1927 Le Mans 24 Hours race report

Victory for British Car in the 1927 French Le Mans 24-hour Race; no fatalities in amazing seven-car White House crash

The Grand prix d’Endurance & final of third biennial Rudge-Whitworth Cup

The victory in the le Mans 24-hour race by a 3-litre Bentley is one of which all concerned may feel pretty proud. In England we are able to have no road races at all, and there is nowhere in the country where a race can be held for 24 hours. In spite of this, an English car can go abroad and beat all corners in a race under conditions which our more fortunate continental friends can be much more intimately acquainted with. In the le Mans race, the team of Bentleys, in spite of racing far from home and under conditions which can never be imitated in this country, proved themselves easily the best cars on the course, and but for one of the most amazing and regrettable crashes en masse in the history of motor racing, the result might well have been a Bentley grand slam. While however, we wish heartily to congratulate the Bentley people, we do not feel that other English firms deserve to share their glory. If we can build cars in this country capable of winning by far the most difficult and important contest for standard productions in the whole season, it is to say the least of it, regrettable that more firms do not show the world what their productions are capable of. It seems likely that this year the Bentley will be the only British competitor in the great continental races (apart from more or less privately built cars), and British manufacturers, therefore, have only themselves to blame if the world comes to think that the Bentley is the only British car worth mentioning.

The original twenty-seven starters were reduced to twenty-two on the day of the race by reason of several last minute withdrawals. The 3-litre Steyr did not put in an appearance, while the manufacturers announced that the three 2-litre Rolland-Pilains could not be ready for the race. As one of their engineers had been killed in practice, the two O.M. cars had to be withdrawn, and as a result of a crash in a touring car in which several of the drivers were injured, one of the front-wheel driven Tractas had to be scratched. As it was Gregoire drove the remaining car with his head bandaged up.

The only competitor to the Bentleys therefore in the big class was the 3-litre Aries driven by Laly and Chassagne. When the start was given, the drivers had to get to their cars, erect the hoods and start the engines with the electric starter. The Bentleys were first away, and at the end of the first lap Clement held the lead on the 4i-1itre car, with Benjafield and d’Erlanger on the two 3-litre cars second and third. At the end of a hundred miles, Clement was still first with d’Erlanger second, Benj afield third and Laly (Aries) fourth. Behind them came the three 1100 c.c. Salmsons, which proved themselves faster than the 2-litre Fastos and the 1500 c.c. 6-cylinder S.A.R.A. and E.H.P. On the eighteenth round, Clement broke the? lap record at 73.39 m.p.h., and at the end of two hours had covered 140.8 miles, or 9 more than last year. It looked as if the Lorraine-Dietrich record of 1926 was going to be broken.

From the archive

At the end of 20 rounds the three Bentleys came in to lower hoods, fill up and change drivers. L. G. Callingham now took the big car, while S. C. H. Davis replaced Benj afield and George Duller took the wheel of d’Erlanger’s car. It was soon after this that there occurred the amazing smash which altered the whole complexion of the race. Tabourin, on one of the 2-litre Th. Schneiders, while taking an easy left-hand bend on the grand-stand stretch, ran into a wall on the left of the road, and ended up right across the road. He was followed into the bend by Callingham, who to avoid the Schneider took the right-hand ditch at 85 m.p.h. and stuck his Bentley. The next to arrive was Thelusson on one of the Fastos, who just managed to avoid both the other two cars. George Duller on No. 2 Bentley, however, was not so fortunate, for he too tried to take the ditch, hit No. 1 Bentley, knocked it out onto the road again, and ditched himself in his place. He was followed by Davis on No. 3 Bentley, who somehow sensed danger, and braked hard before the bend, but ‘could not avoid hitting No. 1 Bentley. The next two cars were two S.A.R.A.’s, one of which managed to find a path through the wrecks and the other was able to stop. The extraordinary thing is that in this amazing crash in which seven cars were involved, the only person who was at all seriously injured was Tabourin of the Th. Schneider. The position now was that Nos. 1 and 2 Bentleys were entirely wrecked, while No. 3 had a bent dumbiron, a front axle out of truth, a broken wheel and a shattered headlamp and wing. After work at the pits it was decided that No. 3 Bentley could continue, but when Dr. Benj afield took it over at midnight, the 3-litre Aries was six laps ahead. The Bentley, however, gradually overhauled it until at 2 o’clock on Sunday afternoon, two hours from the finish, it was only 3 mins. 27 sec. ahead. At this point the Aries quickened up, but before

3 o’clock it had to retire with a broken overhead camshaft drive. This robbed the race of a great deal of interest, as the Bentley then won very easily from the two little Salmson.s. Of the twenty-two starters, only nine finished. Of these, fourth place was gained by one of the 4-litre S.C.A.P.’s, driven by Desvaux and Vallon. An 1100 c.cE.H.P., driven by Bouriat and Bussienne was fifth, an air-cooled 4-cylinder S.A.R.A. of the same size driven by Maraudet and Lecureul was sixth, while seventh place was gained by the very attractive looking front-wheel drive 1100 c.c. Tracta driven by Gregoire and Lemesle. Of the failures, one of the Th. Schneiders and two of the Bentleys were elimated by the accident. The second Th. Schneider was withdrawn after the accident to

Tabourin, and the second E.H.P. lost its water before it was entitled by the rules to stop and fill up. Of the Aries team, the 3-litre car was put out as already mentioned by a broken camshaft drive, while the two 1100 c.c. cars, which had Gabriel and Duray, both of whom have been well-known since the early years of the century, among their drivers, went out engine trouble. One of the Fastos broke its crankshaft and the other its magneto platform. The third Salmson broke a valve, one of the S.A.R.A.’s broke its crankshaft, andthe other failed to maintain the minimum average.

The performance of the Salmsons in this race is very creditable, and their victory on formula for the Rudge-Whitworth cup was well-deserved.