Porsche 962C, 1988, 3k (at least, and hard miles), £1,150,000
The racing around La Sarthe gets underway today. What makes this year even more special than most is the fact that it marks 100 years since cars first took to the Circuit des 24 Heures du Mans. Many things have changed since then; one thing has not – Le Mans is the ultimate test of skill, speed and durability. Each car listed here exemplifies those traits, possibly none more so than this 1988 Porsche 962 Group C car. Although what makes it special is that it didn’t win. Leading up to the ’88 race, Porsche had taken six consecutive victories at Le Mans, so for a 962 to come second, behind the victorious Jaguar XJR-9, was a surprise to many. This wasn’t that car, mind. That was one of the factory cars, driven by Derek Bell, Klaus Ludwig and Hans-Joachim Stuck. CK6/88 was the privately entered, Kenwood Kremer car. It qualified 21st, with a time of 3:32.480 (+16.840 behind the factory 962) but made its way to a highly respectable ninth at the chequered flag, having run 370 laps to the victorious Jaguar’s 394. What makes it unique, though, is its number plates. It’s now road legal, which recalls earlier times when Le Mans entries were road registered and driven from the factory to the track. Those days ended because the cars had become wholly too ridiculous for the public highway, which is exactly why this car is mind-blowing. Just imagine encountering it on the road - or paying for it when the auctioneer's hammer comes down.
Superformance GT40, 2011, 6k, £159,955
Of course, this car needs no introduction as a Le Mans' car. The story of David and Goliath – only this time reversed, with the mighty Ford beating little-old Ferrari – has been told on screen, in books and magazines remorselessly since 1969. If you don’t know that Ford beat Ferrari at Le Mans that year, with a GT40 then, perhaps, PH isn’t the place for you - sorry. And for the rest of you still in the room, sorry, too: this isn’t an original competition GT40 – if it were, you’d be looking at paying well over $10,000,000 in this day and age. Yet in the spirit of our constrained times, this Superformance feels like an appropriate bargain. It’s a Heritage-spec P1000 continuation car in Gulf P1075 livery, commissioned to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Ford’s original victory at Le Mans. In both looks and mechanical character, it faithfully replicates the #6 winning GT40. That said, it has some creature comforts that the racing car never had, like air conditioning. Even so (and I hate to contradict the advert here), I have never heard of anyone calling a GT40 a ‘comfortable place to sit’. I’d happily put up with the hardship, mind.
Shelby American Daytona Cobra, 2021, 1m, £264,995
Unsurprisingly, this list isn’t decked out entirely with original Le Mans cars. In fact, we were happy (and surprised) to find just one to stick on it, so the fact that this Daytona Cobra Coupé is a recreation, like the GT40 above, is fine by us. The model also has ties with the Ford and Ferrari story. Only six of these Daytona Cobra Coupés were made between 1964 and ’65, because, by that point, Carroll Shelby had been seconded to Ford to start work on its GT40 programme. The Daytona Cobra was also built to take on Ferrari – specifically the 250 GTOs – and it did so successfully. In 1964 it finished fourth overall, behind the three prototype Ferraris, but it beat the 250 GTOs to first place in the GT class. There’s is so much more to the Daytona Cobra story, but this is just a snippet, not a feature, so I’ll leave it there. Shelby American began producing faithful recreations of the original cars, of which this is a seemingly fine example, and presented here by a classic car dealer that needs no introduction.
Bentley Special 3/8 Litre, 1927, 1k, £625,000
With an event that has run for a century, it is no wonder that Le Mans means so much to so many, and also that there are so many legendary stories relating to specific races or the various manufacturers that have competed over the years. But if you had to name one manufacturer that is most synonymous with the race, how about the one that won the first race: Chenard-Walcker. Yep, that was on the tip of everyone’s tongue, wasn’t it? Or not, because maybe you were thinking about the manufacturer that took five wins from the first eight Le Mans races. Which, of course, was Bentley, with the famed Bentley Boys. This car isn’t one of the original winning cars, and nor is it a strict recreation of one, but it was built with the Bentley Boys very much in mind. As the advert explains, it was created, as you see here, by vintage Bentley restorer Neil Davies Racing in the mid-‘90s, for a historic racer named Peter Gooch. And no, he didn’t intend to race this car, either. It was built so he could drive to and from races on the continent, ‘in true “Bentley Boy” fashion’. This list just keeps on getting more and more extraordinary, doesn’t it?
Aston Martin DBR2 Recreation, 1971, 668m, £399,950
Another extraordinary car. It’s also a recreation but has more than enough historic links to Le Mans and Aston Martin, thanks to its creator, John R Etheridge. Etheridge, who died in 2014, had a long and prestigious motoring career that began in Feltham in 1956. That was when he joined Aston Martin at the tender age of 15, serving his apprenticeship in the Experimental Division learning how to build racing engines. That meant he was around at the time Aston Martin achieved its one and only Le Mans victory in 1959, although he first travelled to Le Mans officially as a member of the Aston racing team in 1962. Later that year he left Aston to join Ford, where, guess what? Yep, he was part of the team that created the GT40. Not long after that, he began his own company, specialising in Astons, Ferraris and GT40s, which is where this DBR2 comes in. Etheridge recreated this car by reverse engineering an original DBR2, with the blessing of its owner who trusted Etheridge to care for his car. It is unique in every sense, being a one-of-one, and in the words of Ted Cutting, who was Aston’s Engineering Director at the time the originals were built, ‘you’ve done a great job. I’d go so far as to say that the car you’ve built, I’d have been proud to have done myself!’ We couldn't agree more.
Jaguar E-Type Lightweight (replica), 1961, 5k, £595,000
Wondering why there’s no Ferrari on this list of Le Mans' specials? It’s because there aren’t any appropriate Ferraris listed right now. Next question, then: why is Jaguar represented by an E-Type Lightweight? Why not the factory racers – the XK120, C-Type or D-Type? After all, those are the cars from its La Sarthe glory years, which ran from ’51 to ‘57. The privately run Lightweights, meanwhile, were, comparatively speaking, a Le Mans failure. Jaguar's chief designer, Malcolm Sayer, created a streamlined, aluminium body with a lighter, race-spec version of the 3.8-litre XK engine as an interim car, before the planned mid-engine V12 racer (eventually the XJ13) arrived. The Lightweight helped on tighter, twistier circuits, but not the long, flat-out straights at Le Mans. Sure, the lightweight Es worried Ferrari enough to build the lighter, more powerful 250 GTO, but it never beat them at Le Mans. In ‘63 the Ferraris dominated, while the best-placed E-Type finished ninth. That was better than ’64, mind, when all the Lightweights failed to finish, full stop. But it’s here as a curio – a very rare and pretty one at that. As we know, only 12 of the original planned 18 were ever made – until Jaguar finished them off in 2014. It makes them highly prized, and why even a replica, such as this stunning '61 car, is such a beguiling thing.
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