Le Mans 24 Hours Winners Join Concours of Elegance 2023
The Concours of Elegance, presented by A. Lange & Söhne, is set to welcome a line-up of 10 winners of the famous Le Mans 24 Hours race to Hampton Court Palace this September.
The eagerly anticipated Le Mans 24 Hours Centenary Celebration, presented in partnership with Automobile Club de l’Ouest, pays tribute to the world’s most important motor race, the first running of which took place 100 years ago in 1923. Featuring some of the most significant and storied competition cars ever, this major new feature showcases the legendary endurance machinery that has battled for victory at the French circuit over those decades, with iconic racing greats from Britain, Germany, Italy, France and the US represented.
The 11th annual Concours of Elegance welcomes landmark historic cars from Bentley, Alfa Romeo, Ferrari, Ford, Mercedes-Benz, Porsche, Matra and Rondeau, in a rare chance to see such an assemblage on UK soil. They will line up in the grounds of Hampton Court Palace in what is set to be a jaw-dropping display of winners at La Sarthe – the perfect way to celebrate the centenary of the most famous, respected and hard-won race in the world.
1924 Bentley 3 Litre
A sceptical WO Bentley may not have been sold on the idea of a 24-hour endurance race in time for 1923’s inaugural Le Mans, but by 1924 he was fully on board with the concept, providing ‘Bentley Boys’ John Duff and Frank Clement with full factory support for their private entry. Their 3 Litre – now properly race prepared with four-wheel brakes, wire headlight mesh and a matting-wrapped fuel tank among other competition upgrades – repaid his confidence in full.
Despite an overly long pitstop due to apparent sabotage from a rival outfit, the crew were the class of the field and came in first. Wonder for yourself at the bravery of early Le Mans pioneers when you see this majestic but relatively rudimentary machine in all its glory at the Concours of Elegance.
1929 Bentley Speed Six ‘Old Number One’
As the first car to win the 24 Hours back-to-back – in 1929 and 1930 – the Bentley Speed Six ‘Old Number One’ is considered to be among the greatest of Le Mans landmarks. It was the lead machine of five entered by the British marque in ’29, and was based on the Speed Six sporting version of the venerable 6½ Litre tourer. Its tweaked engine made 190bhp, enabling 115mph flat-out.
Piloted by Woolf Barnato and Tim Birkin, it led the team to a podium sweep – and in 1930, despite strong opposition from the newly entered Alfa Romeo and Mercedes-Benz, it repeated its winning feat, with Barnato and Glen Kidston at the wheel. Bentley wouldn’t win at Le Mans again until its Speed 8 took the chequered flag in 2003, making ‘Old Number One’ arguably the most significant car in the grand history of British motor sport.
1931 Alfa Romeo 8C-2300 Zagato
Zagato’s aerodynamically optimised and lightweight bodies have given Alfa Romeo some of its most famous motor sport victories, and the legendary 8C 2300 provided Enzo Ferrari, then in charge of the Italian arm of the marque’s stable, with notable early successes before he went it alone.
The car on show at the Concours of Elegance led the alliance in terms of racing successes: chassis no. 2111005 is the fifth of 188 8C 2300s built, and the second of four long-chassis Le Mans Zagatos. Boasting a 155bhp 2.3-litre eight-cylinder, it warmed up with class victory at the Irish Grand Prix a week before Lord Howe and Tim Birkin took the chequered flag at Le Mans in 1931. It was the first Italian car to win at La Sarthe, and the first to break the 3000km barrier.
1952 Mercedes-Benz 300 SL W194
Also on show at the Concours of Elegance will be Mercedes-Benz’s 1952 Le Mans victor, the 300 SL W194, which would spawn the iconic ‘Gullwing’ road model. The first German car to win the 24 Hours, as well as the first closed-body machine, the 300 SL was a technological tour de force thanks to its light and strong tubular-steel spaceframe, streamlined aluminium body, ground-breaking gullwing doors and 165bhp 3.0-litre straight-six.
With Hermann Lange and Fritz Riess at the wheel, the car and its team-mate powered to a one-two victory for the marque. Only ten examples were produced, and this very machine – number 21 – is one of the most historic racing machines of all.
1963 Ferrari 275P
This mid-engined, V12-powered car is the sole Ferrari to have ‘done the double’ at Le Mans. It won for Scuderia Ferrari as a 250P in 1963 and then as a re-engined 275P in 1964. Ludovico Scarfiotti and Lorenzo Bandini took it to initial victory, heading up the Maranello marque’s clean sweep of the top six places. The then 3.0-litre 250P won the Scuderia’s fourth consecutive 24 Hours victory by more than 125 miles (16 laps), setting a new distance record and becoming the first non-front-engined victor. It was also the first outright success for an all-Italian outfit – both car and drivers.
By June 1964, the redesignated 275P sported a 3.3-litre V12. Driven by Sicilian Nino Vaccarella and Frenchman Jean Guichet, it again it set a Le Mans distance record, covering 2917.5 miles and averaging 122.2mph. The subsequent Ferrari one-two-three marked the last time Ferrari would top the podium at Le Mans – until the 499P’s 2023 win.
1968 Ford GT40
Ford GT40 chassis no. 1075 is another member of the unique ‘Le Mans double’ club. Entered via John Wyer’s JW Automotive Engineering in 1968, after the official Ford team pulled out of endurance racing, it was newly constructed to the Mk1 design and wore the iconic Gulf Oil livery. It faced stiff competition from Porsche in the World Sportscar Championship, but Pedro Rodríguez and Lucien Bianchi fought heavy rain at Le Mans to give the Blue Oval the International Championship for Makes title.
It was in 1969, however, that Jackie Oliver and Jacky Ickx achieved one of the most famous – and closest – Le Mans 24 victories ever, stealing the title from Hans Hermann’s Porsche 908LH at the end of the final lap.
1974 Matra MS670
Introduced in 1972, the Group 5 prototype Matra-Simca MS670 was re-engineered for the 1973 and 1974 seasons, in both of which it scored first place at Le Mans driven by Henri Pescarolo and Gérard Larrousse. Matra took first place in the makers’ championship both years as well, but that wasn’t enough to stop the French company withdrawing from motor racing at the end of the year to focus on road-car production. Could it have continued its winning streak at the 24 Hours? The winning MS670 displayed at Hampton Court Palace gives a glimpse of what might have been…
1979 Rondeau M379B
Locally born racing driver and constructor Jean Rondeau is unique in Le Mans history, in that he took the title in a car bearing his own name. His victory – driving alongside Jean-Pierre Jaussaud – came in 1980, in the eponymous M379B Group 6 sports prototype developed and built by Automobiles Jean Rondeau. The car featured a 460bhp 3.0-litre Ford-Cosworth DFV V8, mounted in an aluminium-reinforced steel spaceframe with glassfibre body panels.
1995 Porsche TWR WSC-95
Jaguar and Porsche’s well documented battles during the Group C days of endurance racing bred some incredible machinery, and the 1996 and 1997 Le Mans-winning Porsche TWR WSC-95 was one of the most iconic and successful. Using a Type 935 turbocharged 3.0-litre flat-six, which had proven highly successful in the 1980s, the car was developed with the aid of TWR and fielded by Joest Racing with unofficial factory support. With Davy Jones, Alexander Wurz and Manuel Reuter at the wheel, it led two 911 GT1s to a one-two-three win for the German marque. Joest returned for 1997 with Tom Kristensen, Michele Alboreto and Stefan Johansson driving – and the WSC-95 won by one lap after mechanical maladies eliminated its main rivals.
2003 Bentley Speed 8
Bentley’s long-awaited 2003 victory at La Sarthe, in the no. 7 Speed 8, was the pinnacle of a concerted drive to put the team back on top in motor sport after a seven-decade absence. Modern-day Bentley Boys Guy Smith, Tom Kristensen and Rinaldo Capello piloted the closed-cockpit car to both LMGTP class and overall victory, with its counterpart driven by David Brabham, Johnny Herbert and Mark Blundell coming in second. No. 7 is on show at Hampton Court Palace, giving fans the chance to get up close to this historic machine.
The Le Mans 24 Hours Centenary Celebration cars will sit alongside further exciting machinery at September’s Concours of Elegance, with an array of rare and spectacular concours vehicles and special features including the Levitt Concours, Thirty Under 30, Junior Concours and exhibits from Switzerland’s Pearl Collection. Outside the main displays, the glamorous event will assemble around 1,000 further cars in a series of special features and displays
James Brooks-Ward, Concours of Elegance CEO, said: “We are delighted to announce the full details of our Le Mans 24 Hours Centenary Celebration display, presented in partnership with our friends at Automobile Club de l’Ouest. We’ll be bringing you an unparalleled selection of winning cars from the legendary 24 Hours, from the dawn of the event through to the 21st century.
“Featuring machinery from Britain, Italy, Germany, France and the US, from major manufacturers through to independent trail-blazers, our display follows the rich history of the world’s most important motor race. Le Mans is known as the most evocative, storied event in motor sport, with countless legends forged at the Circuit de la Sarthe over the past century. We’re delighted to bring such landmark cars together; 2023’s show is set to be a wonderful celebration of a magnificent race that has enthralled motor sport fans around the world, and our most astonishing automotive extravaganza yet.”
Pierre Fillon, president of the Automobile Club de l’Ouest, said: “The centenary of the Le Mans 24 Hours is a major international event. We’re overjoyed that the Concours of Elegance is showcasing Le Mans and endurance racing cars this year. A big shout out to the organisers for honouring our anniversary with such finesse.”