Minichamps has just blown the socks off of everybody (including CMC, I bet) with the release of their beautiful red 1960 Maserati Tipo 61 “Birdcage” that Carroll Shelby drove at the Los Angeles Times/Mirror Grand Prix on October 15-16, 1960 and then in the last race of his career at the Pacific Grand Prix at Laguna Seca in Monterey, California on October 22-23, 1960. His overall performance that last weekend in two heats put him second place overall behind Sterling Moss driving a Lotus and cinched Shelby’s title as the winner of the 1960 USAC Sports Car Driver’s Championship. Interestingly though, the last win of his final season was earned driving a Reventlow Scarab.
The J. Frank Harrison-owned Tipo 61 Shelby drove was a direct descendant of the Tipo 60 that Maserati had their head of engineering, Guilio Alfieri, develop for privateer racers as its worsening financial situation in the late ‘50’s dictated a withdrawal of factory sponsorship of its own racing team. Both the 60 and the 61 were nicknamed “Birdcages” after their unique space-frame construction consisting of about 200 small-diameter tubes welded into a lightweight and structurally rigid chassis. The Tipo 61 was equipped with a 2.8+ liter DOHC four-cylinder engine canted to the right 45 degrees to reduce its frontal profile and center of gravity. Two twin-choke Weber 45 DCO3 carburetors fed fuel to the engine. Power was routed through a Maserati 5-speed transmission to a ZF differential mounted in a de Dion rear axle with coilover shocks. The front suspension came from their successful 250F and was independent with parallel wishbones and coilover shocks. Braking was accomplished by Girling discs, 13 inch fronts and 12 inch rears. The car was light and agile and, with approximately 250 horsepower, was competitive with cars that had more horsepower but also more weight.
When you first see this Minichamps model, your impression is: “Wow, that car is beautiful!”! The flawless Italian red paint is highlighted with Mobilgas Pegasuses on the flanks, Shelby’s name on the rear fenders and black number 98’s on white roundels on the bonnet, doors and boot. The front end of the car looks very clean, almost devoid of detail which made me question whether something was missing. The aluminum headlight covers didn’t show attachment hardware and everything looked so sanitized. My research for this review indicated that this is the way the real car actually looked. The body shape and flow very accurately captures the 1:1 and the wheel arches, stance and feel of the car are just perfect. The bonnet and flanks of the body have vent openings covered with expanded-metal screens…… these look so accurate! The wide Plexiglas windscreen arcs around the cockpit and exposes the portion of the “birdcage” that forms the support for the instrument panel and steering column. Minichamps has done a great job of replicating the tube welds and even has given us some of the wiring that went to the instrument panel.
The steering wheel is composite photo-etch and simulated wood and looks beautifully realistic. The twin bucket seats are flocked to represent a fabric finish. Down in the footwells you’ll discover accurately drilled pedals and, in the passenger’s footwell, the battery. Even the little U-shaped brackets connecting the aluminum body to the tubes on the cockpit floor have been faithfully reproduced.
Open the bonnet and there is a maze of tubes and cross tubes and hoses for cooling, oil and brake fluid. The eight spark plug wires in red and black go from the magneto to the individual cylinders. There is so much detail in the engine bay that it just takes your breath away. Even the wire running from the water temperature sending unit in the radiator to the gauge on the instrument panel is there! Magnificent! When you enter the boot and remove the spare, you see the same abundance of wonderful detail as found in the engine bay. The large rear-mounted, tire-hugging fuel tank obscures the de Dion rear end, but the detail is all there if you could just get at it!
The wheels are a story unto themselves: Each wheel is a beautifully hand-laced Borrani wire wheel. They have been created by mating a photo-etch rear set of spokes with a front set of real wire spokes, easing their construction and giving us everything we were looking for in realistic recreation.
To say this car deserves the highest marks is an understatement ! This car is magnificent, wonderful, outstanding, beautiful, and a real “shot across the bow” of the high-end diecast manufacturers. In making this car, Minichamps has shown that it can produce a model that successfully competes with the likes of CMC and Exoto. And they have given us a beautiful representation of this car at a price that is extremely affordable when compared with its top-end competitors. If you collect racecars, this is one that is a must-have. And I’d suggest putting your name on one before they disappear.