There are vehicles that have gone down in history for their great successes, for the innovations they have introduced or for the driver who has driven them. Others, on the other hand, have become true icons for what they have represented: a unique history, a turning point, a social phenomenon, an event that has gone beyond the grandstands of a circuit and has marked an era.
This is the case of Maserati "Eldorado", famous for having been in 1958 the first car in Europe to be sponsored by a brand not linked to the world of motorsports. In this case the Eldorado ice cream from Italy.
This is the first example of modern sponsorship, where the vehicle took on the colors of the partner company, abandoning the traditional colors that the International Automobile Federation assigned to each country. This was a true revolution of vital importance for the future of motorsports as it opened the door to new funders.
The vehicle was entrusted to Maserati, which painted its machines red because it was the color assigned by the FIA at the time, for Gino Zanetti, owner of the Eldorado ice cream industry. Zanetti wanted to promote the brand internationally and went to the Casa del Tridente to build a car with which to compete in Monza at Two Worlds Trophy. It was a competition organized by the Club of Italy on the Lombard circuit on 500 Miles, As in Indianapolis, with the participation of the best American and European pilots.
The Maserati 420 / M / 58, chassis 4203, was fully decorated in cream white with red accents. Two black logos with the word Eldorado in large dimensions were located on both sides of the cabin, while two other smaller ones were placed in the front, and under the small deflector that served as a windshield.
The logo with the smiling cowboy face was placed in the center of the trunk and on the sides of the rear fin. Under the two Eldorado side markings, the word Italia appeared in red to highlight the nationality of both the sponsor and the manufacturer of the race car.
On the long silhouette of "Eldorado", the name of the pilot also found space: Stirling Moss, one of the greatest champions in motorsport history, then an official Maserati driver.
The year before, in 1957, the Modena house had won the F.1 World Championship with Juan Manuel Fangio, after which he decided to withdraw from the competition and only manufactured racing cars at the request of private clients, also providing his assistance. In this way, the ideal conditions that the Italian businessman was looking for were given and it was precisely the reason why Zanetti turned to Maserati.
In a few months the engineer Giulio Alfieri gave life to the "Eldorado". The engine, derived from the eight-cylinder that had carried the 450S bi-axle, had a displacement reduced to 4.190 cc capable of giving a power of 410 hp at 8.000 revolutions.; this engine was mounted offset by nine centimeters to the left of the longitudinal axis, as well as the transmission. This was done in order to ensure proper weight distribution, taking into account the anti-clockwise direction of travel on the elevated curves at Monza.
The derailleur had only two ratios, while the De Dion-type rear bridge had no differential. The tubular frame was derived from the many times victorious 250F, although it was resized by the numerous reinforcements introduced to allow the car to withstand the demands of the concrete pavement of the Monza track.
To reduce weights, Halibrand magnesium brake discs and 18-inch Firestone tires with helium-inflated braided treads were introduced. With these adaptations, the vehicle reached 758 kg. The aluminum bodywork, handcrafted by Fantuzzi, was characterized by a vertical aerodynamic fin behind the cabin and a front air outlet for the carburettors.
El June 29, 1958, the three-set race that would have determined the final classification took place at the Monza racetrack. This decision was made to encourage European manufacturers to present their own vehicles, which initially had not been designed to compete in such a long and compromising competition for mechanics.
In the first heat Moss finished 4th and in the second, 5th. In the last one, instead, he broke the steering column and his Maserati ended the race against the guard-rail, eliminating the Englishman's hopes of finishing the competition in third place overall. Based on the results of the three races and the total number of laps performed, Moss finished in seventh position. The accident emerged unscathed and "Eldorado" did not suffer great damage either, demonstrating great structural strength.
Despite the success in terms of audience and entertainment, the Monza 500 Miles did not continue for the next several years. The "Eldorado" was modified by the Gentilini bodybuilder by removing the rear wing and reducing the air outlet over the trunk in order to be entered in the Indianapolis 500 in 1959.
This time it was repainted in red, the color of Italy in competitions, but maintaining the sponsor Eldorado by means of two texts written in white on the sides, in addition to the cowboy logo in a white frame on the nose and tail. The little experience of the gentleman-driver Ralph liguori he did not allow his classification, by setting the 36th time over the first 33 of the starting grid limit. With a professional at the wheel the result might have been different. But this is another story.
The Maserati “Eldorado”, perfectly renovated in its original white line, is currently in Modena and belongs to the Panini Collection.