Simanaitis Says

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DUAL PURPOSE? NO WAY IN H____!

WHEN ERNESTO, ETTORE, AND BINDO left their namesake company in 1947, their new firm was named Officine Specializzate Costruzione Automobili—Fratelli Maserati S.p.A. OSCA, for short, lasted only until 1967, but what an interesting 20 years of sports cars in competition!

As one stunning example, the 1954 12 Hours of Sebring was won (outright!) by an OSCA MT4 barchetta co-driven by Bill Lloyd and a fellow named Stirling Moss. Throughout the era, this and other OSCAs were said to be the hot tip in the SCCA’s 1500-cc class. And, indeed, SimanaitisSays celebrated the marque in November 2018.

This and other images from R&T, August 1955.

Documenting It All. As R&T explained in August 1955, “It was high time someone made the performance of the OSCA a matter of record rather than speculation.” And Harry Allen Chapman, OSCA’s western distributor located in Tucson, gave Road & Track this opportunity.

“We were even supplied,” R&T wrote, “with a monstrous, air-conditioned Buick tow-car, a trailer to carry the OSCA to the desert area we use for testing, and an experienced competition driver, William ‘Bumpy’ Bell. In short this was the kind of a road test we dream of—unusual car of unknown performance, air-conditioning on the desert, and interesting car-talk that never lagged for even a second.” 

Having tested similar racing machines at R&T in a later era, I would certainly agree this was a dream setting. Indeed, I did matters one better: I even got to drive the car.

“Time was limited,” R&T wrote, “and it was necessary to do our tests in one afternoon with the temperature near 100ºF. (We usually test at night during warm weather.)…. The lack of any speedometer also posed special problems, capped by the utter impossibility of clamping our special fifth-wheel type instrument onto the body.” 

Yep. I know the feeling. In 1986 when we got to test an actual Formula 1 car, the Benetton B186 required different test gear as well. I recall its ground effects sucking our timing strips off the tarmac.

Test Summary. R&T wrote of the OSCA, “Is it practical for every day driving? H____ no! Soft plugs make the engine more tractable, and it will idle at 900 rpm during the long warm-up required when Castor oil is used in the crankcase.” 

The mention of this lubrication brings back aromatic memories, doesn’t it? 

“The top speed [120.0 mph] was a surprise (we thought maybe 105/110 would be tops with 4.37 gearing) but the acceleration is absolutely fantastic. Zero to 60 honest/actual mph requires only 1st and 2nd gears, and 7100 rpm (in second) is exactly 60 mph. The time of 7.0 seconds is better than any car we have ever tested, Ferraris excepted.” 

Fact check: Masten Gregory’s 4.1-liter Ferrari reached 60 in 6.1 seconds; and Masten’s 3.4-liter C-Type Jaguar did it in 6.5 seconds. Remember, though, the OSCA’s 1.5-liter displacement.

What’s more, R&T observed, “… on the other hand the non-syncro transmission is certainly a time-waster; possibly as much as .5 second on each upshift. Our driver did a beautiful job during these tests and even proved to us that downshifts with a ‘crash-box’ are easier than up-shifts—if you know how.”  

Conclusion. “But,” R&T admitted, “the OSCA, with its aluminum body that tends to rattle a bit, no top or windshield, and a rather ‘fierce’ clutch is not a machine suitable for tootling around town.”

The “trunk” is occupied by a 20-gallon fuel tank and spare.

“Fuel economy?” R&T queried. “We made no consumption checks. It averages around 10 or 12 miles per gallon in competition driving, however.” 

Above, Al Coppel’s OSCA finishes first in the under-1500 race at 1954 Palm Springs. Below, Jim Simpson’s OSCA repeats a 1953 victory at Riverside in 1954. Images from January 1955. 

“Value?” R&T concluded. “The initial investment is high but anyone who has raced a cheaper car for a season or two will know that an OSCA costs no more when the bills are totaled at the end of the year. And you will probably win at least a few races!” 

Dual-purpose? Ha! ds 

© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2022 

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