Maserati 450S Costin Zagato Coupe

Up to 1956, Maserati solely focussed on small-engined sportscar racing with engine sizes ranging from 1.5 litre in the 150S to the 3 litre in 300S. These were all fine racers but they were never in contention to take the overall lead against the much more powerful Ferraris, Astons and especially Jaguars. So Maserati set out to build an engine and chassis that was capable of beating the 'big-boys'.

The Maserati designers worked simultaniously on two different engines, a new 3.5 litre six cylinder and a 4.5 litre V8. A new chassis was designed to house both engines. The first engine was the six cylinder and it was taken out in a new, stronger chassis for the 1956 Mille Miglia. The 'six' proved underpowered for the heavy chassis and the combination was even outpaced by 3 litre 300S. By the fall of 1956, the V8 was ready and it was taken out at the practice of the Swedish Grand Prix.

Throughout the fall and winter of 1956, the V8 car was further developed and the engine output was raised from the initial 365 bhp to 400 bhp. With this immense figure, the quad cam, V8 engined 450S was the most powerful front engine sportscar. It was only surpassed by the Panoz prototypes in the late 1990s. The brakes were also revised to be able to cope with the enormous speeds expected from the 450S.

The 450S made its first appearance at the 1957 Argentinian 1000 km race where it was driven by the Grand Prix drivers Juan Manuel Fangio and Stirling Moss. In the early stages of the race there was no one who could keep up with the storming 450S. The all new and complicated engine was remarkably reliable, although it failed to finish. The drivers were let down by a failing clutch, which after some clutchless gearshifts, caused the transmission to seize. At Sebring in March of that same year the 450S was in top form. This time there was no mechinical failure stopping the Modena based team from scoring their first victory. With the 450S in the hands of Fangio and Jean Behra victory was had.

At the Mille Miglia two months later victory was further away than ever. Jean Behra destroyed his 450S on the open roads before the race when, travelling at 150mph, a truck pulled out in front of him, there was no room to slow down or pass the truck. The Moss driven 450S did make it to the start but he had to retire 10 miles in the race with a broken brake pedal. Moss didn't have any luck at the Nürburgring 1000km either where he retired from first place in the 10th lap as a wheel came off.

For Le Mans Maserati brought out a low drag coupe version of the 450S for Moss to race. Ironically it proved to be slower than than the roadster  bodied 450S due to major design flaws. In the race Moss showcased his ability and desire to win and piloted the underperforming coupe to second place, but in 38th lap he was let down by a failing rear axle and had to retire.

Ferrari wanted to capitalize on the 450S' reliability problems and sent Mike Hawthorn out to win the Swedish Grand Prix with the new 315S. Yet it was the Maserati duo Moss and Behra that outpaced the Ferrari from the get-go. This time one of the cars actually made it to the finish to record the second victory for the 450S. The Moss / Schell driven 450S had to retire after a transmission failure. Behra was able to lap Hawthorn who was in second place and secured his second win of the season with the 450S. Maserati was still in contention for the World Championship.

The finale of the season, the Venuzuelan Grand Prix, would decide the championship. Luck had definitely run out and it turned out to be one of the worst weekends in Maserati's racing history. One day before the race Maserati's team manager died but the team persisted. Three cars were entered, two 450S and one 300S. Moss' 450S was destroyed after a collision with an AC Bristol. The second 450S caught fire when re-fueling, the fire was extinguished and Schell took it out again. Both Moss and Behra were burned. When Schell tried to pass Jo Bonnier's 300S on a straight of the track, the 300S blew. Bonnier couldn't control his car and careened right into Schell's 450S. Both cars were destroyed. Nothing more than three wrecks remained from Maserati's entry and all hopes for the championship were gone.

The sport's governing body changed the rules for sportscar racing for the 1958 season, leaving the 450S obsolete. When it finished, it won, and in the rest of the races it was let down more by bad-luck than anything else. Most of 450Ss went to the United States where they were raced with some success. Two were fitted with enlarged 5.7 litre engines, pumping out an incredible 526bhp. In awe of its power Carol Shelby nick-named his 450S, 'Big Hawg'.