Raiders of the Lost Car

A relic Maserati Grand Prix racing car survived the most treacherous race tracks in Europe, fascism, decades of communism, the junk yard, yet it is still raced today by a fanatic.

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Chassis no. “3015” Maserati 8CM gained fame throughout Europe when in 2012 Bernhard Brägger of Switzerland published a book about a collector’s said acquisition and rolled the machine around various vintage car meetings - painted in the national colours of Hungary. This car was no ordinary restoration. It is not merely a barn-find with years of part-hunting to make it a working automobile, but rather a ‘survival of the fittest’ story, a car that went - seemingly - missing from public awareness for decades, but was recovered, restored and run at the end of the day. Buckle up and have your popcorn ready.


The Car

The Maserati 8CM was a purpose-built racing car, manufactured in limited numbers for three years in the mid-30s. It sported a three-litre, straight-8 engine (with an optional supercharger), churning out 220 to 240 horsepowers. Racing legend and superstar Tazio Nuvolari personally advised the final touches on the car making it stiffer and lighter, thus more competitive. The car, however, was not as competitive as anyone hoped it would be. It struggled to keep the pace with the lightning-fast Alfa Romeos, but both of them were blown out of the water with the German invasion of the Auto Unions and Mercedes Grand Prix cars. The 8C was quickly replaced with the V8RI type.

Starting its career in 1934 under the hands Nuvolari, the “3015” Maserati swapped owners between famed American dancer Isadora Duncan and Indianapolis 500 winner Peter de Paulo - who incidentally crashed it at one point - but it was more than often raced by the semi-pro racing team, Ecurie Braillard. The team disbanded shortly after in 1937 and the Maserati went to well-known Hungarian noble (while at the time a protector of then-ruling Hungarian fascist party) family offspring Ernő Festetics, a self-proclaimed gentleman racing driver.


The flamboyant 21-year old then raced the car at high-profile Grand Prix races virtually until switching to a BMW, but his mechanic drove it until the outbreak of World War II, after which the car was confiscated by the now-ruling communist party.


The Maserati had a mind-blowingly intricate afterlife in racing behind the Iron Curtain until 1958 (!), proving to be a stable winner even with its 20 year-old technology - many times at the very place the Jalopnik staff checked out some cars recently.

The car then went from owner to owner, at some point even painted pink, was disassembled, modified, restored, sold again for cycles. It was then restored to its original state as much as possible by a professional. So much so, that it even ran some demonstration laps at the first Hungarian Grand Prix in 1986. The Maserati then swapped owners again and sat in a house for another 20 years until Kurt Hasler, a vintage racer and collector bought it and restored it to its 1937 state, as it was raced by Ernő Festetics, in the red, white and green colours of Hungary.


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The Driver

Maria Josef Ernst Graf Festetics von Tolna - as Ernő’s full name states - came from one of Hungary’s largest noble dynasties - like most of the contemporary racing drivers in the country - and his virtually sole interest in Grand Prix racing was to beat the much successful, but not noble László Hartmann, whose social origin he was offended by. It is mostly unclear what his interest was in the Arrow Cross Party (the Hungarian fascist party), but his father definitely had a lot of money in it. Regardless, he was very much a party person as the following tabloid news piece from the night life of Budapest will show you:

Young Ernő Festetics’s blatant Night Affair in a Hall, Fitted with Rolling Down the Stairs

Young Ernő Festetics’s blatant night affair in a hall, fitted with rolling down the stairs at the beginning and the Prinz Eugen march at the end.

James Dunlop Junior - young heir to the Canadian Dunlop-dynasty - spent a few days in Budapest, which he is already very familiar with: this is the fourth time he has visited Pest this year - straight from Canada - because, as he puts it, here is where he can have the greatest time in the entire world.

Dunlop is 24 years old, tall, sports a black moustache and hasn’t taken a single step in the night life of Budapest without his permanent escort, a former captain of dragoons and baron from Vienna.


The Austrian baron likes to party - the sort of table-cracking, glass-chewing type - for whom - when entering some place - the Prince Eugen march is played wherever he is due to it being a well-known fact that it is his favourite tune.

Last night, the partying Dunlop and his company were having a good time at one of the halls near Andrássy road where Ernő Festetics - son of Arrow Cross Party member Sándor Festetics - paid a visit, too, whose one infamous night time exploit went viral during the summer, when he wished to drown in the Danube because of a redhead soubrette leaving for London.


It happened so that Festetics junior got a table next to Dunlop’s. One thing led to another, words were exchanged between him and the tipsy Austrian gentleman and guide, who shortly after warned Count Ernő:

“Maul haltem! Shut your mouth!”

Young Festetics also had something to come back with and next thing anyone knew was Dunlop’s escort chasing the Count - windmilling his arms around in lack of a sabre - down the checkroom, the stairs, all the way to the street entrance.


The conflict did not escalate any further, Festetics thus returned to the hall and even made peace with the Austrian baron at a record pace. Soon after, all three of them were sitting in the same box, singing the Prinz Eugen march as a sign of their newly found friendship.


Life’s on when it’s on.

October, 1935

Festetics raced the red, white and green Maserati 8CM in Turin, Naples, Milan, Brno and twice at the Nürburgring in 1937, the very one you can see in the following video from 17:15.

You can learn more about the car by visiting the website of the book that details the whole story.


[images - where not stated otherwise - are of unknown sources, copyrighted by third parties, I do not own them, inserted for entertainment purposes only]

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