Maserati Eldorado at 60: Why we love it

60 years ago today, Stirling Moss took to the track with Europe’s first sponsored single-seater racing car at Monza

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The era-defining 1958 Maserati Eldorado became the first car in Europe to be sponsored by a brand not associated with motorsport. This trend swept the industry and opened doors to a plethora of new financial backers.

With the best American and European drivers ready to compete at the Trofeo dei due Mondi (Race of Two Worlds), Gino Zanetti decided to take his company to the world stage in an unprecedented move. The owner of the Eldorado ice-cream company commissioned Maserati to build a 420/M/58 finished in cream coloured livery to represent his company.

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The name Eldorado adorned the sides of the car in striking black font, along with two smaller additions to the nose and below the deflector. Further logos featuring the companies smiling cowboy motif were positioned on the centre of the nose and on the sides of the rear fin. To make up for the lack of traditional red paint, the word Italia was positioned below the sponsor name in bright red paint on either side of the car, to symbolise both the sponsor and racing car manufacturers nationality. The final addition was the name of the driver chosen to race the car; one of the greatest drivers in the history of motorsport and former Maserati driver, Stirling Moss.

The House of the Trident withdrew from competitive racing having won the Formula 1 World Championship in 1957 with Juan Manuel Fangio. From 1958 cars were commissioned for private customers, whilst also offering knowledge and expertise from their decorated racing history. Zanetti took full advantage of Maserati’s wealth of experience by commissioning chassis number 4203.

Esteemed engineer, Giulio Alfieri, created the Eldorado in a matter of months. Complete with a 4,190cc V8 derived from the 450S twin cam models, 410hp was still available from 8,000rpm despite the reduced displacement. Taking into account the high banked corners at Monza, the company offset the engine and gearbox by nine centimetres to counterbalance the weight distribution offset made by the banked circuit.

A De Dion rear axle was fitted, omitting a differential and housing only two speeds in the gearbox. The hugely successful 250F offered a modified chassis, although additional structural reinforcements needed for the concrete circuit made it oversized compared to the original design, but were deemed a necessity.

To compensate the additional bulk, Halibrand magnesium wheels were employed alongside Firestone 18-inch braided tyres inflated with helium. These slight details concluded a weight of 758kg. Fantuzzi hand crafted the aluminium bodywork that was recognised for the aerodynamic vertical fin behind the cockpit as well as a front scoop for the carburettor.

60 years ago on June 29 1958, the race was held at Monza across three heats that would decide the final result. This strategy was used to encourage European car manufacturers to enter cars that had not been designed for the mechanically brutal race.

Moss achieved fourth and fifth position in the first and second heats respectively, with his hopes of taking home third position quashed having veered into the guard rail for the final heat thanks to broken steering components.

Despite the unfortunate accident, Moss walked away from the scene unscathed with the Maserati suffering limited damage thanks to the aforementioned structural enhancements. With all heats considered, Moss achieved seventh position overall.

The 500 Miles of Monza failed to become a calendar event despite the electric atmosphere felt by both participants and huge crowds. Following the cars debut, the Eldorado was modified further by the Gentilini body shop, who subsequently removed the rear fin and reduced the size of the suggestive hood scoop prior to entering the Indianapolis 500 in 1959.

The car was repainted in the typical Italian red paint denoting the country in international competitions. The sponsors name remained along the flanks of the car in white lettering this time, with the Eldorado cowboy logo now in a white circle on the nose and tail. Due to an unfortunate lack of experience, Ralph Liguori failed to qualify finishing 36th, with the top 33 being allowed to qualify.

The Maserati Eldorado is now part of the Panini Collection wearing its striking and original white livery at its spiritual home in Modena.

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