Top 5 Le Mans Classic Cars

19th Apr 2018

There is no denying that racing cars are cool. Some however, take it to the next level due to their colourful history, gorgeous looks and association with a legendary racing driver.

With Le Mans Classic taking place later this year, in July, we take a look at our favourite racing cars to ever feature in the prestigious and demanding Le Mans 24 Hours.

5. Jaguar D-Type

The Jaguar D-Type dominated at Le Mans for three consecutive years, winning the event between 1955 and 1957. It is arguably one of the prettiest racing cars ever and was produced by Jaguar between 1954 and 1957.

Revolutionary design was adopted by Jaguar in producing the D-Type. This was done via the use of aeronautical technology, using aluminium for many parts. Radical aerodynamic styling also played its part. Hugely dominated by the iconic fin which was mounted behind the driver to aid high speed stability, perfect for when this iconic Jag was hurtling down the famous Mulsanne Straight.

Engines were either 3, 3.4 or 3.8-litres. Interestingly, the Jaguar XKSS is the road-going equivalent of the Jaguar D-Type. Famous owners included the iconic actor, and 'King of Cool' Steve McQueen, who also appeared in a classic film about the Le Mans 24 hours, simply called 'Le Mans'.

Jaguar D-Type racing at Le Mans Classic.

4. Ferrari 250 LM

Can you talk about motor racing without mentioning Ferrari? After first winning Le Mans in 1949, Ferrari went on to win it for an ultra-impressive six years running between 1960 and 1965. Each model was different and arguably as cool or as gorgeous as the next Ferrari Le Mans racer. However, the last car to win Le Mans for Ferrari was the 250 LM, and it makes our top 5.

With glorious centre-lock wire wheels, a typically curvaceous Italian body and various air intakes on the rear, giving a gorgeous vintage racer look, the 250 LM is glorious in all its splendour. The rear of the body came away to reveal an incredible V12 engine, producing 320bhp. No wonder it shot to victory in 1965.

The Le Mans winning Ferrari 250 LM was entered by the North American Racing Team (NART), famous for producing some gorgeous Ferraris for both the road and race track. Road going examples of the 250 LM have in the past fetched biblical amounts at auction, with one achieving almost £10million.

Ferrari 250 LM.

3. Mazda 787B

Piloted by Johnny Herbert, Volker Weidler and Bertrand Gachot in 1991, the Mazda 787B took first place at Le Mans, and remains the only Japanese car to ever win the prestigious 24-hour race.

The 787B used a Wankel rotary engine, a popular and unique design that graced many iconic Mazda cars of the same era. The engine in the Le Mans racer was hugely reliable, as well as being wonderfully powerful. The rotary beast produced over 700bhp and sang all the way up to 9000rpm. The sound it made was truly incredible and witnessing one on full chat was quite something. If this list was about the greatest sounding Le Mans cars, the 787B would be top spot for sure.

Cult racing game Gran Turismo is famous for featuring the legendary 787B, and it sounds pretty incredible in the digital world, as well as in real life. Especially on the Mulsanne Straight flat out at over 200mph. Mazda retired from Le Mans racing shortly after winning the event in 1991, which only adds to the 787B's legacy and cool factor.

Mazda 787B in orange on the track.

2. Ford GT40

You simply cannot compile a 'Top 5' list of Le Mans cars without including the legendary Ford GT40. In 1966, the GT40 MK II became the first American car to win Le Mans, ending Ferrari's six-year reign. After Ferrari pulled out of buying Ford in the sixties, Ford's Le Mans programme was literally fuelled by Henry Ford II's determination to beat Ferrari, to effectively get even for not buying the Italian car maker prior to the racing rivalry.

This made the Ford GT 40 a legendary icon in racing and their perfect 1-2-3 finish in 1966 is perhaps one of the most talked about Le Mans stories ever, as nobody thought the guys from Ford could top the prancing horses from Italy. Interestingly, the GT40 got its name from being exactly 40-inches tall.

he black GT40 pictured (car number 2) was a Mk II GT40, powered by a monstrous 7.0-litre V8. Ford went onto win Le Mans in '67, '68 and '69 too, with various generations of the GT40.

Ford GT40 .

1. Porsche 956/962C

Perhaps the most iconic Porsche Le Mans car(s) ever, and we were never not going to include a Porsche (or Porsches in this case, but we will get to that bit), especially when Porsche are the most successful manufacturer ever in Le Mans history, with the most overall race wins under their belt.

The 956 and 962 are both steeped in Le Mans history. The 956 first won the race in 1982, driven by racing legends Derek Bell and Jacky Ickx, sporting the famous Rothmans livery. The 956 then went on to win Le Mans in '83, '84 and '85 before the 962C won in both 1986 and 1987, driven by Le Mans legends Derek Bell, Hans-Joachim Stuck and Al Holbert.

The 962C is actually Bell's favourite Porsche racer which comes as no surprise. The 962 superseded the 956 which was often called its 'twin' as the 956 is almost identical in appearance (especially in the Rothmans livery), though uses a shorter wheelbase. The 962 also had to be changed to meet newer racing regulations.

The iconic Rothmans livery is perhaps one of the most recognised in motorsport and the 956 and 962 were nothing short of monstrous. Pumping out between 630-650bhp, both were capable of circa over 230mph. Both had tremendous downforce, helping them stick to the track, a point which is demonstrated at the Porsche Museum in Stuttgart where a 956 is displayed upside down on the ceiling. This is to highlight the theoretical ability that these cars could drive upside down on a ceiling due to downforce.

It's also worth noting that in 1983 a Porsche 956 from the factory Rothmans Porsche team, driven by racing legend Stefan Bellof is the fastest ever time a car has completed a lap of the infamous Nurburgring. It took just 6m 11.13s for Bellof to achieve, whilst qualifying for a race, along with other cars on the track. This time is unlikely to ever be beaten - showing just how quick the 956 and 962 were, even over 35 years ago.

White Porsche 956/962C on the Le Mans track.
So, there you have it. Our favourite classic Le Mans racers. This year will see both the Le Mans 24 Hours (June), along with a celebration of this famous race, with the Le Mans Classic (July) also happening later in the year. For the Le Mans or motorsport fan, it is shaping up to be a quite a year to see some of these incredible Le Mans cars up close and personal.