On this day in auto history – June 11th

Fri 11th Jun 2021

It was on this day in 1955 that the most catastrophic accident in motor racing history occurred during the 24-hour Le Mans motor race, leaving over 80 people dead.

In what became known as the “Le Mans disaster”, the burning wreckage of a Mercedes driven by Frenchman Pierre Levegh flew into the massed crowd following a terrifying on-track collision.

Levegh and at least 80 spectators were killed whilst hundreds were injured in the carnage.

Amazingly - and to widespread condemnation afterwards - the race was allowed to continue, paving the way for British 'golden boy' Mike Hawthorn to triumph in a Jaguar, though there was no victory celebration.

Much recrimination was directed at Hawthorn in the immediate aftermath for his part in the initial crash, which also involved fellow Brit Lance Macklin in an Austin-Healy, though a later official inquiry held none of the drivers specifically responsible and criticised the layout of the 30-year-old track which had not been designed for cars of such speed.

The fallout from the shocking incident saw all forms of motor racing suspended in a number of European countries until safety measures could be improved, whilst Mercedes-Benz withdrew from motor racing altogether and did not return until 1987.

In 2011, the Austin-Healy 100 driven by Jacklin - dubbed by the press as the ‘world’s most notorious race car’ - sold at public auction for £843,000.