A classic car involved in an accident became more valuable
A fatal accident in motorsports it is always a shame. For many reasons, especially if it involves spectators. At the end of the day drivers are pursuing their dreams and they know the risks they run (or they should) but the audience is the blood and passion of the sport. I’d always think all the experienced drivers even if they die young; they have had more fun in their lives than others much older than them, but anyway, let’s move on to this rare example.
Let’s start mentioning briefly Austin-Healey, a British car maker established in 1952 through a joint venture between the Austin division of the British Motor Corporation (BMC) and the Donald Healey Motor Company (Healey), a renowned automotive engineering and design firm. The intention of the brand was to produce sports cars and they started their trip together all the way until 1972 when the brand stop making cars.
And here goes the story, in 1953, Austin-Healey registered a vehicle with plate NOJ393. This corker ran in the 1953 24 Hours of Le Mans as a factory Special Test Car, then the roadster became an Austin-Healey 100S prototype. Its race history continued, with appearances at Sebring, the Carrera Panamericana, and most notably and sadly, the 1955 24 Hours of Le Mans. It was on that race when the car was involved in the most dramatic and terrible motorsport incident in history by killing 83 spectators and injuring 120 more. The race was quite a good one before hand with a big rivalry between Jaguar, Ferrari, Maserati, Talbot and Mercedes. 87 racing cars were registered for the event, of which 70 arrived for practice, to qualify for the 60 places on the starting grid, and included 15 factory teams, 2 cars arrived late to the start of the race and were disqualified too. Funny as well, not one of the 60 starting cars had a roof.
The situation evolved as follows. The race was quite fast at the beginning with some overtaking at the top and some fastest laps too. In the fourth hour of racing after the 2pm start, at the end of lap 35 which was around 6:20 pm, the Jaguar D-Type of Mike Hawthorn cut into the pits, slowing in front of the Austin-Healey 100S of Lance Macklin. Mr Macklin’s NOJ393 was forced to make an evasive move away from Hawthorn’s Jaguar, pulling across the track into the path of the faster Mercedes-Benz W196S (commonly known as Merceders 300 SLR) driven my Monsieur Levegh, which was driving just in front of Mercedes teammate Juan Manuel Fangio. Running up the side of Macklin's car, Levegh's Mercedes launched into the air, striking high on a retaining wall, disintegrating and scattering components into the crowd with the fatal outcome we all know by now. The accident had consequences already felt today like the Swiss ban to motorsport events or the fact Levegh’s team mate, John Fitch dedicated his career into road safety with innovation’s that are still enjoyed by today’s drivers.
We don’t know if the car was shamed and left in a corner straight afterwards, but a European collector bought it in 2011 after sitting 40 years untouched and with the need of a restoration. In 2011 the price reached $1.1M (after a complete restoration by an expert), making the car the most expensive car the brand ever produced for the sad reason of being involved in the worst car accident in history.
Regarding this model : Austin Healey 100, the records show only 640 Austin-Healey 100M were produced and another 500 more Le Mans Conversion Kits were available at the time, even though these days you can still get the conversion done. It was Mr Healey idea to see a lot of Le Mans Conversions due to the better specs the Le Mans model offered compared to the standard M. But reality is the original Le Mans are very rare, valuable, collectable and sought after. There is a register to check which of you cars you own in case you are the lucky owner of one of them.
As a comparison point, a good condition Austin Healey 100M could reach today around £200,000 in the market and certainly the specific car of the 1955 Le Mans disaster could reach 8-10 times that or maybe more.
Picture by hemmings.com