OSCA 1600GT. What Maserati’s founding brothers did next. Size doesn’t always matter.
This tiny Italian concern built a tiny number of tiny cars - but its founders are among the giants of Italian motoring lore. Words Richard Heseltine. Photography Mark Dixon.
Great changes tend to have great side effects. For Italian carrozzerie, the 1950s and early '60s represented a period of tumultuous upheaval as grandees of the movement expanded out of all recognition. Traditional coachbuilding gradually made way for mass-manufacture as the likes of #Bertone
became subcontractors to major players. Touring of Milan was among their number, the difference being that adapting to new circumstances and chasing volume would prove to be its undoing.
, Touring bodied only two OSCA 1600GTs, but the parallels between marque and coachbuilder are apposite. OSCA had struck a deal with a major brand that should have acted as a protective cloak for a company that was habitually underfinanced. Yet OSCA failed to see out the decade.
Italian motoring lore is littered with fallen acronyms and few ever matched OSCA for sonority and brevity. Strictly speaking, it should be OSCAFM, but the last two consonants were dropped on account that it was impossible to pronounce. Yet it's the 'FM' bit that matters, for it stood for Fratelli Maserati. You see, for a decade or so, 'real' Maseratis were OSCAs.
The fratelli were Ernesto, Bindo and Ettore, who had sold the marque that bore their name to #Adolfo-Orsi
, five years after sibling and guiding light Alfieri perished in a racing accident. Retained under contract for a further ten years, a decade that was said to have been less than amicable, the brothers left #Modena
the moment the agreement expired. They regrouped and set up shop in a disused part of the original Maserati factory in their home town of Bologna to build small-displacement racing cars. Orsi retained the rights to their surname, so the brothers contrived the alias Officine Specializzate per la Costruzione di Automobili - Fratelli Maserati SpA.
With Ernesto as designer, Ettore the artisan and Bindo running the show, the trio introduced their first model, the MT4 (Maserati Type 4), in 1948. This skimpy device was aimed at the 1100cc category that was popular on the home front. OSCA was soon at the sharp end of the tiddler class; often in contention for outright wins, too, attracting such stars as Gigi Villoresi, Felice Bonetto and Luigi Faglioli. After an embarrassing foray into #Formula-1
(and F2), the brothers stuck to sports cars thereafter, the highlight being outright victory in the #1954
Sebring 12 Hours for Stirling Moss and Bill Lloyd aboard their MF4 1450 barchetta.
By the dawn of the 1960s, it was a different story: OSCA was ill-equipped to bat away competition from the emergent British garagistas. There was some light on the horizon, however, as the firm's 1.5-litre twin-cam engine, as used for that Sebring win, had attracted the attention of Fiat. The Turin giant was looking to create a competitor for the sporting Alfa Romeo Giuliettas, and approached OSCA with a view to using the alloy-headed four in its proposed 1500 model. The brothers were receptive to the overture, but OSCA was in no position to produce the engine on an industrial scale given the amount of machining, honing and laborious fettling required per unit. Fiat was undeterred: a deal was struck whereby it would manufacture the engines in volume and supply them back to OSCA.
In a roundabout way, this led to OSCA producing proper road cars as opposed to street-legal racing cars. This began with an approach from an existing customer who requested a small gran turismo, the resultant Tipo 1600GT becoming a catalogue model after it broke cover at the #1960
Turin motor show. The work of ever-creative pen-for-hire Giovanni #Michelotti
, the prototype was dramatically - some might say controversially - styled, but it struck a chord. Beneath the square-rigged skin, this new strain featured the proven four-cylinder allied to a five-speed gearbox, mounted in a tubular ladderframe chassis. Suspension was all independent by double wishbones and coils, and there were Girling disc brakes front and rear.
Predictably, numerous styling houses treated the 1600GT as a blank canvas, with Zagato's pretty take on the theme proving the most popular. Offered in various states of tune from 95 to 140bhp in twin-plug GTS spec, a full-house 710kg (down from 817) version was added to the line-up in 1963 with dramatic - some might say ugly - #Zagato
coachwork. Only one was made. That same year saw the Maserati brothers sell out to the Agusta motorcycle/helicopter combine, and 1600GT production ended.
The new regime instigated new models in time for the #1964
Turin motor show. The 1600TC (Trave Centrale) featured a backbone chassis (hence the name) and 'shock-proof' glassfibre body, but it failed to find favour. Same for the 1050 Coupe and its Spider sibling, which were based on #Fiat
850 platforms. The final ignominy heaped on this once-respected marque was the bizarre MV1700 - which featured 1.7-litre #Ford-V4
power and open or closed bodywork moulded by boatbuilder Corbetta. In 1967 it was all over. Tooling was destroyed, as were remaining spares.
That wasn't quite the end of the story. The name was revived in #1999
using Japanese finance, yet the Ercole Spada-styled, #Subaru
flat-four-powered 2500GT (or Dromos) remained unique. To many, the 1600GT remains the last true OSCA, yet precise production figures are a source of debate. Chassis numbers started at 001 and ended at 00127, of which Zagato bodied 98 (with three subtly different body styles), Fissore 24 (three of them convertibles), Touring a pair, Morelli just the one and Boneschi a trio of angular coupes. The problem is, some historians believe there are gaps in the chassis log and that the actual figure is closer to a mere 66 cars.
Either way, the 1600GT is uncommon in any of its many flavours. 'Our' car was first seen on the OSCA stand at the #1961
Turin motor show, Road & Tracks Henry Manney III going so far as to describe its outline as being 'pleasant'. He went on to ponder the likelihood of it entering series production as a standalone variant. No chance: Touring had bigger fisher to fry.
That same year saw Touring's principal Carlo Felice Bianchi Anderloni entertain George Carless, the ironically named general manager of the Rootes Group's newly established Italian headquarters. This led to an agreement whereby Touring would open a facility big enough to accommodate production lines. Britain was outside the European Common Market at the time, so it made sense to have a manufacturing site within the EC's borders. Sunbeam Alpine and Hillman Super Minx models would be assembled there, with Touring tailoring niche models.
Touring had contracts with other manufacturers, but they were pared back in preparation for the manufacture of 10,000 Rootes products a year. Rootes then got cold feet and Touring employees went on strike in 1963. The firm's Nova Milanese factor}’ was never used to its full capacity - not even close - and it lurched into receivership in March 1964. There were attempts to turn around its fortunes: a batch of 400 Hillmans was assembled in short order from CKD kits, along with 100 Sunbeams. There was also the stop-start construction of #Lamborghini-350GT
Giulia GTC bodies. A year later, Touring was given the task of repainting a thousand unsold #Lancia
Flaminias that had remained on the company's books. There were other orders, but none that could possibly return the company to prosperity. By late 1967, the game was over.
It was a sad end for a carrozzeria that had produced a slide-show succession of design icons spanning several decades. Following its Turin showing in #1961
, chassis 0014 was sold to a trader in Genoa who moved it on the following year to a woman from Pasaro. She retained the car for 50 years before selling it to a dealer in Bergamo. It was acquired by arch-collector Corrado Lopresto in 2012. He is at pains to point out that the car hasn't been restored so much as titivated. It was mechanically overhauled, while the bodywork is largely original. The 1600GT has, however, been returned to its original colour, having been painted in a lighter shade of green early in its life. It has since gone on to win several concours prizes on more than one continent, most recently at the #2014
Photographs don't really lend a sense of scale: the OSCA is barely 3900mm long, 1497mm wide and approximately 1200mm high. As such, there's an art to getting into it that doesn't involve you banging your noggin against the delicate ally skin. What's more, it's worth the effort. The cabin trim, from doorcards to carpeting, is all original, having merely been cleaned. The body-coloured dash is fronted by an attractive alloy-spoked wheel, its array of Jaeger instruments bearing the legend 'Fratelli Maserati Bologna' at their bases. The speedo runs to 200km/h, the revcounter to 8000rpm. There's no redline.
Prior experience of OSCAs informs you that they're unhappy in traffic, not least because of the high-profile cams, yet this example is wonderfully well-mannered, if noisy. That rather goes with the territory - but what a noise. There's little urge below around 2000rpm but, once free of hectoring commuters and on less congested roads on the outskirts of Milan, the 1600GT comes into its own. It thrives on revs, becoming increasingly choral past 5000rpm. It feels like a thoroughbred engine, and it is precisely that. While Fiat made ample use of the OSCA unit, it supplied the blocks to OSCA unmachined. These in turn were honed and modified to the point that there were significant differences, not least increased oil flow to the journals, the use of special pistons and so on. Its competition heritage is palpable. It crackles with energy.
The in-house gearshift is close-coupled to the point that it's all-too-easy to fluff a change and move from first to fourth but, with familiarity, it's delightfully precise. The steering, too, is light but accurate with it. You guide the #OSCA
with smooth, minimal input rather than sawing at the wheel. Turn-in is crisp, and there's little discernible weight transfer. The ride is a little unyielding, but even the briefest of sorties is an immersive experience. It's a wonderful car, and one with bags of character.
Whether success eluded the #1600GT
or it eluded success is a moot point. It's a step above most small-series sports cars of the day, one that was capable of sub-8 second 0-60mph times, depending on state of tune. What's more, it had an enviable competition pedigree and wore distinctive outlines conjured by some of the more celebrated styling houses of the day. If not quite its final curtain, this was OSCA's last triumph.
THANKS TO Corrado Lopresto, his son Duccio, and Massimo Delbo.
Car #1961 #OSCA-1600GT
ENGINE 1568cc four-cylinder, DOHC, twin Weber 38DCOE carburettors
POWER 115bhp @ 6800rpm
TORQUE 105lb ft @ 4800rpm
TRANSMISSION Five-speed manual, rear-wheel drive
STEERING Rack and pinion
Front: double wishbones, coil springs, telescopic dampers, anti-roll bar.
Rear: double wishbones, coil springs, telescopic dampers.
PERFORMANCE Top speed 118mph
'This ear was first seen on the OSCA stand at the 1961 Turin motor show’