Alejandro would take his place toward the back of the grid while Moss, Brabham and Schell slotted into their places behind the wheel at the front of the field. Finally, the flag would be shown and the final round of the '59 World Championship would be underway.
The start would be a chaotic assemblage of sound and fury and would result in Moss holding onto the advantage over Brabham. Brooks would not have the best of starts and would suffer all the worse when he collided with his Ferrari teammate von Trips over the course of the first lap. This dropped the other championship contender right down the order, even behind de Tomaso who would manage to get away in respectable fashion.
At the conclusion of the first lap it would be Moss in the lead and setting the pace. Brabham would be trailing along in 2nd place just ahead of his Cooper teammate Bruce McLaren. Further back, de Tomaso would have a good start to the 42 lap race. He would be inside the top fifteen and looking quite strong in the early going despite lacking the horsepower of some of the others.
Some others would not be so fortunate. Bob Said's race would come to an end after a single lap due to an accident. Alan Stacey would also retire after a single lap due to clutch problems. Still, these early retirements would matter little to the crowd looking on. Of course, all of that would change after five laps.
Moss was flying in the early going and was even managing to put some distance between himself and Brabham. However, if the bumpy concrete didn't get you, then the unreliability of the cars of that period would. Sure enough, after just five laps in the lead of the race Moss would be pulling into the pits. The temperamental clutch in the Cooper had given up the fight and there was no sense in Stirling trying to carry on with more than 30 laps remaining. It would have been an impossible task and he knew it. His championship hopes would again be dashed. Brabham's would be firmly founded.
The early retirements, unfortunately, would do little to help de Tomaso's case. He was still running inside the top fifteen but he was beginning to slip backwards for lack of power and the fact his own car was not as healthy as what he would have liked. He had completed 10 laps of the race, but the remaining 32 were looming large on the horizon. His Cooper chassis was struggling with failing brakes. Despite lacking straight-line speed, the T43 would still get up to some respectable speeds down the long runway straights. If he could not stop at the end, then, was it really worth it to be out there? Was it a good way to promote your name and OSCA when piled up in some hay somewhere? After 13 laps, de Tomaso would decide that it was not and he would retire from the race.
De Tomaso's retirement would make it eight cars to retire in the first 20 laps of the race. Roger Ward would make it 20 laps then he too would retire making it nine cars to falter. Approaching the halfway mark of the race, the field was being dramatically trimmed by attrition.
Brabham cared little as he continued to lead the way ahead of his teammate McLaren. Tony Brooks was still in the race and was making his way forward after having fallen all the way back down in the field at the beginning, even behind de Tomaso. By the halfway mark, however, he was up to 6th place and then 5th one lap later as Cliff Allison retired.
Heading into the final few laps of the race, Brabham was firmly in control and looked set to add yet another victory to his tally. For a man that had condemned the race before he arrived, he looked happy and set to enjoy its spoils in just a few laps time. But he could not count the race as won, at least not yet.
Powering down the backstretch, which consisted of one of the many runways, Brabham's Cooper would suddenly begin to balk and hesitate. Around what was known as the U-Turn was the checkered flag. The victory and the championship were within reach. He had Brooks covered. The win was to be his, especially after Moss retired. Now, as the car came to a stop within a few hundred yards from the line, his focus would change. The championship was his, but he certainly wanted to earn it having finished his last race of the season.
McLaren and Trintignant would flash by to finish the race in first and second. They would flash by at the same time the Australian jumped from his Cooper and began pushing it toward the line. In a truly iconic moment, Brabham would be seen almost doubled-over pushing his Cooper across the line with Brooks passing by in the background.
Brabham would collapse to the ground but would be immediately greeted by Moss and a whole host of well-wishers. Bruce McLaren would win his first race in Formula One while Maurice Trintignant and Tony Brooks crossed the line in 2nd and 3rd respectively. But the day would belong to Brabham and Cooper.
OSCA Automobili would make the decision to travel all the way across the Atlantic to take part in the final race of the '59 Formula One season. Once again, OSCA would make a flash appearance on the Formula One stage and would come away with naught. Since having lost their name, the Maserati brothers' touch in grand prix racing had seemed to depart.
Prior to selling to Orsi, the Maserati brothers had earned their reputation building grand prix cars and the thought of building production and sportscars was not really something of interest. Now, as the 1950s decade drew to a close, sportscars seemed to be the only thing in which the brothers were capable of designing and building that was competitive.
Throughout its attempts to make an impression in Formula One, OSCA would often come undone by its own unreliability and other niggling issues. This time, they would turn elsewhere to serve their chassis needs, and, ironically, it would be a component not of their own design that would fail causing their long trip across the Atlantic to end in vain.
Though it would not spell the end, the trip to Sebring in 1959 would not help spawn a whole new source of customer clientele. By 1962, OSCA was in difficult financial straights and would eventually lead to the brothers, once again, selling a car company they ran. Count Domenico Agusta, who owned MV Agusta, would become the new owner of the company. Like Orsi, the OSCA name would be, in many respects, taken away from the Maserati brothers. The brothers would do design work for Agusta and OSCA would remain under the MV name. However, while the Maserati brand would continue, OSCA would cease to be after 1967.
As for the other partner in the whole United States Grand Prix episode for OSCA Automobili, de Tomaso would be just beginning. Getting off the ground in 1959, the De Tomaso car company would be based in Modena and would follow a similar path as the Maserati brothers that had once employed him.
Originally focusing on building prototypes and other racing cars, De Tomaso would soon find itself in Formula One designing cars for customer teams. One of those customers to come along would be none other than Frank Williams during the 1970s.
Despite focusing on racing cars in the beginning, De Tomaso would turn its attentions to the burgeoning sportscar market during the late 1960s and 1970s. Cars like the Lamborghini Miura and Ferrari 365 GTB ‘Daytona' were proof the public desired race-bred performance for the street. De Tomaso had acquired coachbuilding firms like Ghia and Vignale and also gained control of none other than Maserati in the mid-1970s. Therefore, it was clear De Tomaso had the potential to enter this market.
Using the company's backbone chassis, De Tomaso would produce some high performance sportscars of which the Vallelunga and Pantera are perhaps the most notable. In the case of the Pantera, production would run for some twenty years with over 7,000 examples being built.
Sadly, like the Maserati brothers experienced numerous times before, De Tomaso Automobili SpA would go into liquidation in 2004 and would still be without a buyer after 2008. It seemed rather fitting that following De Tomaso's death in 2003 the company bearing his name would also disappear. This way, the company name would go with him into memory.
Despite the fact that neither OSCA nor De Tomaso remain, the United States Grand Prix in 1959 would at least provide one last opportunity for two great names to be seen partnered together.