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Old 06-02-2011, 05:48 PM  
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Keizer, OR
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Most Beautiful Cars of Le Mans

1958 Ferrari 250 Testa Rossa
Torrential downpours, not to mention the death of a French driver, marred the race in 1958. Still, fans were treated to a wonderful sight: the American Phil Hill's now-legendary performance, in which he drove on the ragged edge at night in the rain with no roof in this red shock of an automobile. The Testa Rossa ("red head" in Italian) is still today one of the most famous Ferraris. The bodywork was designed for Ferrari by Carrozzeria Scaglietti. It charioted Mr. Hill to a Le Mans championship that year, making him the first American to earn such honors. Since it rained for some 20 of the 24 hours, its average speed of 106.2 mph was miraculous

1937 Bugatti T57 G "Tank"
Ettore Bugatti, an Italian-born French transplant, stunned the racing world with his victory at Le Mans in 1937. "The war clouds were evident in Europe and the German racing efforts were supported heavily by the Nazi government," explains automotive historian Ken Gross. "The idea that a French car from a small company won Le Mans was incredible."

While Bugattis of this era tend toward the Baroque, the "Tank," as this car was called, was all business. Quite aerodynamic for its time, it sits today in the Simeone museum in Philadelphia. Gross estimates its worth at some $20 million. Average speed over 24 hours at Le Mans: 85.1 mph.

1955 Jaguar D-Type
This car holds the dubious distinction of winning the deadliest automobile race in history while breaking the Le Mans speed record in the process. Nearly 90 people died at Le Mans in 1955 when a car launched into the crowd.

Some 22 hours later, a D-Type driven by British hero Mike Hawthorn (wearing a bow-tie no less) took the checkered flag. The car's body was designed by Malcolm Sayer, a pioneer in aerodynamics (he would go on to design Jaguar's beloved E-Type). The D-type could hit about 175 mph in a straight line and had no seatbelts. Average speed over 24 hours at Le Mans: 107 mph.

1955 Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR
"The 300 SLR was as giant an advance in racecar design as the WWII Messerschmitt 262 jet fighter was in aircraft evolution," wrote John Fitch, the only American Mercedes factory driver during the 1950s. Unfortunately, Fitch's teammate Pierre Levegh was the infamous soul who crashed his SLR into the crowd at Le Mans in 1955, killing scores and ending the company's campaign. Decades later this racer, which is on display at Mercedes' Stuttgart museum, is still an icon. The lengthy bullet-like nose was designed to hold the straight 3.0 liter eight-cylinder engine and the car was the first at Le Mans with fuel injection. Top whack exceeded 185 mph.

1966 Ford GT40
In 1963, Henry Ford II?"Hank the Deuce," as Detroiters called him?ordered his minions to build a Ford racer that could win Le Mans, something no American car manufacturer had done. What resulted: one of the great grudge matches in sporting history, between Henry II and Enzo Ferrari, whose Italian racers were invincible at the time.

Ford's Le Mans weapon in 1966, capable of 210-plus mph, stood just 40 inches high. "The cylinders are as big as wine bottles," Ferrari commented. When Fords famously took the checkered flag one-two-three, Henry II was beaming in the grandstands. Average speed over 24 hours: 125.4 mph.

1970 Porsche 917
"When you're racing," Steve McQueen's character said in the movie Le Mans, "it's life. Anything that happens before or after is just waiting."

Readers will recall the Porsche 917 McQueen drove in that film, which turns 40 this month. So dominant was this racing Porsche, it had little competition, which is probably why Porsche designers thought to entertain fans with surprising paint-jobs. These included the "Pink Pig" and the psychedelic "Hippie Car," which looked like a hallucination at 240 mph. The winning 917 coasted to the finish easily with an average speed of 119.6 mph.

2003 Bentley Speed 8
Dashing in British racing green, this beauty's name was an homage to the Bentley Speed 6, which won Le Mans in 1929-1930. (If it were not for the publicity Bentley earned with its dynasty at Le Mans in the 1920s, the company might not exist today.).

Like the Bentley winners of yore, this one paraded post-race back home to England. Said Tom Kristensen, "The King of Le Mans," who won in this car: "The famous Bentley Boys triumphing in the twenties, the way they drove back to The Savoy in London to party?all this was repeated in 2003 with our beautiful Speed 8." Average speed over 24 hours: 135.5 mph.

1967 Ferrari 330P4
The quintessence of a racing sports car in the early years of the space age, this Ferrari, as one writer put it, "looked like it could beat both the Americans and the Russians to the moon." Only three original P4s were built, and they are extremely valuable today. The P4 opened the 1967 season with a storied victory at the 24 Hours of Daytona, but at Le Mans, it managed only a second and third (Ford Motor Company won). Still, the song of this Ferrari's V12 is a triumph all its own. Average speed at Le Mans over 24 hours: 133.8 mph.

1989 Sauber Mercedes C9
The C9 had something for everybody. German fans loved it because it marked, in effect, the return of Mercedes-Benz to world championship sports car competition for the first time in over three decades. The car raced in traditional Teutonic silver. French fans loved it because Jean-Louis Schlesser?a Frenchman and the nephew of driver Jo Schlesser, who was killed at the 1968 French Grand Prix?took pole position at the wheel. Everyone else loved the C9 because of its fearsome looks and mind-blowing speed. When it won in 1989, the nearest competing marque (a Porsche) was nearly 60 miles in the rearview. Average speed over 24 hours: 136.6 mph.

1934 Alfa Romeo 8C
Alfa Romeo was in such financial turmoil during the 1930s, the Italian government took over the factory in order to save it. If it were not for the publicity gained by the manufacturer's Le Mans dynasty from 1931-1934, the company probably wouldn't exist today.

Chalk up the victories to the genius of the team's young racing manager, Enzo Ferrari (who called Le Mans "the Race of Truth" and would go on to launch his own company after World War II) and a brilliant pilot named Luigi Chinetti, who won in 1934 in a beautiful 8C (meaning eight cylinders). The car's average speed over 24 hours: 74.7 mph.
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