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The greatest longtails… in the world

  1. It’s just a week now now until the 90th running
    of World’s Greatest (our caps) motor race, the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Two rounds
    of this year’s World Endurance Championship (their caps) have already taken
    place and, guess what, Audi has won both of them.

    Toyota, the only rival to the Germans, is already throwing its
    towel in; “we cannot win,” they say, “unless you change the rules, Monsieur!”
    And this is why: the 2013 Audi R18 e-tron Quattro Langheck.

    Low-drag Langheck – Deutsche for long tail – cars have recorded some monumental top speeds along
    what was the longest straight on any circuit, the Mulsanne or what locals call
    the N138 on their way to work in the morning when it’s not June.

    In the Group C era in the 1980s the 3.7 mile blast at 250mph
    terrified even the coolest of drivers (Andy Wallace, the 1988 winner in the
    long tailed, Jaguar XJR-9LM told us he spend his time worriedly pressing the
    tyre check buttons one after another after another until hitting the brakes for
    Mulsanne corner). In 1990 the chicanes were added, and long tails largely went
    out of fashion. Which was a shame, as they looked just fantastic.

    So to celebrate the return of the long tail, as Audi adds
    complex aerodynamics to it already mind-bogglingly complex four-wheel drive,
    hybrid turbo diesel, we present for your consideration and in no particular
    order a short history of Le Mans cars in (low) drag. 

  2. 1955 Jaguar XKD Long Nose D-Type 

    McLaren likes to talk about its new-gen supercars, the 12C
    and the P1, being ‘made by the air’. What they mean is being made by a thumping
    great computer that’s got something rather more posh than an HND in
    computational fluid dynamics.

    The Jaguars that dominated Le Mans in the 1950s were made by the air, or rather designer
    and aerodynamicist Malcolm Sayer, and none more so than the Long Nose D-Type.
    Sayer, don’t forget, had nothing more sophisticated than a wet thumb for
    working out what the breeze was doing; the Long Nose was largely guesswork,
    aided by a culture imbued with aeropace thinking.

    Seven and a bit inches longer than the original D-Type, the
    Long Nose was all about the aero, even the engine was tipped over on one side
    to make the frontal profile smaller. And of course the Long Nose had THAT FIN,
    behind the driver’s head. D-Types of various evolutions and run by different
    teams won no less than three Le Mans 24 Hours.

  3. 1978 Porsche 935/78 ‘Moby Dick’

    There is a 911 under there, we promise. One of the most
    famous racing cars of all time the 935/78 ‘Moby Dick’ was developed as a
    second-string attack, behind the prototype 936s in the 1978 Le Mans.

    Seen at the time as a last hurrah for the 911 — Porsche was
    all about front engine cars in the ‘70s — it exploited Group 5 regulations to
    the max, some five ins lower overall than a ‘regular’ 935 and featured
    extraordinary aerodynamic extrusions below and ahead/behind of the front/rear
    wheel centre lines, as the rules allowed. And it was quick, dominating its
    debut race at Silverstone and qualifying third at Le Mans where it was actually
    quicker — at 235mph on the Mulsanne
    than the 936 and that year’s winning Renault.

    Sadly it blew its water-cooled (another first) engine before
    the race and never really got its practice mojo back, eventually finishing
    eighth. Still, look at the  works Martini
    Colours, eh? 

  4. 1962 Ferrari 250 GT SWB ‘Breadvan’

    In the 1960s, if you made sports cars to go racing you made
    a bunch, kept some for yourselves, and some to sell. Enzo Ferrari was king of
    this, but being a difficult bugger would regularly fall out with his customers.
    And his staff. He did both in 1961 and one customer, a rich boy by the name of
    Count Giovanni Volpi, found himself on the wrong side of Ferrari and as a
    result found his name wasn’t on the list for a 250 GTO when they gave them out
    in 1962.

    Instead, and determined to beat Ferrari and the GTO at Le
    Mans, he hired a self-styled aerodynamic whizz, disciple of the German
    aerodynamicist Wunibald Kamm and sometime racer Piero Drogo to create a Le Mans
    special based on the GTO’s predecessor: the 250 GT SWB.

    Although ostensibly smarter and considerably lower than the
    GTO, the Kamm-tail ‘Breadvan’ was proof of the old racing adage that if it
    looks good, it is good; although it didn’t finish, it was ahead of the GTOs
    when it retired. 

  5. 1978 Renault Alpine A442B

    Depending on the colour of your passport, the best/worst
    thing about Le Mans is how hard the French find winning it. You have to go a
    long way down the list of winning marques until you come to Rondeau in 1980 or,
    in the modern era, Peugeot who really did find itself dans un flap terrible about doing so.

    Before them were Renault who, at the time, were desperate to
    tick Le Mans off their bucket list before not doing ever doing so in F1, under
    factory colours at least. So great was the desire to win, it almost asphyxiated
    its drivers with a cockpit lid that delivered lots of air to the rear wing, but
    little to the drivers.

    1978 was the last chance, Renault having twice been beaten
    by Porsche in 1976 and 1977. Both teams brought four works cars to Le Mans
    (Porsche’s included the Moby Dick 935) and the lined up in the first eight grid

    Renault’s fast car was the Alpine A443, but it broke around dawn.
    That left the previous year’s car, modified with a semi-open transparent
    cockpit lid to feed cleaner air to the long tail to take the honours if it
    could hold off Porsche. It had the drivers, especially in Didier Pironi who
    would go on to race and win for Ferrari in F1, but the cover and the heat made
    the cockpit an oven and almost wrecked Renault’s plans. 

  6. 1971 Porsche 917/20 – the ‘Pink Pig’

    The Porsche 917 is the quintessential Le Mans car; big,
    fast, scary and utterly dominant. And a movie star too; not even Steve McQueen
    could outshine it in his art house bore-fest ‘Le Mans’ movie. Conceived,
    designed and built in the blink of an eye to give Porsche its first overall win
    at Le Mans, it was beyond progressive for its time.

    Its flat 12 engine produced over 600bhp at launch in 1969,
    and would ultimately make 1100bhp in turbocharged Can Am form, still the most
    poke ever raced regularly. Its part-titanium chassis was made from gas-filled
    tubing and the gear knob from balsa (to save weight, natch).

    But it had terrible aerodynamics, even with its wobbly
    stabiliser flaps. It took a driver with unnaturally large gentlemen vegetables
    to take it anyway near its 230mph top speed. And although Porsche started out
    its evolution by making it shorter — the 917K — ultimately it would go on to
    become the granddaddy of all long tails first in ‘L’ form, then ‘LH’ and
    eventually in 1971 in the form of the experimental ‘Pink Pig’ 917/20.

    Yup, those are cuts of meat you see scrawled on there making
    it not only one of the best looking racing cars of all time, but probably the
    best liveried. 917s destroyed the opposition at Le Mans in 1970 and 1971.

  7. 1982 Lancia LC1

    Lancia’s little roadster — it was powered by a tiny 1.4-litre
    turbo-four — was rendered obsolete by rule changes before it ever raced.

    Group Six, the formula for which is was designed and Group
    5, where Lancia had raced a sensational looking Beta Monte Carlo, were replaced
    by Group C in 1982. The LC1’s descendent, the more famous Ferrari V8-engined
    LC2, a regular star of the Goodwood Festival of Speed, would become Lancia’s
    Group C car.

    Nonetheless the lightweight streamliner was allowed to race
    in 1982 and in the hands of F1 star Ricardo Patrese took the World Endurance
    Championship driver’s title down to the last round with three wins against the
    all-conquering Porsche 956 of legendary racing smoothie Jacky Ickx.

    At Le Mans both magnificently-liveried works Martini entries
    qualified in the top six, but the against the Group C bruisers, Le Mans was no
    place for a lightweight special and they retired before dark. 

  8. 1979 Group 5 BMW/March M1 

    Beautiful, brilliant and rare, the M1 remains (until
    production of the i8 starts) the only mid-engined car BMW has made. It was
    imagined as a racecar, and designed to take the battle to the Group 4 and Group
    5 Porsche 934s and 934s that dominated sports car racing in the 1970s. However
    it never really recovered from a plan for Lamborghini to build it and was
    always behind the curve.

    Nonetheless BMW pressed ahead with a racing programme with
    now-defunct UK F1 racers March. March immediately recognised that M1 didn’t really
    have the aero for Le Mans so set about modifying the car. And modifying, and
    modifying. Every time the rear got longer, so did the nose and every time the
    nose got longer… you get the picture. Possibly the worst looking Le Mans
    special ever, considering the sublime donor material, it didn’t even qualify
    for the 1979 race (the model pictured above is from 1981).

    The Sauber team, now F1 racers of course, however took on
    their own M1 project with considerably more success. 

  9. 2003 Bentley Speed 8

    There are all sorts of stories surrounding the genesis and
    eventually victory of the Bentley Speed Eight, but there is no doubting that by
    the time the car won the 24 Hours in 2003, it featured a whopping great big

    Bentley, five times winners in Le Mans first decade,
    returned to La Sarthe in 2001 with what, to its credit, it said would be a
    three year campaign. The car, based on Audi’s superseded R8C prototype, ran as
    the EXP Speed 8 in ’01 and ’02 and clearly showed it had the right stuff, if
    only pesky sister company Audi didn’t have cars with that just that little bit

    When Audi ‘opted’ not to race in 2003 the way was clear for
    an emotionally potent one-two. It will be interesting to see how Volkswagen
    Group handles the internal politics next year when Porsche returns to the 24
    hours for the first time in 15 years.

    Porsche has 16 wins at Le Mans since that first with the 917
    in 1970, the most of any manufacturer. Audi is second on 11 though nobody is
    expecting that not to read 12 once the R18 longtails are fired up next week…. 

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