The ex-Masten Gregory

1955 Ferrari 750 Monza Sport Spider

Coachwork by Scaglietti

Masten Gregory was an ever present motorsport figure in the mid west during the fifties and in Europe in the sixties. Having lost his insurance company founding father while still a toddler he received the proceeds of the sale of the Postal Life and Casualty insurance company under the form of a very tidy sum set up as a trust fund by his mother. Typical of Masten, he wrung possession of this sum three years early, at the age of 18, by marrying; he could not wait to move on from back street racing in the family's Ford coupe to real sanctioned events.

This he resolutely did, first learning the trade in an Allard in mid western races before moving on to a Jaguar and his first ventures abroad, beginning with the Buenos Aires 1000km and then to Europe. It is there that in the spring of 1955 he bought his second Ferrari, that offered here: a brand new 750 Monza, chassis '0554M' liveried in gleaming Rosso Corsa with brown corduroy trim, trading it for an unwieldy 375 he had entered in a handful of races. Just as the backbone of America's success was the quiet, hardworking mid west, Ferrari's own success, the foundation of its winning reputation, was its capacity to supply winning cars to those who could afford them. The birth and growth of its legend took root and place in the 1950s, the decisive era of the marque's history.

Ferrari and his engineers had understood the need for sturdy, simple yet nimble and powerful machinery for its far off clientele and it is upon the excellent results obtained by one Stirling Moss early that decade in his uncomplicated yet very rapid Alta powered HWM that the decision to follow this route was taken.

Ingegnere
Aurelio Lampredi, most famous for his 375MM engine, was briefed to produce a four cylinder unit which after seeing service in Grand Prix racing cars at 2.5 litres was bored out to 3 litres for sports cars. Generating 250bhp and plenty of low down torque, the 130mm bore x 90mm stroke motor featured unitary cylinder block and head and screwed in cylinder liners. It breathed through oversized twin 58 DCOA3 Webers carburettors.

A notable step forward exemplified by the 750 Monza's tubular spaceframe compared to earlier Ferrari sports cars was the transaxle layout, with the gearbox at the back providing better weight distribution, the rear also unusually sitting on de Dion suspension. The front wheels were controlled by unequal length A arms. The springs show a transition of design eras since the first Monzas were fitted with transverse leaf springs while the later ones (like this car) had coils.

Masten picked up the new Ferrari in the spring of 1955, just in time to head down the Italian east coast to the Gran Premio di Bari on 15th May. There he had an auspicious start to his spell with the car, finishing third overall, beaten only by the factory entered Maseratis of Jean Behra and Luigi Musso but beating, right off the bat, all other Ferraris.

Onwards and northwards, having now decorated his 750 Monza's red paintwork with two white stripes he traveled to a very different venue, the revered Nürburgring in the German Eifel mountains for the ADAC Eifelrennen on 28th May. Here, on the most challenging circuit in the world, Masten was once more to dominate all other Ferraris and finish third again, beaten only by the factory Mercedes 300SLRs of the two best drivers of the era: Fangio and Moss. The racing community was certainly beginning to notice the bespectacled American with the distinctive, slow mid western drawl which contrasted so bizarrely with his zest behind the wheel.

Gregory also took part in the Le Mans 24 hours early that summer, not in our car but in the 750 Monza of Mike Sparken (aka Michael Poberejsky), their mount failing just short of 2 hours into the race, not long before Pierre Levegh's accident. Content perhaps with his Nürburgring result but not with the paint scheme on his own car, he changed it again before the next event, choosing white livery with a blue teardrop on the bonnet and another on the tail to reflect America’s motor racing colours.

He then traveled all the way to Portugal where the Boavista near Porto and Lisbon's Monsanto races were to take place. In the Boavista Grand Prix on 26th June he went one better, finishing second overall behind Jean Behra's Maserati 300S. Interestingly, the entry sheets for this event show that the Ferrari originally intended to race was chassis '0562M', Eugenio Castellotti's Monza in which Alberto Ascari was killed testing at Monza on 26th May, but as this car was out of action, Gregory's Monza was pressed into service and given an additional stamping, '0562M', to match the paperwork. This story is recounted in both in Automobiles Classiques #151 and Prancing Horse #152 and we thank Ferrari authority Antoine Prunet for correcting us on this.

A month later, after duly taking in the sights of Lisbon and the nearby coastal resorts of Cascais and Estoril, Masten lined up for the second round of the Portuguese schedule, the Grand Prix of Lisbon in the beautiful park of Monsanto, on a hill just across from the outskirts of Lisbon, on 24th July. Again, Masten's car was identified as '0562M' to match the entry originally submitted for Castellottii's crashed Monza.

This time it was to be Gregory's day and despite contact with Benoit Musy's Maserati 300S the Kansas City driver scored his first victory in Europe.

A month later on 27th August he was at one of the most scenic circuits of the old world, Oulton Park in northwest England near Wales for the Daily Herald Trophy. There, against a particularly tough field including Mike Hawthorn in a 750 Monza, Hawthorn's best friend Peter Collins, Roy Salvadori and Reg Parnell, all driving Aston DB3Ss, Masten finished 4th.

According to internal factory notes the Monza was then returned to Maranello and tested at the Modena Aeroautodromo by works drivers Peter Collins and Luigi Musso.

It was then shipped back across the Atlantic and entered for the Elkhart Lake Sprints in June with Gregory as its driver, but he did not take part as his wife was giving birth. This may also explain why Masten didn't drive the Monza again, in competition at least, until the following summer when he entered the race at Beverly (Massachusetts) under the Scuderia Temple Buell banner, finishing 2nd after a mighty race long battle with Carrol Shelby in the much more powerful 121LM.

After another race at Seafair in Seattle in which he did not finish, Gregory sold the Ferrari. He continued racing for another seventeen years, including unexpectedly winning the 1965 Le Mans 24 Hours partnered by Jochen Rindt in a tired Ferrari 250LM entered by NART, until his friend Joachim Bonnier died at Le Mans in 1972, which Masten took as a sign to stop racing at the age of 40. He very much appreciated the fine living of the old world but was struck by a fatal heart attack while in Italy in 1985 at the age of 53.

Masten's Monza was bought in late August or September 1956 by its second owner, the colourfully named Loyal Katskee. From Omaha, Nebraska, he was a latecomer to racing and one of the first mid westerners to go 'lock stock and barrel' down the route of racing foreign cars in a region where they were still a curiosity.

Loyal Katskee entered '0554M' in just under 20 races. Initially he just added his favorite number, 12, but soon repainted the car, though without removing the distinctive cockpit air vents.

After his debut at Smart Field on 20th October, Loyal actually won a runoff a few days later on 30th in his second ever race in the car, at Coffeyville in Kansas, before coming 3rd overall and 2nd in class in the main race later that day. That December he and the car took part in the Nassau Speed Week in the Bahamas, a season ending series of races on Nassau's airfield with a casual festive atmosphere, days at the track being followed by evenings in black tie at the casino. This was usually attended by many big star drivers, all too happy to escape dreary winter on both sides of the Atlantic. In the course of the numerous races organized during the Speed Week Loyal finished 5th overall in a Ferrari-only race on 8th December, having not finished two other races the day before.

In April 1957 he took part in the International Grand Prix in Chicago, Illinois and on this occasion Katskee and '0554M' prevailed, winning overall. Other notable results included 2nd in class at Rib Mountain, Wisconsin, on 16th June. Then, after reconditioning the brakes following a show of promise but not finishing the race at Elkhart Lake, he did not race the Ferrari again until 1959, perhaps because he had failed to sell it in 1958. Hard to believe as it may seem today, it was at that point no more than an obsolete racer.

At Topeka, Kansas, early that year he came 3rd overall in the IMCA Kansas International event then on 5th April at Daytona he won Class C.

After several races in Meadowdale and Lime Rock and an accident at Meadowdale on 6th September he sold the ageing Monza. During the course of his racing programme he had added a roll hoop, replaced the front grille and fitted a different bonnet. Loyal Katskee, who died in 1985, was inducted into Nebraska's Auto Racing Hall of Fame in 2001. Late in 1959 the Monza was acquired by Ronald Hunter of Buffalo, New York. Hunter only raced the car once, by then long in the tooth, at Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin, on 31st July, 1960 though with an unknown result. It is not certain whether the car still had its original engine by then as the initial one may have been damaged. Engine changes, as long as they were the correct type, were more commonplace back then than today; the only matching numbers of importance to the drivers were matching their competitor number to the winner's first position on the race result sheet.

Hunter then stored the tired red racing car and only sold it many years later, in 1976, to Dr Philipp Bronner of Torrance, California, for the then-not inconsiderable sum of $7,500…

Dr Bronner began a restoration which included replacing much of the cigarette-paper-thin aluminium skin of the bodywork and also finding a fresh Monza engine. Showing just how quickly the vintage Ferrari market was developing, when in 1983 Bronner came to resell the Ferrari he decided to ask $330,000, even though the restoration was not complete. Into 1984 the car was sent to Steve Tillack's shop for completion of the rebuild, which revealed the second chassis number ('0562M') under the paint. It was mistakenly assumed that this was infact the Castellotti/ Ascari Monza and a new chassis plate bearing that number was fitted to the car.

After completion of the restoration in 1985, the Monza was sold to well known Swiss collector Erich Traber and imported to his home country. The car returned to European competition in the 1987 Mille Miglia, appearing again in 1989 and at the 1997 Ferrari 50th anniversary celebrations in Rome and Modena.

In 1998 the Monza was raced extensively in the Shell Ferrari Historic Challenge and in 2000 it was decided that the time had come to restore the car once again to the highest standards, the best firms in each area being chosen. The gearbox was entrusted to UK specialists DK Engineering, well known especially for their work on four cylinder Ferraris. The chassis and body were sent to Franco Ferrari in Modena, who effectively replaced much of the bodywork to ensure a shape faithful to the original and removed the misleading chassis plate in favour of the original number. Trim was carried out locally, executed in light blue leather to go with the white coachwork, which retained Masten Gregory's distinctive blue teardrop motif. GTO Engineering in Britain rebuilt the Monza engine and the original number '0554M' was carried over (interestingly, an engine stamped both '0554M' and '0562M' surfaced in recent years which ties in with the Gregory car alternating identities for its Portuguese racing commitments soon after Ascari's crash).. The running gear was rebuilt by the famous Diena & Silinghardi workshop in Modena. Final shakedown and testing was completed by Markus Scharnhorst's Oldtimer Reparatur in Toffen, Switzerland.

Chassis '0554M' then took part in the 2002 Monaco Historic Grand Prix, very much an A-list event, followed by the Montreux Historic Grand Prix in 2004 and then the Monterey Historics that summer; in 2005 the car saw action at the Oldtimer GP at the Nürburgring and was entered for the Ferrari Challenge world finals at Mugello but did not start. It was given another general overhaul and check up at the beginning of 2006.

Now in private Swiss ownership, '0554M' has recently been featured in numerous publications over the past 52 years including the Ferrari Yearbook and most recently Motor Klassik (April 2006). The ex-Masten Gregory Ferrari 750 Monza, with the distinctive livery of its evocative American early life, constitutes an ideal and easy to run entry for most major historic events in Europe and the US. Supplied with its old bodywork mounted on a display frame and the mechanical parts (including cylinder head) replaced during restoration, it is Swiss road registered (a complicated process which alone cost SFR.30,000) and ready to enjoy on next year's Mille Miglia.