Saturday, December 3, 2011

Barn find breaks record

"Sold!" A very famous, but unrestored, race car was sold for an unprecedented $1,341,000 (£843,000/982,000) at auction on Thursday at Bonhams: “This is a fantastic result for the Austin-Healey and a world record for any car of this make at auction. Everyone is delighted. The auction went on for about 10 minutes and there was a tense, excited and hushed atmosphere in the room as 4 bidders competed for the car. We had bidders in the room and over the phone, but the car finally went to a private buyer who was in the room.” While I can't help thinking that the money would be better spent for humanitarian purposes, I am a sucker for stories about historical cars brought to light (for instance, this Rolls-Royce and this Bugatti). In this case, the 1953 Austin-Healey 100 Special Test Car has reposed untouched in an English barn for 42 years (1st image, the original engine). What makes it so special? It was at the center of motorsport’s deadliest accident, the 1955 Le Mans disaster that claimed dozens of lives (2nd image, more photos and a video here). A series of events had caused the British driver of this Austin-Healey, Lance Macklin (1919-2002), to brake, and the Mercedes-Benz 300SLR behind him, driven by Frenchman Pierre Levegh (1905-1955), to go airborne and break apart. Levegh was thrown from the car and killed on impact, 120 spectators were injured but survived, and 83 unfortunate race fans who were in the path of the flying debris were killed - many of them beheaded. The Austin-Healey was impounded by French authorities after the accident, but released blame-free back to the Donald

Healey Motor Co. 18 months later. The race car was repaired and put back into service, competing until the 1960s. It was acquired in 1969 and sold - still bearing its racing team road registration NOJ 393 (4th image), but not its number 26 (3rd image, as it looked in 1955) - to the current owner. Says Bonhams, the car has "racing history embodied within its structure as indelibly and unmistakably as a human fingerprint."

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