Jaguar in the 50's had a pretty excellent reputation that had them as a leader in the car world. Ferrari wasn’t worried about Ford, or Lamborghini. No at that time they had to worry about Jaguar and Mercedes - who had recently come out with the amazing 300SLR. Not even Porsche was a serious contender yet.
By 1955 Jaguar had already made their mark on LeMans, winning in 1953 with a C-Type. In 1954 they rolled out their new D-Type. It looked like an aircraft flying down the Mulsanne Straight. Unfortunately it finished 1 lap down on Ferrari. Jaguar went back to tweak their formula for ‘55.
1955 would be a world-changing race. All for the wrong reasons.
The beginning of the race was rather exciting, with the Jag battling a Mercedes 300SLR and them successively breaking the lap record. 10 times in the first two hours.
Then tragedy struck. This #6 Jag - in the lead at the time - was ordered to pit, and the driver made a sudden dash over to pit lane to make the pit. The sudden change and sharp braking made an Austin Healey behind have to veer out of the way and brake hard as well. Another works Mercedes in 6th at the time crashed into the Healey, sending it over the car and into the air.
As you can see in the above photo, the pit lane used to be basically on the front straight, and the crowd used to be right up against it as well. Unfortunately the Mercedes crashed into a wall, killing the driver instantly. The chassis was also made of magnesium and caught fire. Debris from the hard crash was sent into the crowd for over 100 meters. The resulting carnage left 83 people dead.
Amazingly, and to much criticism, the race continued. Officials argued that the mass exodus of race-goers would have inhibited ambulances from coming to help the injured.
At the time, the drivers were already used to terrible accidents, and soldiered on. Phil Hill (the only American born-driver to win an F1 Driver’s Championship) noted that he had slowed because of what he had seen. It wasn’t until Stirling Moss shot past him that he got his nerve back.
Stirling Moss and Juan Manuel Fangio were running a 300SLR for the Mercedes works team and with their talent, were able to climb into the lead. By midnight however, and still reeling from the horrible incident, Mercedes decided to withdraw from the race, despite running first and third. When asked to do the same, Jaguar declined. It would be 33 years before Mercedes returned to any racing. In 1989 they finally returned to LeMans as well and had a 1-2 finish in their Group C C9's.
Jaguar would go on to win the 1955 race overall, with its main competition having withdrawn, and Ferrari having had all of their cars break down.
Obviously, we can all agree that the race of 1955 would not have gone on today, as it did then. The race would have been called for sure. Unfortunately we also have horrible accidents like that one to thank for the safety we have today. The 1955 LeMans rocked the world of racing. Things changed for everyone.
Jaguar along with every other marque should have pulled out of the race with Mercedes, but that’s not how it turned out. It was a different time.
It was a truly historic era of racing. Absolute legends driving cars that we still revere today.
So now with the depressing history lesson over, let’s check out this truly remarkable model from AutoArt. It’s so rare that you get a quality 1/43 with opening parts...I had no clue their quality on the smaller scale was so high.
Gotta give a shout out to model citizen diecast for hooking me up with the only two new models I’ve shown off this week: This and my first post of the VW I.D. R.
Cheers everyone, it’s been a great week seeing so many awesome posts!