"The woodland creatures scurry, bolt and scramble, for the 'Bazooka', though still some way distant, is most definitely within earshot. This is not a car for the shy or sensitive, timid or tremulous. Genghis Khan or Vlad the Impaler would have loved it, though. Maserati's Tipo 54, that's Mister 450S to you and me, sounds like thunder and goes like the clappers…It's big, beautiful and brutal." MotorSport magazine, January 2005.
Few sports-racing cars carry a fearsome reputation to equal Maserati's thunderous Tipo 54, better known as the 450S. Originally conceived in 1954 to challenge Ferrari's 'big banger' sports racers, the Tipo 54 project was bankrolled by South Californian cement and construction baron, team boss and partygoer Tony Parravano. Eager to win the Indianapolis 500, Parravano had ordered two 4.2 V8 engines and intended to put them into Kurtis chassis. Nothing came of this project, so instead Maserati developed a sports racing car around the engine which was intended to challenge Ferrari in the World Sports Car Championship. The new V8, by now enlarged to 4488cc, "almost shook the factory walls down as it registered 400bhp on the dyno. The years of Ferrari outmuscling Maserati were definitely over." recalled MotorSport.
But its birth was overdrawn and over budget- the R&D cost of $500,000 was colossal by the standards of the era- and Maserati's win-or-bust attempt to secure the 1957 championship failed dramatically after all three 450S entries (and the Works 300S) in the final round in Venezuela were wrecked by accidents or fire. Perhaps unnerved by the big Maser's gargantuan performance (and that of Ferrari's 4 litre V12s) the powers-that-be implemented a 3 litre sports car formula from 1958, and the car's European career was over.
As the backer behind its development, though, Parravano was destined to receive the first 'production' example, chassis '4502', which had been shipped to him at the end of 1956. Thankfully '4502' avoided the Venezuelan carnage, stashed away near the Mexican border, supposedly out of reach of the Inland Revenue Service.
"Tony ran a construction empire in Southern California and had trouble maintaining proper books pertaining to his businesses. As a result virtually no corporate taxes were paid until the Internal Revenue Service caught up with him. Tony fled to Mexico in June, 1957, and the IRS people settled Parravano's tax liabilities in January, 1959, by auctioning off his extensive collection of Italian exotics, at least that part not siphoned off to Mexico previously! One of the auctioned cars was the 450S, chassis 4502." Willem Oosthoek, The Maserati Club magazine.
"The IRS eventually found the car and sold it at auction; it's still looking for Tony. How ironic that Parravano, the man whose cash kick-started Maserati's V8 project, never got it see his 450S run in anger." MotorSport magazine.
He must have been Maserati's best customer at the time as apart from Ferraris his stable included the Italian GP winning 250F raced by Stirling Moss, a refurbished 300S, now with a 350S engine, and the first 450S, all painted in Tony's racing colours of red and dark blue with white stripes. For some reason the prototype 450S never saw any action under Parravano and by the time '4502' went through the IRS auction it was virtually brand new. It was sold for $3,000 and the buyers were partners Dr Rey Martinez, associated with the Burbank Hospital, and Jack Brumby of the Italia Motors agency in East Hollywood.
Brumby was an amateur racing driver with experience of Porsches, Alfas and Abarths so it is doubtful if he knew quite what he had bitten off with the 450S. He wasted no time in entering the Maserati in California Regional races, still in Parravano's colours, but a few test laps of the Pomona track scared him enough to start looking for a replacement driver. Based on his 1958 Times Grand Prix performance, Billy Krause was suggested. "I finished 2nd in my first 4.5l race there. Brumby was supposed to drive it himself but the car scared him" recalls Krause.
Krause led again at the Examiner Grand Prix on the same track a month later until he spun near the end, finishing fourth on three wheels after the right rear tyre burst. July's Kiwanis GP at Riverside looked more promising because the track was faster, but Krause and co-driver Pete Woods were overcome by exhaust fumes when a scoop the team had cut into the bodywork to improve ventilation instead funneled exhaust gases into the cockpit!
The mighty 450S had one final outing with Krause and Brumby- a DNF at Santa Barbara- before the team switched to a more modern, nimble Maserati Birdcage. The car re-appeared in Chuck Kessinger's hands in 1960 and 1961 but proved uncompetitive against the latest machinery and the now outdated 450S was finally put into retirement.
It is known to have been owned by Bill Grimiscin in Pennsylvania who restored it, followed by Tiny Gould, also in Pennsylvania, in 1967, Maserati collector Joel Finn in New York in 1968, Maserati restorer Cameron Millar in England in 1970, and then Count Hubertus von Donhoff in Germany who had it restored by Tony Merrick in England in the 1980s.
During restoration it was decided to add brake cooling ducts in the nose, which saw the first 30cm of the aluminium skin replaced, accounting for a slightly altered nose aperture vis-à-vis the car's 1959 season appearance. Of course, the windscreen in today in full width (ie to WSCC regulation) configuration rather than single screen, and the owner chose an elegant dark blue hue for the overall finish rather than Parravano's red/blue/ white colour scheme. However, the bodywork is otherwise confirmed as original, as is the engine, which has been rebuilt to a very high, 'race ready' standard.
During the past decade of its present European ownership, chassis '4502' has participated in historic events such as the Mille Miglia and the Nürburgring Oldtimer Grand Prix, proving rapid and reliable. It is accompanied by its FIVA identity card and FIA papers and is in immaculate condition, ready for the track or the concours lawn. Of the ten 450S Maseratis built (opinions vary as to whether more or less than those ten survive…) chassis '4502' is universally regarded by experts and collectors as one of the very best examples extant.