1955 Le Mans - World’s most notorious race car sells for $1.3 Million

1955 Le Mans - World’s most notorious race car sells for $1.3 Million

Photo courtesy Bonhams

The Austin-Healey 100S at the center of the crash that sent Pierre Levegh and his Mercedes-Benz 300SLR flying into the crowd in the 1955 24 Hours of Le Mans sold for $1,327,051, including buyer’s premium, at the Bonhams December Sale, held Thursday at Mercedes-Benz World, Brooklands, U.K. According to Bonhams, that constitutes a new world record for Austin-Healeys.

Early in the 1955 Le Mans race, Mike Hawthorn, in a Jaguar D-type, braked hard to make the pit entrance. Lance Macklin, in the Austin-Healey 100S swerved to avoid striking Hawthorn’s D-type, but did not see a hard-charging Levegh coming up behind him at a much greater speed. When Levegh struck Macklin’s Healey, the tapered rear end became a ramp and Levegh’s 300SLR flew through the air.

Levegh was killed when he was ejected and the car came crashing down, its flying debris and subsequent fire killing 83 spectators and injuring more than 100 others. Macklin’s car came to a stop and he emerged unscathed while Hawthorn and teammate Ivor Bueb went on to win the race, which was not stopped by authorities, allegedly to keep fans from streaming out and blocking access to the track for emergency responders.

Motor racing changed forever after that day. Mercedes-Benz withdrew from top-level motor racing at the end of 1955 for more than three decades. Switzerland outlawed all motor racing, a ban that stands today. Other nations temporarily banned racing until safer, closed-course circuits could be built. Other manufacturers quit racing and most street racing was abandoned on both sides of the Atlantic.

Photo courtesy Bonhams

But what of the Healey (chassis number SPL 226/B, registration number NOJ 393) that was inadvertently at the center of the crash? The French authorities impounded the car for over a year, not releasing it to Donald Healey Motor Company until late in 1956. The damaged left side of the car was repaired, but with steel panels instead of aluminum as the rest of the car had been built with. Healey sold the car to a privateer who raced it for a couple of seasons before it passed through the hands of various owners, eventually purchased by its previous owner for ₤155 in 1969, its engine seized and with a rather well worn patina.

Unchanged since that time, the Healey obviously drew attention for its participation in that tragic Le Mans accident, but this same car was also raced at Le Mans in 1953 and won its class at Sebring in 1954, the same year it was also run in La Carrera Panamericana in Mexico and at Nassau during the Bahamas Speed Week.

With the Mercedes-Benz 300SLR destroyed, could this Healey be the most notorious car in motorsports history?

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