1953 Le Mans 24 hours: Magnificent Victory by Jaguar – All Records Broken
Le Mans (Sarthe), June 14th.
The Le Mans 24-hour race carries with it more tradition and history than any other event in the minds of most people and the occasion of the XXIst Grand Prix d’Endurance, on June 13th/14th, not only continued this position, but celebrated the 21st birthday by being the first occasion when over 100 m.p.h. has been averaged for the whole 24 hours. This wonderful achievement was recorded by A. P. R. Rolt and J. Duncan-Hamilton driving a factory-entered XK120C Jaguar and they averaged over 105½ m.p.h., thereby winning the special award for the first car to achieve more than 100 m.p.h. for the 24 hours. So fast was the pace set by the leaders that the first seven finishers all averaged over the 100 m.p.h. mark.
As always happens, the few weeks before the Le Mans event is full of rumour and speculation and performances in other races are always watched closely in order to judge the possibilities of a 24-hour win. This year, if anyone had suggested that Jaguars would have swept the board, with four cars starting and finishing in first, second, fourth and ninth positions, they would have been considered to be out of touch with current affairs, for it was well known that the Coventry firm were competing with the same models they used in 1951, whereas everyone else was preparing special new models. Right up to the first evening’s practice there was never a suggestion that the Jaguars had a hope of winning, unless everyone else blew up, but when Moss began to put in some laps at 4 min. 32 sec., comfortably as fast as any of the opposition, it was time to think again. At 4 p.m. on Saturday, June 13th, it was still not certain that they could hope to be in the running, unless the opposition fought against each other so furiously as to blow each other up, but 24 hours later it was a different story. Jaguars had set the pace from the fall of the flag, had held the pace for the whole 24 hours and had command of the race at a speed never before realised, which caused all but two of the opposition to retire or drop right back. The Coventry firm had achieved the impossible not by reason of luck or chance, but by winning the fiercest battle ever fought on the Sarthe circuit.
During the practice periods there was much of interest to see and this year more daylight practice was allowed, which was a wise precaution on the part of the Automobile Club de l’Ouest as the entry was full of factory-prepared cars whose speeds were of a very high order. Watching along the fast Mulsanne straight the speeds of the Ferrari coupés, the Lancias, Jaguars, Allards and Aston Martins were most impressive, while the two very streamlined 1½-litre Porsches were going past the Austin-Healeys with ease. Many drivers seemed to be of the opinion that they were doing 160/170 m.p.h., but a roadside calculation by the relative overtaking speeds of known cars such as a DB2 saloon, normal Porsche coupés and such like suggested that the really fast cars were travelling nearer 130 m.p.h. than 170 m.p.h. During the race the answer was given by official timing over a flying kilometre, when the fastest proved to be the Cunningham with 248.200 k.p.h. (approximately 154 m.p.h.), followed by the Alfa-Romeos with 245 k.p.h., Ferrari with 239 k.p.h. and Allard with 234 k.p.h. : as the local paper so rightly said, “not as fast as the claims made, but quite fast enough anyway.” At Mulsanne corner the impression was one of immense acceleration by the 4.1-litre Ferraris, unbelievable braking power on the Jaguars, Moss in particular, and the high cornering speeds of the little French cars, such as the Renaults. D.B.s and Gordinis. Back at the pits an air of quiet calm reigned over the four Lancia coupés, while Alfa-Romeos were content with an absolute minimum of practice. Jaguars had a spare car in attendance with the Rolt-Hamilton number on it, but fortunately did not use it, for later it was discovered that this would have disqualified them. Bristols were not happy about their oil pressure and temperature, one of their drivers saying that it was always the same with a Frazer-Nash at Le Mans ! Allard’s two four-choke carburetters were far from right when leaving a slow corner, giving a deep-throated cough, as though the engine was clearing its throat before getting under way. Wharton’s Frazer-Nash coupé was not happy about its brakes, though the works Ferrari coupés and Cole’s open model were going well. Times in practice do not count for anything, except perhaps to demoralise the opposition; as the line-up for the start is arranged on capacity, a supercharged car doubling its normal capacity for this purpose.
Between midday and 4 p.m. on Saturday the cars began to form up at 45 deg. to the pit-counters, with full tanks, all fillers sealed and all spares and tools carried on the car, checked over. Passenger seats contained boxes of spares, jacks, tools, shovels and anything else that might be needed during the next 24 hours. The Alfa-Romeo coupés carried spare starters and dynamos, others carried brake shoes, petrol pumps, engine parts, ropes, fan belts and so on. At the top of the line of 60 cars was the old supercharged 4½-litre Talbot of Chambas-Cortanze, then came the three Cunninghams, Briggs himself and Spear driving one of last year’s open two-seaters, Walters and Fitch with the new two-seater, with a very smooth bodyline and non-independent front axle suspended on torsion bars, and Moran and Bennett with last year’s coupé. All three were using the V8 Chrysler Firepower engines, with two twin-choke carburetters, while the new car had a different type of alloy road wheel and very large diameter small-width brakes, the wheels being located by studs and held in place by knock-off hubs. Painted in blue and white and supported by a large pit staff, each with his name emblazoned on his white overalls, and an even larger and more overpowering mobile workshop; it really did seem that it was time Cunningham received a win in return for his money. Keeping the Cunninghams company on engine size were the two new Allards of Allard-Fotheringham Parker, and Duntov-Merrick, these having the new, lighter, and more rigid chassis, de Dion rear ends, Cadillac-engines and all-enveloping bodies with large air-scoops in the middle of the bonnets. Next to the Allards were the four coupé Lancias, fitted with the 2,693-c.c. engines. These cars were undoubtedly the most interesting technically, being built on space-frames, with independent suspension all round. At the front the wheels were carried on a pair of trailing links, the upper one being connected to a transverse leaf-spring and the lower one to a long, thin telescopic shock-absorber. Hydraulic brakes of some 6 in. in width, with air scoops on the drum face, were connected to the road wheels by universally jointed shafts. The steering arms looked almost too frail, and the three-piece track rod was operated by a push-pull rod passing through a hole in the radiator. At the rear a transverse leaf-spring was again used, coupled to a wishbone at 45 deg. to the chassis line, the: differential and four-speed gearbox being in unit on the chassis frame, with jointed half-shafts running out to the wheels: As at the front the brakes were inboard and received cooling air from a scoop underneath the car. Telescopic shock-absorbers were supplemented by friction type, the latter being adjustable by a system of chains and pulleys operated by a wheel beside the driver’s left car. The 2.6-litre engines were wide-angle V8s with twin overhead camshafts to each bank and in the middle of the Vee sat a large Roots-type supercharger. This was driven by a 6 in. wide flat belt from the clutch shaft, running at slightly more than engine speed. Two Weber carburetters fed from long intake pipes; one carburetter in front of the blower, the other behind it. Between the blower drive and the engine a short Vee-belt drove a dynamo mounted at the bottom of the engine Vee. The cockpits were very functional and devoid of trimmings, though the driving seat was obviously meant to be sat in for a long while. A handwheel behind the driver effected shock-absorber adjustment, through a long run of chains and sprockets. Two batteries were carried, one in the cockpit and one in the tail, and the fuel tank behind the driver’s seat and over the gearbox-differential unit was filled by a tall neck running up to the roof of the very low Farina-built coupé body. Painted blue and cream, with the bonnet top air scoops coloured for recognition purposes, these coupés were clearly specially built racing cars, intended for one job only and the sole Lancia trace about them was the small badge on the radiator cowl. They were driven by Taruffi-Maglioli, white top, Manzon-Chiron, yellow top, Bonetto-Valenzano, green top and Gonzalez-Biondetti, red top. The three works Talbots followed, driven by Levegh-Pozzi. Rosier-Bayol and Mairesse-Grignard. These were similar to last year’s cars, being open two-seaters on the well-tried six-cylinder 4½-litre Grand Prix chassis. The pale-blue bodies were all-enveloping and rather large in proportion, while the drivers’ seats looked more suited to a sprint than an endurance race. Painted blue and white, and entered by the American Nash company, the two Nash-Healeys of Veyron-Cabantous and Johnson-Hadley looked very functional, with full-width open two-seater bodies, the standard 4,143-c.c. Nash engines, carburetted by two Carter instruments, being very smooth and quiet and giving prospects of good reliability. The chassis were the well-known Healey with trailing link i.f.s. and box-section side-members.
There followed six of the fiercest red motor cars yet seen in sportscar competition, three Ferraris and three Alfa-Romeos, all being diminutive coupés for the size and power of the engines. The Ferraris were on the newly-introduced 3-litre chassis, with Farina-built bodies of magnificent finish. One was fitted with a 4.494-c.c. engine, entrusted to Ascari and Villoresi, while the other two were 4,102 c.c. handled by Farina and Hawthorn, and Paulo and Giannino Marzotto. The engines were the usual Ferrari 12-cylinders, with three double-choke Weber carburetters, but all three cars were fitted with four-speed gearboxes in place of the more normal five-speeds. These new gearboxes had synchromesh on all four gcars and were bolted to the rear of the engine, the rear axle being non-independent, mounted on half-elliptic springs. A powerful but compact spot-lamp was mounted beneath the bonnet to assist with night work. In the design of the bodies great attention had been paid to the entry and exit of air for cooling the brakes and tyres.
The Alfa-Romeo coupés were to be driven by Sanesi-Carini, Fangio-Marimon and Kling-Riess and the coupé bodies, built by Corn of Milan, were on space-frames. These contained six-cylinder engines with twin overhead camshafts fitted with six separate single-choke Weber carburetters and the power unit was tilted slightly to the left to assist in lowering the bonnet line. Four-speed gearboxes, not five, as originally thought, were mounted in unit with the differential on the rear of the chassis and the rear suspension, by vertical coil springs, was de Dion. Inboard brakes were fitted and the location of the hubs was by very long forward facing radius arms and a de Dion tube running round the back of the differential unit, this tube being located to the chassis by a Panhard rod mounted on Silentbloc bushes. At the front, suspension was by double wishbones and vertical coil springs. The finish of the bodies was rather crude and similar to the Lancias, there being numerous bulges and scoops about the place, each with a particular function. The radiator air intake grilles were painted in different colours for recognition purposes, being red, yellow and white for the three teams, in the order mentioned above. Among this display of Italian might was the open two-seater Vignale-bodied 4.1-litre Ferrari of Tom Cole, now painted blue and white and driven by himself and Chinetti. Right beside the Alfa-Romeos were the three olive-green works Jaguars, to all intents and purposes identical to the 1951 cars. These were driven by Moss-Walker, RoIt-Hamilton and Peter Whitehead-lan Stewart. The major changes on the Jaguars were the fitting of three double-choke 40 DCO 3 Weber carburetters drawing air from a sealed box fed by a bonnet-top scoop, and the adoption of disc brakes. Whilst changing from S.D. to Weber carburetters the characteristics of the power curve had been extensively modified to give a much wider and more useful rev, range, far more power in the middle of the curve, thus giving better pick-up and keeping the peak about the same. Added to this was the effect of the disc brakes, operated by Girling booster mechanisms, which gave greater braking power and almost indefinite life and efficiency, with the result that lap times were reduced enormously with virtually no increase of top speed. With the improved power curve the Jaguar was obviously spending more time at its maximum than some of the faster cars, which took longer to reach their maximum, with a resultant higher average over a given distance. The performance of these revised Jaguars was a perfect example of the simple maxim that speed is a question of time and distance, not miles per hour. Running privately but controlled by the works Jaguar pit was a standard 120C driven by the Belgians, Laurent and de Tornaco, and consequently painted bright yellow. This, being a standard car, had S.U. carburetters and normal hydraulic brakes.
In an entirely different shade of British racing green, came the three DB3 Aston Martins, driven by the pairs, Parnell-Collins, Abecassis-Salvadori and Poore-Thompson. These were the beautiful looking new cars which surely deserve a prize for the neatest and smoothest sports-racing car yet produced in green. Virtually unaltered in chassis and engine, these 2,922-c.c. cars were strong favourites for high-finishing places and recognition was by coloured grilles and lights in the side of the tails, being red, blue and yellow in the above driver order, while the tail of the car contained an inspection window for watching the fuel rising in the tank while refuelling. The teams of Becquart-Wilkins and Gatsonides-Lockett were driving almost production-like Austin-Healey-Hundreds, complete even to bumpers and number plates. Then appeared the regular Le Mans oddity of the supercharged Peugeot 203 of Constantin-Aunaud, beside which were lined up two smart Gordinis. The first was a very smooth open two-seater, similar to that built for last year’s Pan-Americana race, now fitted with a six-cylinder Gordini engine enlarged to 2,473 c.c. and driven by Trintignant and Schell on what was obviously going to be a test run for the 1954 Formula. The other works car driven by Mieres and Guelfi, a North African, who had been showing promise, was the normal sports 2.3-litre Gordini already well known. All on its own in this part of the line-up was the 8V Fiat coupé of Luraui and Mahe, a standard model coupé with rexine covers over the headlamps. Striking a new note in aerodynamic coupés were the interesting new Bristols handled by Macklin and Graham Whitehead, and Wisdom and Fairman. Of very unorthodox layout the low coupés were mounted on chassis directly derived from last year’s G-type E.R.A., with coil-spring i.f.s., and de Dion rear, with inboard brakes at the hack. The Bristol engine followed the well-tried layout, but had a revised distributor layout, driven from the front of the engine, and crankshaft dampers. The cockpits were literally like aircraft, all the controls and instruments being Bristol fashion—even to the smell. The bonnet tops were painted mat-green to avoid dazzle in the very sloping windscreens and the roof tops were cream to minimise cockpit heating from the sun. The unusual but intriguing bodies, with double-fins on the tails, were very streamlined, the air flow being broken by a huge fuel filler on the right of the bonnet, a magnetic closing oil filler on the left, and 12s. 6d. door handles bought from an accessory manufacturer. The all-alloy engines were very clean and smooth and were illuminated by under-bonnet lamps when the bonnet top was raised. With an exhaust note that sounded as though they were doing at least 6,500 r.p.m., both cars were hopelessly overgeared and could only just stagger over 5,000 r.p.m. in top, the Bristol organisation apparently not being conversant with the length of the Mulsanne straight. Standing beside the Bristols were two more variations of British racing green, those of the very neat coupé Frazer-Nash of Wharton and Mitchell, and the Le Mans Replica of Gerard-Clarke. While these four cars were forming a line comprising variations on a German theme, there followed live thoroughbred German cars whose sole aim in life was to win their class. The first two were 1½-litre Borgviard saloons, four-cylinder push-rod models, with close-coupled saloon bodies following the general lines of the production cars, then two of the lowest and most built-for-business coupés yet produced by Porsche, with normal Porsche chassis layout, vast twin-choke Solex carburetters to each pair of cylinders, and detachable steering wheels to allow the driver to step down into the cockpit. To complete the 1½-litre German cars, there was a normal competition Porsche coupé, driven by Olivier and Martin. The Borgwards were entrusted to Poch and Mouche, and Hartmann and Brudes, while Porsche fortunes rested on the teams Clockler-Hermann, and von Frankenberg-Frere. Opposing these was a blue and white open two-seater Osca of 1,343 c.c., driven by Wacker and Makins, while the 1,093-c.c. Osca coupé that ran so well last year was again driven by Damonte, this time assisted by that old Le Mans driver Heidé. Veuillet and Muller had an 1,100-c.c. competition Porsche coupé and then came the long line of tiny French cars that were almost certain to provide the winner of the 24-hour handicap.
There were three very smooth open two-seater Renaults, entered by the factory, the engines being in the normal position behind the rear axle, two Panhards that the French considered to be the last word in streamlining, being vaguely reminiscent of the Gardner-M.G., again factory-entered, two DB-Panhards in open two-seater form, a Monopole-Panhard, a 4cv Renault saloon, another coupé Renault and finally two coupé Panhards. During practice one of the Pegaso two-seaters had crashed, with fatal injuries to the driver Jover, and the other car was withdrawn, so that one more reserve was admitted, that being Tiehra and Loyer with a 1½-litre Gordini, making the total number of starters up to 60.
At 4 p.m. on Saturday the flag fell and the whole field set off in a free-for-all race for the next 24 hours. Moss and Parnell both made very good starts from positions way down the line, obviously out to set the pace for their respective teams, as was Villoresi. At the end of the first lap there was a very strong impression that everyone was soft-pedalling and trying not to go too fast and Allard led the field, which was closely bunched among the faster cars. The first few laps at Le Mans mean very little and it was not until the end of the first half-hour that the picture became really clear. Rolt had put in a record lap at 173.667 k.p.h., Moss was leading the field, closely followed by Villoresi, Cole, Rolt, Fitch, Kling, Fangio, Sanesi and Hawthorn. At first it was thought that the Italian cars would all battle against each other in a delightful demonstration of Latin excitement, but it was not so. The Alfa-Romeos were clearly playing a team-game of waiting, running in close formation, Fitch and Walters with the new Cunningham were being pacemakers, while Cole was running a lone race. Allard lasted hardly any time at all and retired after four laps with a collapsed rear suspension that severed a brake pipe, the French-driven Nash was soon in trouble and Hawthorn came in with a loose brake pipe, but not before he had raised the lap-record to 174.160 k.p.h. Rolt pushed this up to 174.905 k.p.h. and Kling was timed at 245.065 k.p.h. over the flying kilometre.
By 5 p.m. the order had settled down, although the average speed was enormous, over 175 kilometres being covered in the first hour by the leader, which was still Moss, followed by Villoresi, RoIt, Cole, Kling, Fangio, Sanesi and Fitch. It was now clear that Jaguars were really a force to be reckoned with, as were Ferraris, while the Alfa-Romeos looked as though they were taking the role that Mercedes played last year. The Talbots and Lancias were quite outclassed, as were the Aston Martins. The lap record continued to fall, going first to Sanesi and then to Villoresi, while the Ferrari pit forgot the regulations and topped up Hawthorn’s brake system with fluid before the specified 28 laps had been covered, thereby being disqualified. The Pooré-Thompson Aston Martin was in trouble with its valve gear and then Moss dropped the lead to Villoresi and came into his pit for a plug change. Sanesi continued to record fastest laps, Rolt made up for Moss’ stop by taking the lead and just before 6 p.m. Fangio retired with a piston gone in his Alfa-Romeo. The pace was still at a fantastic figure and it was Jaguars who were setting it, causing the Italians to press their machinery very hard. By 7 p.m., after only one eighth of the time had elapsed, the RoIt-Hamilton Jaguar led front the Ascari-Villoresi Ferrari, followed by Cole-Chinetti, Sanesi-Carini, Kling-Riess, Trintignant-Schell, Mieres-Guelfi, Whitehead-Stewart and Fitch-Walters. Already the first five cars had gained a lead of two laps over the rest, while naturally the little cars were way back. Trouble was rife and the Parnell-Collins Aston Martin had spun on some oil and crashed, the blown Talbot had seized its brakes solid, Graham Whitehead had taken over the Bristol from Macklin and then had the engine fall apart causing a minor fire and a crash in the process and the Rosier-Bayol Talbot was out, as was the Lurani-Mahe Fiat which had de-arranged its valve gear almost as soon as the race started. Hamilton took over from RoIt and lapped steadily in 4 min. 35 sec., which was 5 sec. faster than last year’s record and a speed of 176.623 k.p.h., while Moss stopped again for plugs and then discovered the fouling was being caused by a dirty fuel filter ; this was removed and the car then went properly again, he and Walker setting about getting back among the leaders.
As darkness approached the Ferrari-Jaguar battle continued unabated, between the teams Ascari-Villoresi and Rolt-Hamilton with the Alfa-Romeo not far behind, the Ferrari recording a lap at 179.194 k.p.h. By 9 p.m. 15 cars had already dropped out and with pit-stops and changes of drivers the order underwent a shuffle, though Rolt and Hamilton were still well in the lead. Following were the two Alfa-Romeos. Kling-Riess, and Sanesi-Carini, followed by the Ferrari of Ascari-Villoresi, the Cunningham of Fitch-Walters, the Jaguar of Whitehead-Stewart, all on the same lap. Then came Trintignant-Schell in the 2.5-litre Gordini, one lap behind, followed by Cole-Chinetti, the Menotti, brothers (Ferrari), Mieres-Guelfi, and Moss-Walker, the last car back on form and making up time. So furious was the pace that the small cars were outclassed on handicap as well as speed and the Rolt-Hamilton Jaguar and the Trintignant-Schell Gordini were equal on the Index of Performance Handicap. Lancias were going well, but not fast enough, though they sounded immensely fast and it came as a surprise when Bonetto and Valenzano went out with engine trouble by 10 p.m. Through the early hours of the night the Jaguar pace continued with little slackening of speed, lapping at 4 min. 46 sec. in the darkness, and still the Ferrari of Ascari-Villoresi hounded away at their heels, occasionally taking the lead during pit stops, while the two Alfa-Romeos were comfortably in third and fourth places, apparently content to sit and wait. The Moss-Walker Jaguar was pulling up and by midnight had got back into ninth place and one hour later was seventh. The speed and endurance of the Jaguars was nothing short of remarkable and the consistency with which Rolt-Hamilton circulated, with laps as quick as 4 min. 37 sec., was unbelievable. The small hours of the morning saw them still in the lead on distance and on handicap and with no sign of tiring, while the leading Ferrari was now losing ground, handicapped by having no clutch. By 3 a.m. another Alfa-Romeo was out, when the Sanesi-Carini car had its rear suspension collapse and still the Jaguars went on, with the Whitehead-Stewart car now in fifth place behind the Fitch-Walters Cunningham. Abecassis and Salvadori had withdrawn their Aston Martin with oil getting into the clutch and the remaining car of the team was still sick with valve gear trouble, spending some time at the pits while the exhaust camshaft was removed in order to replace a broken tappet piston. By now the field was reduced to 32 runners and if the pace did not slacken it looked as though many more would fall out, for it did not seem possible that the Jaguars could continue at this mad pace. Continue they did, however, and cars fell by the wayside at frequent intervals, but not the Coventry products, they just went on and on, never missing a beat, while even the standard 120C of the Belgians was running like a clock. The last of the Alfa-Romeo was withdrawn when something unexplainable happened to it and it stopped before it became expensive and the second Bristol also burst its engine, this time more seriously, causing quite a major fire in the cockpit which burnt Wisdom rather badly. Another Lancia went out, this time Taruffi and Maglioli, the Mairesse-Grignard works Talbot stopped, leaving only Levegh and Pozzi circulating slowly by the 1953 standard but faster than last year. Although the Ascari-Villoresi car was still putting up a fight it was very lame, for the clutch would not free at all and it was using a lot of water. After each pit-stop it had to be driven off on the starter in bottom gear until the engine fired and once or twice it nearly failed ; especially after Ascari had left all lamps ablaze during a pit-stop ! However, in a win-or-burst attempt it was driven hard the whole time, but it had no effect at all on the remarkable Jaguar of Rolt and Hamilton that now had a lap lead, and was still leading on handicap, which was a remarkable feat that caused the French to check their sums over and over again.
The night had been very clear and fine, but as the dawn approached a certain amount of damp mist hung about, making conditions very tiring for the drivers, Hamilton handing over to Rolt with the remark that he had just had the worst three hours of driving he had ever known. Their windscreen had been smashed early in the race and both were suffering from wind-buffeting, but kept up the pace, nevertheless, with an average speed of well over 170 k.p.h. (105 m.p.h.). In the various capacity classes the Cunninghams had complete control of the 5-8-litre class, the 3-5-litre class was of course Rolt-Hamilton, followed by Ascari-Villoresi and Whitehead-Stewart. In the 2-3-litre class the Gordini of Trintignant and Schell was way ahead of the two Austin-Healeys, though they were both running very well and regularly. The new Frazer-Nash coupé of Wharton and Mitchell was alone in the 1½-2-litre class, the Bristols and Gerard-Clarke Frazer-Nash being out, while the two super-Porsches were in control of the 1,100 c.c.-1,500 c.c. class. The attractive little Osca coupé, run by a very enthusiastic mixture of French and Italians, was ahead of all the Panhards and the Bonnet-Moynet two-seater DB led the babies. In the early hours of the dawn all the Jaguars came in for routine pit stops, for fuel, oil and tyres and there was a moment’s consternation when the Belgian car, driven by Laurent stopped to investigate a loose plug lead just as the pits were preparing to receive Walker, who was making up time fast and due to hand over to Moss. The yellow car was put right and quickly shooed off, to the surprise of the driver who was unaware of the fast approaching works car. In reasonably quick time Moss was away, certainly wasting no time in getting into the driving seat, though the pit work was not as smooth and confident as one would like to see ; it was quick enough, but lacked the certainty of the Ferrari team. The Jaguar team were controlled by two signboards, one indicating faster, steady, slower or come-in by a simple and clear movable arrow, the other giving lap times with plus or minus amounts clearly marked in black and white, illuminated at night by a hand-directed flood-light. The Ferrari pit were urging their cars on with an impressive single-piece self-illuminating sign, like an advertisement hoarding, in the centre of which was a square containing the Ferrari ” horse ” with a light behind it which flashed on and off. Similarly a flashing-light Shell sign on the tableau indicated a refuelling stop. Pit signals varied with the teams, some being over-complicated, others restricted to a minimum, while one of the smallest cars had the largest board of the lot.
By the time the early morning mists had cleared and the Jaguar pit was full of frying eggs and bacon, Rolt and Hamilton were still a lap ahead of the lame Ferrari which was nevertheless still going hard ; three laps behind came the Fitch-Walters Cunningham a lap ahead of the Jaguars of Moss-Walker and Whitehead-Stewart. Two more Ferraris followed, the coupé of the Marzotto brothers, the open Cole-Chinetti model, then the 2.5 Gordini, Cunningham and Spear in last year’s open car, Levegh-Pozzi with the only remaining Talbot. Gonzalez and Biondetti with the first of the Landes and the Belgian Jaguar. While everyone not driving was contemplating breakfast, a regrettable disaster happened at White House when Cole crashed in his Ferrari and was killed instantly. Still the leading Jaguar kept up the pace, now supported by the Moss-Walker car that was gradually creeping up ; lap times were still around the 4 min. 34 sec. mark and the Ferrari was not letting up a bit. Shortly after 8.30 a.m. there was much excitement when the leading Jaguar and the leading Ferrari both made routine refuelling stops at the same time, while Moss moved up another place when the leading Cunningham came in for refuelling. At 9 a.m. the field had settled down to 31 runners and by mid-morning the sick Ferrari was dropping back fast, now in fifth place due to unexpected stops to discuss the clutch trouble. RoIt and Hamilton were now way out in front, but they could not ease up as the leading Cunningham was now beginning to heap on the coal and challenge the Moss-Walker Jaguar for second place. Just how hard it was trying was seen by its speed over the flying kilometre which went up to a record of 246 and then 248 k.p.h., but Jaguars were in full command and speeded their man up accordingly. The sick Ferrari was finally withdrawn at 11 a.m. having dropped back to sixth place and there was only the Marzotto car left to challenge the English-speaking teams, but it could not do it arid circulated in fifth place, keeping an eye on the mirror for the Gordini of Trintignant and Schell which was not far behind. On Handicap the French had at last got their sums right and a DB was leading, though meanwhile the leaders on distance continued at a speed well over last year’s lap record. Normally in this 24-hour race the leading car can afford to slow up by mid-day on Sunday, and lap at anything over 30 sec. slower than the fastest laps, but with the Cunningham still pressing hard in third place, the two leading Jaguars were kept going at a seemingly impossible speed. With three hours to go the pace slackened a little, hut the average was still over 170 k.p.h. and not far short of last year’s lap record, and there were 27 cars still running, the last of the Lancias having disappeared out on the course. In the closing stages the order did not change and as Hamilton took over to complete the last stage of the race he was followed by Moss, Fitch, Stewart, Giannino Marzotto, Trintignant making a final hid to catch the Ferrari, Cunningham himself, Tornaco, the Cunningham coupé and Johnson with the Nash-Healey. The two Austin-Healeys, though some way hack, were still running like trains and looking remarkably clean, while the two super-Porsches were beginning to get into formation for a typical German finish, winners of their class. The little cars were still going round, some fast, some slow, some only just, and the DB was still leading the Handicap event. As the leaders started the last, hour, both Jaguars and Cunningham began to have their bonnets split, due to fastening catches breaking and Moss stopped to tear a piece of his away, as did the leading Cunningham, while Stewart looked to be in danger of losing the whole of the side of his bonnet. All the cars were still sounding very healthy and were lapping at over 100 m.p.h., and when 4 p.m. arrived the whole Jaguar organisation relaxed, sure in the knowledge that they had cracked up the whole of the Continental opposition with a two-year-old car and had more than made up for their debacle of last year and their Mille Miglia retirements. It had been an Anglo-American victory in a most outstanding mariner, and while Jaguars cannot afford to become complacent they can enjoy a wonderful success, won after one of the fiercest battles Le Mans has ever witnessed.
Le Mans shorts
It was nice to see a Gordini finish in first-class condition, driven by Trintignant and Schell, sounding just as healthy as it had done at the start. Not only was it sixth in general classification, but was the first French car to finish.
Jaguars-started four cars and finished four cars, Cunninghams had their complete team of three at the end of the race, and Austin-Healeys their two cars.
The Jaguars ran on limited trade plates, painted permanently on the cars.
The complete Alfa-Romeo equipe was carried on a vast Alfa-Romeo transporter, the tools and spares in the lorry and the four cars on a trailer. The fourth coupé was for Stagnoli and Palmeri, but was the first car in the list of reserves.
Jaguar used an ordinary garage-jack for tyre-changes, leaving its handle sticking far out into the road, which was pretty startling to onlookers, especially during the night.
Fangio’s co-driver was Onofre Marimon, whom he thinks has the makings of a first-class driver.
It must have been interesting to hear what Enzo Ferrari had to say to the man, who told the man, who told the mechanic, who told the boy to put the extra brake fluid in Hawthorn’s car.