All the colour of La Sathre



Thanks to an adventurous amateur photographer, we still have a trackside view of a Le Mans which has long since vanished

It’s rare to see Fifties racing in colour, as at the time few publications would print it. But when a young French adventurer called Jean-Paul Margnac decided to record every day of his life on film, he chose to — use colour. His worldwide travels — anywhere from Norway to Africa by canoe, pedal bike, ski and motorcycle — mean that his files immortalise Algerian independence, the 1968 French student riots, the 1970 Isle of Wight pop festival and much else — including Le Mans in 1959 and 1960. Though not a professional, Margnac (above) brought a natural eye for composition and richness to the French classic. At the age of 74 he is still taking pictures, but remembers his Le Mans trips. “The thought that in 24 hours you could drive 4000kms appealed to the voyager in me. I drove to La Sarthe in my 2CV„ and only shot a couple of 36-frame rolls. Colour was expensive!”

Margnac also attended the 1963 race, but those pictures have vanished. Happily, we still have these vivid and remarkable images to recapture a past age.

The winning Testarossa of Olivier Gendebien and Paul Frere threads between photographers, mechanics and the Mai curious as it le Ferrari pit, se from the track by a protective yellow line

Above: skimming the bank, the NART Testarossa Ferrari of a young Pedro Rodriguez (aged 18) and a mature Andre Pilette (aged 42) sweeps towards second place. Note the bare arms…

Top right: although Aston Martin had officially stopped racing, two DBRls entered in 1960. This shot, of the Ian Baillie/Jack Fairman machine which finished ninth, emphasises that this was still a public road through a forest…

Below right: spectator applause urges the Gendebien and Frere Testarossa towards victory, chased through Arnage by the NART TR60, recognisable by its yellow flash

Right: Roy Salvadori’s upright driving style is distinct as he guides the DBR1 towards Aston’s only Le Mans victory, after Moss and Fairman played hare to break the Ferraris

Below: the stands and pits roofs are teeming as an enthralled audience watches. The Deutsch-Bonnet in the foreground made the most of its 750cc flat-twin engine to lift the index of thermal efficiency.

Left: spectators, officials and silver-helmeted firemen stand casually within feet of a Ferrari 250 TdF harassing a Triumph TR3. Behind, a Frazer Nash Le Mans sinks into the sand

Below: with its three cylinders thrashing, a Saab holds off a Stanguellini for 12th place. Note the Rolls-Royce grandly parked by the timing box at the side of the track