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Mysterious Maserati Uncovered 50 Years after Indy 500 Rookie Test by Al Unser

Sitting idle in a cold, dark storage unit lay a forgotten piece of motorsports history that very few people knew still existed. Even though in complete disrepair amid badly faded paint and hints of rust, through restoration and resurrection the machine was destined to someday return to its former glory.

Almost six decades of sunlight have come and gone since the No. 63 Arciero Brothers Maserati owned by Frank Arciero Sr. was entered briefly into open-wheel competition in 1964 and 1965. That carefully selected collection of parts produced the very first asphalt Indy car motorsports icon Al Unser drove. It was also the car Unser drove for his rookie test for the 1965 Indianapolis 500.

The Pete Weismann-built machine was seemingly taken from Indianapolis Motor Speedway and never raced again before resurfacing 50 years later some 2,300 miles from the track. Noted vintage car builder Matthew Wittmier discovered it among items he bought out of a storage unit in Shelton, Washington, the westernmost city on the Puget Sound. How it came to be in that place will remain a mystery forever, as the identity of the person it was bought from has been lost.

Wittmier found it through an advertisement on a well-known website saying a vintage Indy car was for sale with the names Arciero and Unser lettered onto its faded red-and-white paint scheme. He contacted Unser by phone and was told he did drive the car at Milwaukee and then Indianapolis but did not qualify it for the “500.” Wittmier also learned there is an ongoing search by Maserati for the engine the car carried that day.

Arciero, a longtime car owner, got involved in motorsports in the mid-1950s and fielded teams in CART and Champ Car through the early 2000s. Arciero also fielded cars in SCCA, Can-Am, Super Vee, Indy Lights, Atlantics and INDYCAR competition during his legendary career. Motorsports royalty often drove his cars, including Dan Gurney, Parnelli Jones, Jim Clark, Al and Bobby Unser, Roger Penske, Phil Hill, Geoff Brabham, Michael Andretti, Scott Pruett, Max Papis and Dan Wheldon.

Donald Davidson, historian for the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, uncovered vital information concerning the car’s early history.

“Apparently, there are three instances where the car was entered into races,” Davidson said. “It was entered at Indianapolis in 1964 on the Dean Van Lines team as a Delta International Movers Special, which I think was another Al Dean Company. The car didn’t run. So, it was entered and may have been at the track, but it was never on the track.”

Davidson offered a theory concerning the car’s brief stint at IMS in 1964 and why it was dismissed in favor of other possible entries at that time. The decision seemingly came down to personal preference.

“Dean Van Lines was having driver problems in 1964,” Davidson said. “There was no driver entered on the No. 94 Delta International Movers, which would have been Dean Van Lines’ first rear-engine car. That year, some people were starting to enter rear-engine cars, and the top teams had rear-engine cars and roadsters. The roadsters were the backups for the rear engines if they didn’t work out. A.J. Foyt and Parnelli Jones had rear-engine cars at their disposal, but they went in favor of the roadster again.”

Al Unser drove the No. 94 eight months before the 1965 Indianapolis 500 in the Tony Bettenhausen 200 on Aug. 23, 1964 at Milwaukee, as the Agajanian Bowes Seal Fast Special, completing 51 laps before engine issues sent him to the garage.

The car changed hands when J.C. Agajanian sold it to Arciero, a business magnate with large interests in construction, real estate, concrete and wine production in California. It was seemingly a good car fielded by a well-respected, winning team.

In 1965, Unser, a future four-time Indianapolis 500 winner, was in the midst of a career that was new and untested. Unser set out to follow in the tire tracks of his famous family of racers in hopes of making his mark in American motorsports.

There was father Jerry Unser and uncles Louis and Joe, the first member of the Unser clan to lose his life to the sport, killed in 1929 while test-driving an FWD Coleman Special on a Denver highway.

Al's oldest brother, Jerry, became the first Unser to drive at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 1958 but lost his life in a crash during a practice session prior to the 1959 Indianapolis 500. Middle brother Bobby drove in his first Indianapolis 500 in 1963, becoming the first family member to win the Indianapolis 500, in 1968. When Al arrived at Indianapolis for the first time in 1965, the Unser name was well known around open-wheel racing circles.

Al Unser confirmed the No. 63 Arciero Maserati was the first asphalt Indy car he ever drove.

“The very first Indy car I drove was in 1963; it was a dirt car at the Phoenix mile down there at the fairgrounds, and it was the Joe Hunt Magneto car,” Unser said in 2017. “The 94 car (now the No. 63 Arciero car) is the first asphalt car I ever drove. (Laughter) I don’t remember the exact paint scheme of the car when I ran it at Milwaukee because that was just too many years ago.

“I do remember when I ran it at Milwaukee, the car had an Offy (Offenhauser) engine in it. It did not have the Maserati engine in it then.”

Even though well back in the distance, an image in a photo taken during the opening laps of the 1964 Tony Bettenhausen 200 at Milwaukee seems to suggest the car was red and white as it sits today. Two extra solid red fuel tanks carrying 94s were included when the car was purchased from Wittmier by Ray Evernham in March 2017. The car and numerous parts were delivered from Shelton, Washington, to Ray Evernham Enterprises in Mooresville, North Carolina, in June 2017.

Unser competed in both the Sprint and National Championship divisions in 1965. His No. 63 Arciero ride was good but lacked the horsepower to get the job done. The engine blew, ending all hope of seeing the car in the 1965 Indianapolis 500 field.

He was relieved when at the 11th hour, A.J. Foyt offered him a ride in his backup Lola Ford. Unser qualified deep in the field, in 32nd on the 33-car grid, but avoided crashes and mechanical issues and finished ninth.

Unser remembers how he got in Arciero’s car and how it performed at Indianapolis.

“I remember the thing was a good-handling car at Indianapolis that year, but the engine just wouldn’t produce any power,” Unser said. “We ran the car 151 miles per hour, and it just wouldn’t go anywhere. Finally, Louie (another Unser brother) put some nitro to it, and we blew it up. It was the last engine we had so that just ended everything.

“To my knowledge, I don’t believe the car was ever run again. (Laughter) That’s because we had run through all of our Maserati engines. I think there were only three engines they had, and I think we blew all three of them.”

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