The Maserati Birdcage Was A 250 HP Featherweight Champion

Illustration for article titled The Maserati Birdcage Was A 250 HP Featherweight Champion
Screenshot: Jay Leno’s Garage

Back in 1960 the Maserati Tipo 61 was the epitome of power-to-weight ratios. With a two-point-nine-liter inline-four engine making around 250 horsepower, and an all-in weight under 1350 pounds, it was ready to run. The chassis, weighing just 155 pounds on its own, was built from a series of thin metal tubes (much like the internet) welded together in an erector-set latticework fashion, with more tubes added until the car achieved its necessary stiffness.


Without that thin body on, it literally looks like an apparatus for containing a cockatiel.

The flyweight building process of the Birdcage meant that the chassis was kept as low and compact as possible, and the bodywork was given minimal overhangs and an uncommon tight-fitting wrapparound. The Birdcage’s swoopiness was an after effect, proving that when form follows function, the form functions.

This car makes as much horsepower as my 4,000 pound family wagon, but weighs about as much as my left tube sock. I can’t imagine what it must be like to drive something like this on a modern street [as Jay Leno does in the video below] with your face on equal plane to a passing Escalade’s floor pan. But I’d sure as hell like to find out.

This ex-Camoradi Tipo 61 has long been counted among my favorite racing cars, from an aesthetic point of view, that is. None of Maserati’s Tipo cars ever won the 24 Hours of Le Mans for which they were built, thanks to reliability issues, but it did triumph at the 1000 km Nürburgring race in both ‘60 and ‘61.

Between this car and Porsche’s incredible 909 Bergspyder, I’ve been given an unrealistic expectation for competition car weights, and the drastic measures taken to achieve them. I’d like very much to one day have my own home-built low-weight competition monster, in a similar vein to these two. I’d better get cracking, because unless prattling on about cars on the internet is suddenly seen for the dramatically undervalued vocation that it is, I dare say I shan’t afford any of Maserati’s lovely Tipos. Only 17 Tipo 61s and 7 of the smaller-engined Tipo 60s were built.

I’d look damn good in that white and blue beauty with a leather bomber helmet and a set of white canvas overalls, though. I already have the physique of an early 1960s racing driver, so I’m sure I’d fit perfectly. I guess I’m off to do some more daydreaming then.

Jalopnik contributor with a love for everything sketchy and eclectic.


Bradley Brownell

In case anyone cares, this is my 1500th post here on these good Jalopnets. Thanks everyone for reading.