OSCA MT4 Coupe - Le Mans 1953

by Tim Dyke


This most beautiful machine ( bellissima macchina! ) has been on my 'must do' list for ever. At the start of this project, in February 2001, we went to the Retromobile Show in Paris and trawled the aisles for research material. One of the photographic agencies came up with a great selection of black and white shots of its Le Mans forays in 1952 and 1953, but no one could tell me what colour it was. For better or worse we decided to go ahead and build it from scratch, as, at that time, no one had produced a kit which we could modify.


This leap of faith was rewarded, thank goodness, in June of the same year when the latest issue of 'Classic and Sportscar' dropped open at the book review page. My eye was taken by the words 'Mintex Man', as my cousin had married the 'Lucas Man' of the same fifties era. Leaping off the page were the priceless words "…. Or proof that OSCA's wonderful Vignale-bodied coupe from Le Mans 1953 was unpainted, it's all here…..". So the photographs taken by the late Lionel Clegg, the Mintex racing manager from all those years ago, had come to my rescue.
Guy Loveridge, who compiled the book, captioned the OSCA photo "I think this is one of the prettiest cars ever built", to which I can only add "hear hear".

Making a masterpiece....

Further research, including a load of invaluable interior cockpit detail came from the late Bill Mason's film of the 1952 race, made for Shell oils. Although the bodywork for the 1953 race was heavily modified around the nose, the cockpit was unaltered. The film followed martial (Dr Damonte's co-driver) on his epic push all the way from Arnage corner to the pits, the camera constantly peeking into the cockpit and showing wonderful detail of the dash, sliding window arrangements, spare wheel and straps, presumably whilst the cameraman was walking alongside the car! Imagine that today!

Having discovered that the OSCA ran in 1953 in unpainted, hand beaten, aluminium form, a lot of trial painting techniques were essayed. After years of learning to achieve a decent, not too glossy, smooth finish, I had to re-train to attempt to produce a nearly matt, blotchy, inconsistent effect, to replicate what I had seen in the 'Mintex Man' book. Please bear in mind that Italian coachbuilders of this era produced the most beautiful exotic shapes by totally archaic methods. Not for them the sophisticated rolling machines of a Freestone and Webb or a Williams and Pritchard, a couple of hammers and a treetrunk sufficed. What I have attempted to achieve is nothing like a bare aluminium Lotus Eleven, for instance.

A sophisticated grill

Originally I had produced a single thickness photo-etched grille for this model. It didn't look right, so I asked whether anybody had attempted a proper slotted slatted grille in 1/43rd scale. I was led to believe it hadn't, but I remembered a similar one, for a Ferrari 375mm in 1/24th scale. My etchers were unsure whether it could be done in 1/43rd scale, due to the width of slot required, but said they would give it a try. As you will see from the enclosed leaflet, it worked, albeit at an assembly time of 57 minutes each for the first batch, coming down to the 'lap record' of 42 minutes each for the last! I hope you think it was worth it.

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Step 1

The art work being drawn for the photo etch

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2) Tools used in building the grill 3) P/E fret has 5 horizontals and 11 verticals plus oil cooler shown here being cut off
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4) Fine saw cuts to any unformed slots 5) Jig made from pins into fibreboard on flat plan to ensure squareness. The 5 horizontals are being
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6) With horizontals in place the 11 verticals are slotted in The corners are tack glued 7) When dry the grille is removed from the jig and all the peripheral joints are "spot-glue-welded"


My grateful thanks to the many Maserati and OSCA specialists who have given so much help in this project.

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Of the six Maserati Fratelli ( brothers ), Carlo, the eldest, sadly died young, at 30, Mario, No.4, swapping his spanners for paint brushes, became an artist, leaving Bindo, No.2, Alfieri, No.3, Ettore, No.5 and Ernesto, No.6, to form Officine Alfieri Maserati, a car repair business, just prior to WWI.

After hostilities ceased the brothers became increasingly involved in preparing clients' racing cars, based mainly on Isotta Fraschini and Diatto machines. In 1926 there appeared the first car bearing their name, built at their small factory in bologna. Alfieri, the founder and driving force, unfortunately had an accident on the Targa Florio, and never fully recovered from the subsequent operation, dying in 1932. By 1937 the arrival of the hugely financed Mercedes and auto union teams, coupled with a world wide recession, forced the 'Fratelli' into financial difficulties and the hands of the wealthy Modenese Industrialist Orsi family. As part of the deal the brothers were retained for ten years, from 1937 to 1947, and production moved to Modena.

On the day their contract expired, Bindo, Ettore and Ernesto upped sticks and hurried home to bologna, indeed to some space in a disused part of their original factory, and set up with one lathe, one vertical drill, one shaper, one milling machine, no booze and no cigarettes! They had been forbidden by the Orsis to trade under their own name and came up with - wait for it! - Officine Specializzate per la Costruzione di Automobili - Fratelli Maserati Spa. Some handle!. Thank goodness it became known simply as O.S.C.A. On the very early cars, the words 'Fratelli Maserati' showed bigger than the 'O.S.C.A.' bit, but the Orsis soon put paid to that, not surprisingly.

Ernesto's first design was given the nomenclature MT.4 ( Maserati Tipo 4 ), which begs the obvious question - 'whatever happened to MT.1, 2 and 3 ?' - some would have it that the brothers deliberately started at no.4, to make it look as if they had 'previous form', although the family name would surely have assured this anyway!

The little MT.4, 2-seater, originally in open 1100cc form , was a success from the start. Utilising a Fiat block with O.S.C.A.'s 

own O.H.C. alloy head, this beautifully constructed machine made its race debut at Pescara, Cornacchia at the wheel, in August 1948, followed a month later by its first win, an amazing victory for Villoresi with 1100cc of O.S.C.A., stripped of its cycle wings, beating 2 litres of Ferrari in the formula 2 race at Naples. 

At lake Garda in October, Serafini gave the MT.4 its second win and the new marque was up and running, gaining an enviable reputation for superb workmanship, and giant killing!
From 1949 to 1952 this reputation grew, with a new all alloy engine, developed by the brothers, replacing the original fiat-derived units. Race success came regularly, mainly in Italy, and particularly on the Mille Miglia, where its build quality and durability shone through.

The company did not enter Le Mans until 1952, when the Torinese chemist Dr. Mario Damonte commissioned a most beautiful Vignale coupe body to be fitted to an mt.4 chassis. This ran in the 1500cc class with a 1342cc motor, and led its class by a huge margin until its clutch failed at Arnage corner. There is a most marvellous black and white film by the late bill mason ( father of pink Floyd's nick ), produced for the shell oil company, which follows Dr Damonte's co-driver, martial ( of whom I can find no further reference ) in his epic push of the stricken car all the way from Arnage to the pits, a distance of over two miles. He looked absolutely shattered when he got there, but sadly the clutch was beyond repair.

For 1953 ( our subject ) Dr Damonte had the nose of the car considerably modified to a more conventional shape ( the 1952 version had huge brake scoops forming part of the grille ). He also had a new co-driver, Pierre Louis Dreyfus, who was quite a confusing character, running under various 'Noms de Volant', including 'Ferret' ( I cannot find out why ! ), and in our year, 1953, as 'Helde', which I can. 'Helde' is the phonetic spelling, in French, of the initials L.D. ( Louis Dreyfus, you see ! ).
This time they ran a 1093cc engine, and proceeded to win the 1100cc class with ease, coming 18th overall @ 80.96 mph.


By this time the fame of the little OSCA was spreading to the United States, and an amazing overall win ( with only 1500cc ) in the Sebring 12 hours race in 1954 brought in a host of enquiries from that market, and by 1958 production reaches the dizzy heights of 30 cars per annum!
But, by the time, the competition in the lower capacity classes was hotting up, from Porsche, Lotus and Cooper in particular, and the ageing MT.4 derivatives were no longer so competitive. The Fratelli were getting older and perhaps less energetic, and in 1963 ( when Bindo was 83 ) sold out to count Agusta, of M.V. Agusta motorcycle fame. The company carried on with exciting little road cars, but by 1967 it was all over.

Forthcoming attractions:

Nardi 'Bisiluro' LM 55, another Dr Mario Damonte mount, quite insane but fantastically interesting.
Gordini 'central seater' LM 54, our first of this very famous LM Marque.