Le Mans is one of the toughest races in the world, with very high speeds held over a destructively long time. It’s been brutal enough to force teams to try some, uh, rather unique designs to conquer the course.
Technically, two NASCAR stock cars. As MotorTrend explains, Le Mans organizers convinced NASCAR to bring a ‘75 Ford Torino and the utterly badass Olympia Beer ‘74 Dodge Charger to the La Sarthe course in the ‘76 race. The cars were surprisingly fast, but weren’t built for endurance racing and retired.
By 1991, Mazda’s top-level prototype car wasn’t exactly groundbreaking in its design. Looking at the swoopy, more aerodynamically advanced cars it raced against, its design was almost behind the times.
Except it didn’t have a piston engine.
The 787b remains the only non-conventional engine’d car to win Le Mans, with its quad-rotor Wankel rotary. It’s also still the only Japanese car to win the race.
Suggested By: macanamera, Photo Credit: Getty Images
You think the 787b revved high? It had nothing on the American Howmet TX, which redlined at 57,000 rpm thanks to a turbine pulled out of a military helicopter. This ‘68 Le Mans entry wasn’t the first turbine-engine car to race the 24 (BRM made great strides before Howmet), but it was the most successful. And also the prettiest.
Oh, and the Howmet had a single-speed transmission, for added strangeness.
Read more about it right here.
Suggested By: Pessimippopotamus, Photo Credit: Brian Snelson
Le Mans-based Rondeau was an interesting team. It remains one of the only two independent teams to win Le Mans and Mr. Rondeau himself scored the victory, making him the only driver to win with his name on the car. That was the Rondeau M379b in the 1980 race. In 1982, Rondeau wheeled out the M482, which was supposed to be a huge leap forward in ground effects aerodynamics. Ground effects were currently dominating Formula One and were about to rule Le Mans, but Rondeau’s amazingly bizarre rear end never really worked.
Suggested By: JayBe_III, Photo Credit: RM Auctions
The Texan Chaparrals absolutely changed the motorsports world as we know it. They changed the game when it came to testing and modelling tires, and they were the first to exploit downforce. Their ‘67 contender, the 2F was so focused on its aero, that the car actually got an automatic transmission, so that the third pedal could be used to change the angle of that big wing.
Suggested By: AspenRS and leicester, Photo Credit: The Henry Ford
When this American raced back in ‘97, its front engine/rear drive layout wasn’t a few years behind the times, it was four decades behind the times. Nobody had run a top-level car like that since the ‘60s. The Panoz, while it never sorted out its reliability, was amazingly fast and became a huge cult hero.
In ‘98, Panoz even entered a hybrid version of the V8 car called the Q9, but it failed to qualify for the race.
Suggested By: ThatbastardKurtis, Photo Credit:
America’s hope for Le Mans victory back in the ‘50s was Briggs Cunningham, who raced with Cadillac power. In 1950, in fact, he entered two Cadillacs: one was bone stock and the other was rebodied by an aerodynamicist. The results, as you can see above, got the car its ‘the Monster’ nickname from the locals. Man, there are a bunch of Americans on this list.
Suggested By: evoCS, Photo Credit: Cunningham
Remember that Rondeau with the weird aero? The same guy designed this car for the ‘81 race. It had a BMW straight six that actually sat in the middle of the car, next to the driver. Thanks to the class it entered in, the Ardex failed to qualify for the race, though it was far from the slowest car in the field, as this Autosport forum explains.
Suggested By: Jonee, Photo Credit: Sardou
While the Ardex failed to qualify, this twin-boom Italian actually raced back in ‘55. The driver sat in one ‘torpedo’ and the engine sat in the other. The car might have done well against the big-budget competition, but it was literally swept off the road by the vortex of air coming off a passing Jaguar D-Type.
Read more about this wonder, from Chris Bangle of all people, right here.
Suggested By: mike89, Photo Credit: Nardi via Museo Nazionale della Scienza e della Tecnologia Leonardo da Vinci
It started life as a proposed IndyCar, but after it got rejected from there for being too radical, it ended up as an experimental le Mans entry back in 2012. Like the Nardi, the poor thing got punted off the track by a hard-hitting Toyota.
But man, just look at this weirdo.
Suggested By: Loping Camshaft, Photo Credit: Getty Images
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