Giant Killer: The OSCA MT4 was the little car that did

Tim Andrew

The David versus Goliath story and its multiple analogues have fascinated humanity for millennia, so it's no surprise that the schema was transposed to the automotive world almost as soon as there were cars. My first exposure to serious writing about cars was Ken Purdy's True magazine encomium to Ettore Bugatti, more than sixty years ago. The image of Bugatti's tiny cars flitting among and beating fourteen- and seventeen-liter racing cars at the beginning of the last century resonated with my barely teenage heart, and I've loved small cars ever since.

Jimmy Clark's 1500-cc Lotus 23 rocketing past the pits all alone in the 1962 Nuerburgring 1000 kilometers race -- so far ahead of the field that observers thought there must have been a massive crash somewhere on the difficult circuit that took out all the "serious" cars -- remains one of the most dramatic racing moments of the last six decades. But not the most dramatic moment. That was at Sebring, Florida, in 1954, when a young Stirling Moss, driving a 1453-cc OSCA, subdued factory teams from Aston Martin, Austin-Healey, Cunningham, Excalibur, Maserati, and -- above all -- Lancia, whose cars were driven by duos including Alberto Ascari and Gigi Villoresi, Juan Manuel Fangio and Eugenio Castellotti, and Piero Taruffi and Robert Manzon, proven winners all. Not to mention serious private entries like Phil Hill in one of three Ferraris, a factory-prepared Frazer Nash, and a pair of C-type Jaguars.

I was there, having driven almost all the way across the country nonstop in a '54 Volkswagen Beetle with two Art Center classmates, Steve Kursh and Joe Parkhurst. We had to hitchhike the last several hundred miles from Pensacola, where an inept VW dealership had blown up Joe's engine on its new chassis dynamometer when we sought counsel on odd noises (it was just sticking valves caused by cheap gasoline). We managed to get to the track a few minutes before the start of the race, which was the first notable appearance of European teams in the United States since the Vanderbilt Cup in the late 1930s, and it turned out to be as exciting as we'd anticipated.

As the hours passed, not only did the Briggs Cunningham-owned OSCA stay close to the front, but four other OSCAs were acquitting themselves extremely well, ultimately taking four of the first eight places with only one car retiring. To understand OSCAs, all you really need to do is read the badge. Under the acronym O.S.C.A. (for "Office Specialized in Construction of Automobiles" in Italian) were three far more significant words: fratelli MASERATI bologna.

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