At the 1973 24 Hours of Le Mans, Matra-Simca was going for back to back victories at the endurance race. The ‘72 race, however, was marred by controversy and tragedy, so this would potentially be their first legitimate victory. With the banning of 5 liter cars in 1972, the competition in the Prototype Sport class that replaced them was sparse. Most notably, Ferrari was absent. Then there was the awful accident that took the life of Jo Bonnier. Not only did the loss of a well loved driver mar the victory celebration, but his Lola was Matra’s only real threat on the track, and Henri Pescarolo and Graham Hill cruised to the win in their MS670. François Cevert and Howden Ganley took second in another Matra-Simca.

So, 1973 was a fresh start for both the race and the manufacturers. Ferrari was back in the Sport Class with three 312PB’s. And, Henri Pescarolo was back in his seat in a Matra, this time with a French co-driver, Gérard Larrousse. Their car was this one, an MS670B. It was an all new chassis based on the car that had won the year before. After the regular MS670 had trouble at the 24 Hrs. of Daytona, the 670B had many improvements concentrated on endurance. It had a new robust Porsche built gear box. Solid instead of ventilated inboard brake discs to avoid cracking. The V12 was detuned to 450 bhp with a rev limit of 10,500. And, 13 inch as opposed to 15 inch wheels to make the car lower. Two other 670B’s would also run plus an MS670 with the previous year’s set up as a just in case.

Endurance races are almost always wars of attrition, and the ‘73 24 Hours of Le Mans was no exception. Arturo Merzario sprinted out to a quick start in his Ferrari to try and goad the Matras into pushing their notoriously fragile engines. He would stay in front for the first two hours before he had to pit to replace his beaten brake pads giving up the lead to the Beltoise/Cevert Matra-Simca. First place would go back and forth between a Matra and a Ferrari for the first third of the race before the issues began.

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Carlos Pace had taken over for Merzario and made a quick pit stop, hopping out of the car and fanning his ass. The reserve fuel tank had split spilling gas into the cockpit and all over the driver’s seat. Apparently, Carlos sat on a cushion that had become soaked with gasoline. Matras briefly held the first three positions before two of them had to go in when each threw a tread which then damaged the suspensions. Through all this, Pescarolo and Larrousse held their car comfortably in third, plugging away consistently while cars all around them dropped like flies.

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During the night, the old MS670 had a fatal engine seizure reducing the team’s number to 3. François Cevert made up for it by setting a track record 3 minute 29.6 second lap in his 670B. But, two Ferraris were still ahead of Pescarolo and Larrousse. At 2:30 in the morning, that number was reduced to one when Carlos Reutemann rolled his Ferrari into the pits leaving a trail of oil. A few hours later, Jean-Pierre Beltoise clipped a guardrail in his Matra, evening the numbers again. Two Matras vs. two Ferraris. Jacky Ickx in the lead for the Italians, and Gérard Larrousse driving for the French a lap behind.

As the sun rose, the Ferrari had started to slow and sound sick and by 9 am, Larrousse had the Matra on the same lap as Ickx. The Ferrari went in for a new exhaust pipe, seemingly opening things up for Team Matra. But, this was an endurance race and they were suddenly contending with a broken brake hose. Now both cars were in the pits. Brian Redman was now set to drive for Ferrari and he thought he had beaten Pescarolo out of the garage area when suddenly the big blue French car roared back into the race and the lead.

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The rest of the day was a series of near and not so near disasters. The Ickx/Redman Ferrari broke open its fuel tank again. The Jaussaud/Jabouille Matra-Simca sat on the Mulsanne Straight for 20 minutes with a loose coil wire. At noon, Pescarolo came in for a routine stop when the car wouldn’t restart. The starter motor had overheated and since this was a part that couldn’t be replaced, the team had to spend 25 minutes rebuilding it. With the mechanical problems kind of staying equaling out, Ickx and Pescarolo were still neck and neck at the front early in the afternoon of the second day. The French crowds were besides themselves. This was a real race and their countrymen had a good shot at a repeat victory. The barnburner would last until 2:30 when the Ferrari’s engine gave up the ghost and the next 90 minutes would be victory lap after victory lap for Henri Pescarolo for the second year in a row. Merzario and Pace’s last surviving Ferrari came in second, 6 laps back. Jaussaud and Jabouille took third in the remaining Matra, three laps ahead of a Martini Porsche.

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Henri would be back the next year to defend his title, so tune in tomorrow.

This is another beautiful IXO 1:43. Great details and a solidly put together car for under 50 bucks.

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I think of myself as someone who is more drawn to stock cars you could buy in dealership, but I’m becoming hooked on these vintage racecars. It helps that this was a great era for racing.

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Happy Le Mans weekend gang!