SOME cars have gone down in history for legendary wins, for the innovations they introduced or for the drivers who piloted them to glory. Others, meanwhile, have become veritable icons for what they represented.
For some it was a unique story, a turning point in history, a social phenomenon, an event that rippled beyond the stands of the race track to ultimately define an era.
One such case was the Maserati “Eldorado”, which became famous in 1958 as the first single-seater car in Europe to be sponsored by a brand not linked to the world of motor sport – in this case, ice cream maker, Eldorado.
This was the first example of modern sponsorship, where the car was painted in the colours of the partner company, abandoning the traditional colour assigned to each country by the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA).
This was a real revolution for the day, of vital importance to the future of motor sport, which from that moment on opened its doors to new financial backers.
Maserati was commissioned to build the car by Gino Zanetti, owner of the Eldorado ice-cream company, to race it in the “Trofeo dei due Mondi” (Race of Two Worlds), a 500 mile race based on the Indy 500, and held at Monza.
Thus, the Maserati 420/M/58, chassis number 4203, was born, and finished with a cream coloured livery, instead of Italian racing red. The name Eldorado was emblazoned in bold black lettering along the sides of the car.
The brand’s logo, the face of the smiling cowboy, was positioned on the nose and on the sides of the rear fin. Below the side branding, in bright racing red was “Italia”, denoting the nationality of the sponsor, as well as that of the racing car manufacturer.
The long silhouette of the “Eldorado” also bore the name of the driver chosen to race it in the “Monzanapolis”: Stirling Moss, one of the greatest drivers in the history of motor sports, and a former Maserati driver.
The engine, a 410hp V8 unit mounted in the 450S twin cam models, had its displacement reduced to 4,190cc, and was mated to a two speed gearbox, both offset to the left by 9cm to factor in the banked corners at the Monza track.
The De Dion rear axle had no differential and to reduce weight, Halibrand magnesium wheels were used along with Firestone 18-inch braided tread tyres inflated with helium. With these measures, the car weighed in at just 758kg.
On 29 June 1958, some 60 years ago this week, the race was held at the Monza track, run across three heats to decide the final points table. In the first heat Moss finished fourth whilst in the second he crossed the line fifth.
In the final heat, however, his steering broke and the Maserati slammed into the guard-rail, dashing the English driver’s hopes of finishing the race in third place overall, but he still manged seventh in the end.
Despite the success in terms of spectator numbers and entertainment value, the 500 Miles of Monza did not become a regular event on the racing calendar, although the Eldorado did head for the Indianapolis 500 in 1959.
This time it was finished in red, the colour denoting Italy in competitions, but was still emblazoned with the Eldorado sponsor’s name in white lettering on the sides, as well as the cowboy logo in a white circle on the nose and tail.
Inexperienced gentleman driver Ralph Liguori failed to qualify the car, so it did not take part. The Maserati “Eldorado”, perfectly restored in its original white livery, is part of the Panini Collection, housed in Modena.