Rolling History: Le Mans Racecars at the Petersen

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What is the 24 Hours of Le Mans?  

On Saturday, June 15th, 2019, the flag will drop on the 87th annual 24 Hours of Le Mans in Le Mans, France. The grueling 24 Hour race is one of the most prestigious endurance races in the world and has often been called the “Grand Prix of Endurance and Efficiency.”

Tom Kristensen (aka Mr. Le Mans), has won the race a record nine-times, six consecutively. He says, “Winning is important but it is not everything. It’s such a big and great event in motorsport. You do more kilometers in that one race than Formula One does in a season, and probably a higher average speed. We average about 220 km/h (~136.7 mp/h) including pit stops and cover nearly 5,000 km (~3,106.85 miles).”  

Le Mans cars at the Petersen:

Vault Secrets:

Starting off the list is our 1936 Delahaye Type 135 Grand Prix / 47190.

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Delahaye produced 25 low-chassis badged Type 135-S in 1936. Of those, an estimated fourteen were short chassis Type 135 CS. This example, chassis number 47190, was ordered by a privateer to compete in the 1936 season.

The car came with a four-speed Cotal pre-selector gearbox and four-wheel cable-operated drum brakes and with a six-cylinder, overhead valve engine capable of producing 160 horsepower,

Before winning the indomitable 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1938, the car had two owners, was raced in eight Grand Prix and crashed once in the Grand Prix de la Marne; it’s not just a competitor; it’s a winner.

Three weeks after the win at Le Mans the Type 135 CS was badly damaged at the  24 Heures de Spa-Francorchamps. Later that same year, the third owner restored the car and it competed at Le Mans once again.

The second car on the list for Vault Secrets is our 1929 DuPont Model G Speedster.

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In 1919, E. Paul du Pont, an heir to the du Pont fortune, convinced his father, Francis Gurney du Pont, to underwrite a new business building fine motorcars.

In 1929, the idea proved fruitful as Du Pont Motors campaigned four cars at the Grand Prix d’Endurance at Le Mans. After the race, the company produced both second place and fourth place replicas for public consumption.

Although American sports cars like the Stutz and Mercer raced at Le Mans previously, they were entered by European drivers. DuPont’s campaign in June of 1929 was the first time an American driver raced an American-built car at Le Mans, making this car a piece of Le Mans history that should surely not be missed.

The next car on the list for Vault Secrets is our 2018 Ford GT Heritage Edition.

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In 2015 Ford shocked the world by unveiling the new Ford GT, the successor to the 2005 GT and 1960’s GT40 race and road-car series. Unlike its V-8 predecessors, the new GT utilizes a twin-turbocharged EcoBoost V6 to help make the car as light and as nimble as possible.

The new GT is made of carbon fiber, and its advanced aerodynamic form lets air pass through the body as well as around it. When the GT entered production in 2016, it commemorated 50 years since Ford’s original GT40s took 1st, 2nd and 3rd places at the 1966 24 Hours of Le Mans race.

The ‘67 Heritage Edition, released in 2018, pays homage to the GT40 Mark IV race car driven to victory by Dan Gurney and A.J. Foyt at the 1967 24 Hours of Le Mans making this a modern interpretation of a classic icon.  

Winning Numbers: The First, The Fastest, The Famous

The first car on the list for Winning Numbers is the 1960 Chevrolet Corvette.

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Briggs Cunningham, an American sportsman, successfully campaigned cars of his own design at Le Mans in the 1950s, but for him, it was not enough. In 1960 he returned to the renowned circuit with three fuel-injected Corvettes and a goal of outright victory.  

Despite Cunningham not receiving official support from Chevrolet due to the manufacturers’ racing ban, Chevrolet engineer Zora Arkus-Duntov (aka the father of the Corvette) covertly provided assistance to the American team in preparation of the historic race.

Through their efforts, Cunningham and his team finished a marvelous first in their class and eighth overall.

The second car on the list for Winning Numbers is the 1965 ISO Bizzarrini A3/C Competition.

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At the 1965 24 Hours of Le Mans, this A3/C competed in the prototype class against factory-backed, purpose-built race cars, such as Ford and Ferrari.

Against the odds of such titans, this A3/C finished an astounding first in class and top-ten overall. It was an unexpected triumph for the small automaker and the car’s builder, Giotto Bizzarrini.     

While the A3/C was retired at the end of the 1965 racing season, it continued to be driven by subsequent owners, including Bruce Meyer, who believes cars are meant to be driven and often takes it to local shows.

The Mark of a Legend
The final car on our list is our 1967 Ford GT40 MARK III.

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Of the seven Ford GT40 Mark IIIs built, only four were delivered with left-hand drive; this is one of them.

The GT40 model designation was derived, in part, from its low height, which was a mere 40 inches from ground to roof.

The Mark III differed from earlier versions in that it had round rather than oblong headlights, an extended rear deck with room for luggage, a less rigid suspension, and a more comfortable interior.

Powered by a 289-cubic-inch 306-horsepower Ford V8 engine coupled to a ZF 5-speed manual transmission, allows the GT40 Mark III to accelerate from zero to 60 miles per hour in just 5.3 seconds.

With its low slung shape, aerodynamic design and sonorous Ford V8, the top speed is approximately 165 miles per hour.

Even amongst all of the gorgeous, storied cars that are at the Petersen Museum, the Ford GT40 Mark III stands out as a timeless piece of automotive history.  

Race like the pros for a chance to win Michelin tires and HRE Wheels at the Petersen’s Michelin Le Mans Challenge.

By Chase Kassel