A Macabre Race Car

December 26, 2011 § Leave a comment

An Austin Healey racing car involved in motor sport’s worst-ever accident is expected to sell for nearly £1 million after being discovered in a garage.

The car was hit by a Mercedes-Benz travelling at 150mph during the Le Mans 24-hour race in 1955. The Mercedes took off and crashed into the crowd, killing the driver and 83 spectators. After the accident the Austin was impounded by the French authorities. The current owner bought the car in 1969 for £155. The pre-sale estimate is £800,000, on top of which there will be premiums and tax, bringing the total to £1 million.

Despite the car’s macabre history and tired condition enthusiasts are expected to fight over it because of its rarity. It was one of three Austin Healeys built for the 1955 Le Mans and took part only because a French lorry wrote off the vehicle the team had planned to use.

The fatal accident occurred when Lance Macklin, in the Austin, had to swerve to avoid a Jaguar and was struck by Pierre Levegh in his Mercedes. One hundred and twenty spectators were also injured.

James Knight, from Bonhams which is selling the car at auction in Weybridge, Surrey, today, said: “It wasn’t the car that caused the crash, it was a chain of events that led to it. Mike Hawthorn [in the Jaguar] overtook the Austin-Healey then realised that he had to stop for the pits. He swerved in front of Macklin and braked hard. Macklin had nowhere to go.

“The accident was tragic but a catalyst for many changes in safety.”

Mercedes withdrew from racing until the 1980s and the sport was banned in Switzerland.

Levegh’s co-driver, John Fitch, became an advocate of major safety improvements and began actively developing safer road cars and racing circuits. At the Le Mans circuit the grandstand and pit areas were demolished and rebuilt.

The inquiry into the accident exonerated Macklin. The car was released by the French authorities the following year and returned to England.

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