Few cars combine form and function like the 1960 Maserati Type 61 “Birdcage.” Beneath its sleek exterior, the Birdcage was one of the most advanced cars of its time, as explained by Jay Leno and Jeff O’Neill, owner of the featured car. here in a recent episode of Jay Leno’s garage.
Birdcage got its name from its chassis, which was built from an intricate network of 200 chrome-molybdenum steel tubes. This maintained structural rigidity while saving weight. The bare chassis weighs just 155 pounds, while the entire car tips the scales at around 1,800 pounds, according to O’Neill. A look under the mosaic nose shows part of that tubular structure. The design also allowed the chassis to sit very low, as evidenced by protruding wheel protrusions.
Birdcage’s first variant was the 1959 Type 60, which used a 2.0-liter inline 4-horsepower engine. The car featured here is a later Type 61 model, which, at the suggestion of legendary racing driver Stirling Moss, obtained a 250-horsepower 4-liter inline four-cylinder engine. Only 17 of these more powerful models were built, including a Type 60/61 conversion. The tight piston clearance (Type 61 used the original 2.0-liter block) is a weak point, but the car is quite bullet resistant, O’Neill says. It also notes that the top speed was approximately 160 mph.
This particular car was owned by the American Camoradi racing team, and it ran at Le Mans, the Nürburgring and other tracks around the world.
While it is a pure race car, the Birdcage is still manageable enough to be driven on the road, something that would be impossible with modern race cars. Maserati tried to strike a similar balance in the early 2000s with the Ferrari-based MC12, but that car was never very successful on the track.
Maserati has largely avoided motor sports for more than a decade, although the automaker noted that its upcoming MC20 supercar “is the natural evolution” of the MC12, indicating a possible dual identity as a race car and a road car.
Watch the full video to hear the Birdcage Type 61 in the full chat. The video does not include the regular visit to the garage, and the sound of the engine makes it difficult to hear the conversation. Still, it’s a pleasure to see this car in operation, let alone on public roads.