Lifestyle

1955 Maserati 300S


Following a meticulous restoration, chassis no. 3057 came with a colorful history when it sold at auction for nearly $2 million

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In 1955, after taking delivery of his most powerful Maserati to date, the three-liter 300S offered here, chassis number 3057, Benoit Musy contested eleven European Sports Car Championship events, winning five times and scoring a further five podium finishes up to the August 12, 1956, Kristianstad Swedish Grand Prix, which he won.

In a cruel twist of fate, Musy was to perish abruptly at the Coupe de Paris Montlhery on October 7, 1956—the last big race of the season. Musy had delivered his 300S to the factory for its year-end service and as a result it was not available for the race, so a friend lent him his new Maserati 200S. Part of the steering failed, sending the car over the banking.

After his death, his wife left chassis 3057 at the Maserati factory with orders to sell it. The 300S was eventually sold to the Auto Racing and Touring Club of Angola. The wealthy Angola Automobile Club would purchase such cars for its affluent Portuguese members to use in South African events. We know that 3057 was raced out of Angola for many years.

But in the 1970s, most Portuguese residents left Angola following the communist revolution. In doing so, they abandoned large possessions like cars, including this 300S Maserati. Old racing cars were converted to road cars, as was 3057, which was fitted with an American V8 and a cut down driver's door. In 1989, Swedish national Stein Johnson found the 300S.

Photos show that, while dented and in poor condition, 3057 was remarkably complete, although fitted with a different grille and unattractive tail lamps. Johnson shipped the rolling chassis and body, less engine and gearbox, to Oslo in 1991.

A proper restoration was beyond his means, so a year later number 3057 went to Englishman Peter Scott. Scott retained Church Green Engineering to carry out a meticulous restoration. The painstaking rebuild utilized most of the original coachwork, all of the chassis, suspension, brakes, steering mechanism and steering wheel, gear change mechanism, tanks, instruments, seats, interior panels, chassis tags, and road wheels.

During the restoration, Church Green Engineering fitted a remanufactured, correct 300S Maserati/Embry engine as well as a new five-speed transaxle from Jack Knight Gears.

The SCM Analysis

This car sold for $1,925,000 at RM's Phoenix auction held January 20, 2006.

One of the interesting misconceptions people have about the Maserati 300S is that it's sort of a second-tier Ferrari Testa Rossa. This is emphatically not the case. The 300S was first produced in 1955, three years before the iconic 250 TR.

In its prime year of 1956, the 300S raced against Ferrari Monzas, Jaguar D-types, and the Aston Martin DB3S. The fact that it is today seen as a TR equivalent is testimony to what a great car it was. I know a number of people who have driven them all, and the consensus is that the 300S handles better than the TR and far better than the Monza.

In terms of being seen as an equal, of course, the Maserati's lack of a V12 hurts its image, but it's important to remember that in 1955, nobody—not even Ferrari—raced with a V12. This was the time of four- and six-cylinder race engines from all the manufacturers, and Maserati's three-liter six was one of the best. In 1956, Ferrari came along with the 290 MM (3.5-liter V12 in an 860 Monza chassis) and began to establish V12 dominance.

The 300S is easily the most beloved of the '50s Maserati sports racers. The four-cylinder 150S and 200S are excellent, but at 1.5 and 2 liters they don't have the world championship panache of the 300S. The 450S has earned a fearsome reputation and is very intimidating, but the 300S sits comfortably in the middle; world-class fast, lithe, and beautiful.

This particular car was beautifully presented at auction, with five pages of text extolling the virtues of the marque and this car. The chassis history is impressive and there appears to be no doubt that chassis number 3057 is correctly assigned, so why did it sell for a candidly unimpressive "just under $2 mil" in a generally strong market? Something closer to $3 million seems more likely.

The answer has to do with originality. At this level you're buying art as much as adrenaline, and how much of the car is the work of 1955 Italians vs. much later "restorers" is crucial.

Nobody questions that this car was Musy's mount in the glory years. The fact that it endured an awful fate, including the loss of its engine and transaxle (at minimum), in the revolutions of southern Africa is part of its history, but the result is that it's a greatly compromised car.

I recall inspecting this car for a client at Paradise Garage in 1998 (memory says they were asking £425,000, about $700,000 at the time). I advised my client that the car had apparently been built as a "hot rod" for Martin Stretton and if the intent was to buy a "weapon for the battle" it would be a good move.

As a collector vehicle I was more circumspect. I have no direct knowledge nor reason to doubt the catalog's assertions as to how much of the car was saved in the restoration, but I recall doubting in 1998 that there was very much 1955 metal sitting on those wheels.

Apparently this car has been accepted by the Ferrari-Maserati Challenge folks, though, and they can be very difficult if they think something's not right. If you've got their blessing you're good to go, so who am I to question?

I do have to comment on the transaxle. If it is gone, I agree you've got to make a new one, but a five-speed Jack Knight? My books tell me that the 300S had four gears and only one ever left the factory with a five-speed (S/N 3080, in 1958) so this seems a bit questionable, even if the extra gear would be mighty handy in a race.

So the basic answer is that this is a weapons-grade example of a very collectible car. It didn't bring near the money that a really good 300S should get, but it really didn't try to (the estimate of $2.2 million–$2.5 million would have triggered a stampede for a really good 300S). It was honestly represented and the issues with the car were reflected in the sales price.

Whoever bought it will probably be quicker with fewer worries and less money invested than his compatriots with "better" cars. As long as they can run together in the same events, who's the smart one?

Years Produced: 1955–58

Number Produced: 28

Original List Price: $8,500 (approx)

SCM Valuation: $2,750,000 (at time of print)

Tune-up Cost: $1,000

Distributor Caps: $200

Chassis #: 3057

Chassis # Location: Tag on dashboard

Engine # Location: On head between cam

Club Info: Maserati Club International, 1620 Industry Drive SW, Suite F, Auburn, WA, 98001

Web Site: http://www.Maseratinet.com

Alternatives: 1954–56 Ferrari Monza, 1953–55 Jaguar D-type, 1953–56 Aston-Martin DB3S

Investment Grade: A


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