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A Frenchman Nearly Stopped the Germans
David Lampe
November 20, 1972
It was the war all over again in 1952 when the Germans came back to Le Mans after nearly 20 years, driving their big powerful cars and plotting another humiliating French defeat
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November 20, 1972

A Frenchman Nearly Stopped The Germans

It was the war all over again in 1952 when the Germans came back to Le Mans after nearly 20 years, driving their big powerful cars and plotting another humiliating French defeat

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Pierre was now three laps ahead of the closest Mercedes, but having rounded the White House Corner he switched off the ignition and pulled into the pits. He jerked back the hand brake and slowly raised himself out of the car. Then he tore off his helmet and goggles and slumped wearily into his wife's arms. His shoulders were heaving, and spectators on the walk above the pit could see tears on his face. The crankshaft had at last split.

Silence hung over the grandstands. And at 4 o'clock, when old Charles Faroux flagged the two Mercedes-Benzes past the finish line, hardly a soul cheered. The Germans deserved their victory, but the brass band refused to play " Deutschland, Deutschland �ber alles," and somebody found an excuse for calling off the usual victory parade around the Place de la R�publique in Le Mans. But Pierre was scorned. Because he refused to speak out against his car, the French fans blamed him for his failure. If only he'd let Marchand take over....

The official accounts do not explain that the car couldn't have lasted as long as it did if Pierre hadn't insisted on going it alone. Of all those present at Le Mans that day, only the Germans seem to have sensed that Levegh had not been at fault. When the Mercedes-Benzes returned to Le Mans three years later, one of the drivers was Pierre Levegh.

Pierre's was the Mercedes-Benz 300SLR approaching the grandstands when an Austin-Healey got in the way. Pierre braked and raised an arm to warn teammate Juan Fangio, coming up behind, but his own car hit the retaining wall. Its front end disintegrated and hurtled into the crowd, killing 82 people. But the race wasn't stopped. Not when Pierre's charred corpse was carried from the track. Not even when, hours later, a telegram from Stuttgart withdrew the Mercedes team, at the time comfortably leading the race.

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