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The Maserati Birdcage Tipo 60/61: History, Versions, Specifications

All things Maserati Birdcage on Automobile.

Rory JurneckaWriterRM Sotheby'sPhotographer

Maserati Birdcage Essential History

Sometimes nicknames come to define a car and such is the case of the Maserati Tipo 60/61 "Birdcage." Developed in the late 1950s by Maserati's chief engineer Giulio Alfieri, the Birdcage was developed as a replacement for Maserati's aging series of roofless front-engine race cars that ran from the 200S to the later 450S, launched in 1956. By this time, leading race cars were transitioning from antiquated and heavy ladder-frame construction to lighter and more structurally rigid monocoque chassis variants. Maserati chose a different path instead, creating a light and strong space frame consisting of over 200 small steel tubes all welded together in an intricate fashion, all highly visible at a mere glance inside the cockpit. The resulting structure looked much like a birdcage, and the unofficial nickname is how most people know the Tipo 60 and 61 models today.

Maserati Birdcage Tipo 60

The Tipo 60 was the first Birdcage on the scene with a front-mounted, 200-horsepower, 2.0-liter DOHC four-cylinder engine, which was installed at a right-leaning 45-degree angle to position the engine lower in the chassis. The engine was a significantly modified version of the one that served in the 200S sports racer, with twin Weber carburetors. The front suspension was independent with coil springs, while the rear used a de Dion axle setup with a transversely mounted leaf spring. Sir Stirling Moss was the first driver to test the new Birdcage, going on to victory in the car's first-ever race at Rouen in July 1959.

Maserati Birdcage Tipo 61

Alfieri's new race car was deemed a success and determined to be able to handle even more power, so a larger four-cylinder engine with 2.9 liters of displacement and 250 horsepower was installed to meet the popular under-3.0-liter class where much larger and heavier cars were competing. The big-engine Birdcage was given the Tipo 61 name and its diminutive size and light weight compared with the larger Astons, Ferraris, and Jaguars of the day meant fewer stops for fuel in endurance races. Moss and American driver Dan Gurney won in a Tipo 61 at the 1000km of Nürburgring in 1960 for the Camoradi team, while another team car took fifth place behind a Porsche RS60. Camoradi would repeat the win in another Tipo 61 the following year. Despite setting a speed record for the under-3.0-liter class at the 24 Hours of Le Mans with special long-tail bodywork for the Mulsanne Straight, reliability troubles would plague the Birdcage, costing it a win there and at Italy's Targa Florio open road race. Other famous Birdcage racers include Carroll Shelby, Ken Miles, Masten Gregory, Briggs Cunningham, Jo Bonnier, and even Roger Penske.

Maserati Birdcage Highlights

While the Tipo 60 and 61 Birdcage are the variants most representative of the model these days, Maserati's Giulio Alfieri did create three more models. As mid-engine race cars were increasingly showing the way forward in the top tiers of motorsports, the Birdcage was redesigned to accept an engine mounted ahead of the rear axle, but behind the cockpit. The first mid-engine Birdcage built for the 1963 season was dubbed Tipo 63 and was fitted first with a 2.9-liter four-cylinder, then with a 3.0-liter V-12 from the old 250F Formula 1 car. The rear suspension was revised from a de Dion axle and leaf spring to twin A-arms and coil springs. The Tipo 63 was less competitive than the Tipo 61, its most famous finish being a fourth at Le Mans in 1961 with the American Briggs Cunningham team. The Tipo 64 had a redesigned tube-frame chassis which garnered a new nickname ("Supercage"), while a single Tipo 65 was built. The 65 had a 5.0-liter V-8 from a crashed Tipo 151 coupe, itself a would-be closed-roof successor to the Birdcage, and a modified Tipo 63 chassis. In total, just 10 mid-engine Birdcage models were built before the concept was abandoned in 1965 and Maserati made a decision to largely abandon racing to focus on producing sporty and luxurious road cars.

Maserati Birdcage 75th Concept

In 2005, Ken Okuyama at Pininfarina designed the Maserati Birdcage 75th concept car for Maserati and it debuted at the Geneva auto show the same year. Based on a Maserati MC12 GT1 (a race car based on the MC12 road car, which borrowed heavily from the Ferrari Enzo), it was a functional 700-horsepower driver with carbon fiber bodywork and a lift-up canopy over the cabin. While token "Birdcage" symbolism was found in the dramatically curved fenders and a tube-frame-style dashboard design, little else resembled the classic model. Just the single Birdcage 75th concept was ever built.

Maserati Birdcage Buying Tips

As an out-and-out racer, the Maserati Birdcage Tipo 60 and 61 models are valued and purchased today primarily on their racing provenance. By that, we mean the history the car has achieved through the owners and drivers it has had and its race results. A Tipo 60 raced primarily by a lower-ranking privateer with no meaningful results will be worth less than the Tipo 60 that Stirling Moss drove to victory at Rouen. In recent auction results, we find a 1960 Tipo 61—the very Camoradi team car that finished first at the 1,000 km of Nürburgring with Stirling Moss and Dan Gurney—sold at RM Sotheby's 2013 Monterey auction for some $2.09 million; this is likely among the most desirable Birdcage models built. Just six Tipo 60s (one of which was later converted to Tipo 61 spec) and 16 Tipo 61s were ever built, so these cars trade hands very infrequently.

Maserati Birdcage Articles on Automobile

The Maserati Birdcage 75th debuts in Geneva.

A large man goes for a ride in a small car.

A Tipo 60 "Birdcage" ranks big.

We get a look at a real Tipo 61 and rare mid-engine Tipo 63 "Birdcage."

Of course a Tipo 61 is on the list.

Maserati Birdcage Recent Auctions

Maserati Birdcage Quick Facts

  • First year of production: 1959
  • Last year of production: 1965
  • Total sold: 6 Tipo 60, 16 Tipo 61, 7 Tipo 63, 2 Tipo 64, 1 Tipo 65
  • Last auction price: $2,090,000 (1960 Tipo 61, 2013 RM Sotheby's Monterey)
  • Characteristic feature: The Maserati Birdcage is an engineering marvel that innovated tube-frame race car design and proved that exceptional function can go hand in hand with beautiful form.

Maserati Birdcage FAQ

●     How much does a Maserati Birdcage cost?

Maserati Birdcage values are very dependent on both the exact model type and the individual car's provenance. Values range from $1 million or so to over $3 million.

●     Is the Maserati Birdcage a fast car?

While top speed for the popular Tipo 61 model was about 150 mph, the experimental Tipo 65 was said to reach 217 mph in testing.

●     How many Maserati Birdcages remain today?

As the old joke goes, "about 20 more than Maserati built." As race cars and experimental prototypes, some Birdcage models were essentially destroyed in accidents, but "rebuilt" later from mere scraps of the original car. It's difficult to estimate how many complete, authentic Birdcage models are around today, but suffice it to say, "not many."

 

 

1960 Maserati Tipo 61 "Birdcage" Specifications
ENGINE 2.9L DOHC 8-valve I-4/256 hp @ 6,500 rpm, 239 lb-ft @ 5,000 rpm
TRANSMISSION 5-speed manual
LAYOUT 2-door, 1-2-passenger, front-engine, RWD race car
L x W x H 153.5 x 61.0 x 41.3 in
WHEELBASE 86.6 in
WEIGHT 1,430 lb
0-60 MPH 3.9 sec
TOP SPEED 150 mph