Like all racing accidents, the most horrific crash in the history of motorsports happened in a single, chaotic sequence. When Jaguar driver Mike Hawthorn dove unexpectedly into pit lane, Lance Macklin swerved his Austin Healey into the trajectory of Pierre Levegh's Mercedes 300SLR.
The 1953 Austin Healey at the center of the most horrific crash in the history of motorsports — the crash at the 1955 Le Mans that left 85 dead, and dozens maimed and injured — was just sold at auction for $1.3 million. Here is the story of the world's deadliest race car.
Levegh's magnesium-bodied Mercedes slammed into Macklin's Healey at 150 mph and launched over the Healey's sloping rear deck. The Mercedes cartwheeled into an embankment, pitching fire and shrapnel in all directions.
The car's hood was ripped free, and it spun off — a 100-mph saw blade that slashed through the gathered crowd. Levegh was killed instantly and 84 spectators died, some decapitated by the hood, others maimed by parts that slammed down like artillery shells, still others incinerated by white-hot magnesium.
The tragedy led Mercedes to pull out of factory-backed auto racing for three decades, and convinced Swiss officials to ban auto racing within its borders.
The 1953 Austin Healey works race car that played such a pivotal role — and, in our mind, like a car swerving into opposing traffic, actually causing the crash — in that concatenation of events went up for auction yesterday, and pulled in £843,000 — more than $1.3 million. Bonhams says the car — in unrestored "barn-find" condition was among only four prototypes to the popular 100S, and still bears its racing team road registration "NOJ 393."
Bonhams had been expecting the Austin-Healey to bring just £500,000 at the auction house's December Sale at Mercedes-Benz World in Weybridge, UK yesterday. But a bidding war among four potential buyers drove the price higher than expected — to just under £850,000.
Prior to the fateful 1955 Le Mans, the car had been campaigned by works drivers Gordon Wilkins and Marcel Becquart, who finished third in class and 14th overall in 1953. During its racing years, 'NOJ 393' also ran in Carrera Panamericana and the Bahamas Speed Week at Nassau.
After the crash, French authorities impounded the Austin Healy for 18 months during an investigation. It was later cleared from blame and returned to the Donald Healey Motor Company. The company repaired and restored the car at its Warwick factory and — in the hands of privateers — it returned to competition in the late 1950s and on into the 1960s. The seller bought the car in 1969, and prior to the auction it had been sitting untouched since then.
Although there's no evidence to suggest the car's cursed, there's no way in hell we'd get behind the wheel.