In 1939, a ‘streamlined’ Bugatti Type 57 C, best known as the Tank, surprised the competition at Le Mans and was victorious.
The 24 Hours of Le Mans in France is one of the most famous and toughest endurance races in the world. It is the birthplace of legends. Exactly 80 years ago, on the 18th of June 1939, two Frenchman, Jean-Pierre Wimille and Pierre Veyron, were victorious in their French racecar – a Bugatti Type 57 C Tank. This victory would eventually last for the next ten years.
A total of 50 drivers entered the race in eight different categories, but only 42 actually started the race. 80 years ago, the 24-hour race at Le Mans was already a real constructor’s battle, although the race did not belong to any racing series back then. The competition was tremendous. No less than 25 came from France, representing famous brands like Delahaye, Delage and Talbot. On the starting grid, coming from Germany was, Adler and BMW; from Great Britain Aston Martin, Morgan, Riley, MG and Singer and from Italy, Alfa Romeo.
Under the streamlined body of the Tank was a nearly series production Type 57 C, developed by Jean Bugatti, the brilliant engineer and son of founder, Ettore Bugatti. With supercharging, the DOHC 3.3 Litre 8-cylinder engine produced around 200 horsepower. This allowed for speeds of over 158 mph on the straight. Through additional upgrades, Bugatti managed to reduce the weight of the round, pontoon shaped bonnet. The rear axle, crankshaft and other parts were also lightened.
Wimille and Veyron in the Type 57 C Tank completed 248 laps in 24 hours, averaging approximately 86 mph. The runner-up was three laps behind and the third car, nine laps. Of the 42 cars that started, only 20 crossed the finish line.
This victory at the 24 Hours of Le Mans 80 years ago in 1939 marked the last great success of Bugatti in motorsports. Just two months later, the World War II started. Bugatti had to cease production shortly afterwards, evacuate the factory and could only restart production with great difficulties after the war had ended. The 24 Hours of Le Mans resumed in 1949. Bugatti kept the record until 1950.
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