This could be a Swedish or Swiss Saturday too, I suppose, but I’ll go with the car’s country of origin. It’s also the first Le Mans car I’ve done in a month, appropriate to start leading up into that wonderful weekend in June that’s on my mind all year.
Joakim “Jo” Bonnier was a well-respected Swedish gentleman racer who made a name for himself, working tirelessly and properly earning rides all the way up to Formula 1 in the early 70s, after a successful early career in the 50's with a series of Maseratis and Porsches. He never fully left sports cars, however, racing everywhere from Can-Am to Le Mans, where he would find himself in June of 1972 with a pair of these 280s. This one is not his, but is the team car (T280 #HU1, the first made) of Belgian Hughes de Fierlant, Mario Cabral of Portugal, and Spaniard (and Georgian royalty by descent) Jorge de Bagration. It qualified 9th but would retire after only 26 laps due to clutch troubles, with Cabral and de Bagration never having started.
Unfortunately its sister car, that of Jo Bonnier himself (T280 #HU2), would suffer a more tragic fate. Showing well early with future winners Gijs van Lennep and Gerard Larrousse, even leading and setting fastest lap at one point, Bonnier pulled out to lap a slower car on lap 213 and made contact after the amateur driver unexpectedly braked hard in Bonnier’s path (according to German Wikipedia), sending the Lola into the trees, where Bonnier was killed instantly. He was only 42 years old, and had until that point recently been campaigning with other drivers for improved track safety. In fact, 1972 was the first year for what would become known as the Porsche Curves at Le Mans, themselves intended to reduce casualties by bypassing the old and notorious Maison Blanche. Shame the changes later made in the sport didn’t come in time for him and the many others lost in those days.
The T280 was developed around the evergreen Cosworth DFV V8 to compete in the new top Group 6 category in the WSC. It used an aluminum monocoque, the latest thinking for its time, and was designed by Patrick Head and John Barnard, both of whom would go on to great success in Formula 1. These 3.0 versions used the DFV as a stressed member of the chassis, and had inboard rear brakes to allow wider rear wheels. A 2-liter 4 cylinder version was also developed, called the T290, which did not have these features. Bonnier, as Lola’s European distributor, got the first two chassis.
This model is in 1/43 and is an older Solido scored on eBay. Never the most accurate, but as I’ve said before, I love these for their hefty feel and period charm.
I’m happy to have found this one, as I’ve gained a special interest in Jo Bonnier’s career because his niece happens to be a client of mine, a wonderful lady. I recognized the last name when she first came to us, and she was amazed that a 30-something in California would know about her uncle! I’ve been looking for cars of his for some time, hopefully I’ll land one that he actually drove, and will do a little bio piece. His niece was generous enough to give me a copy of his family-published autobiography, “Fast. Faster. The Fastest?” It’s a fun read, packed with period photos, but unfortunately it doesn’t go up to his later career. It’ll make a fun backdrop when I can write his story up with some models here.
French Friday tomorrow!