From the motorsport archive: on this day in 1937

Bugatti at Le Mans

By 3pm, both Type 57 drivers Wimille and Benoist had broken the distance record

Jean-Pierre Wimille’s Le Mans victory in a Bugatti Type 57 after a fatal six-car pile-up

This year, the Italians are celebrating the end of a long dry spell in the Le Mans 24 Hours – 85 years ago, it was the French. Not since 1926 had an azure car showed the utmost endurance. 

Then it was a Lorraine-Dietrich; in 1937, it was a Bugatti. Driving a Type 57 grand tourer (nicknamed ‘The Tank’ for its new streamlined body), Jean-Pierre Wimille and Robert Benoist weren’t the favourites for victory; Raymond Sommer and Giovanni Battista Guidotti in the Alfa Romeo 8C were. From the start these cars engaged in an exciting “ding-dong” with the other Bugattis, Talbots and Delahayes (while 1935’s winning Lagonda disappointed). 

Then suddenly the 8C was out, Sommer having over-revved to avoid a six-car pile-up that was fatal for both its instigator, René Kippeurt, and Brit Pat Fairfield. As organisers failed to clear the wreckage, Le Mans rookie Wimille was going magnificently in the lead. 

He survived a scary moment while passing backmarkers, then a thunderstorm and an “extremely eerie” night stint in heavy mist, while trailing rivals retired one by one. 

By 3pm, Wimille and Benoist had broken the distance record – with an hour still to go. Just 17 of 49 finished one of the most dramatic Le Mans yet, the #2 Bugatti ahead by seven laps.

Source: Autocar

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