The 24 Hours of Le Mans museum is present at the Rétromobile show in Paris (6-10 February) with a preview of an upcoming exhibition spotlighting the 1949 24 Hours. The 17th running of the race marked the return of the event after a decade-long hiatus and, along with Ferrari’s victory, there were a number of major ‘firsts’ that year.
- It is only fitting that we begin with the winner of the first 24 Hours of Le Mans to take place after the Second World War, ‘marathon-man’ Luigi Chinetti, who drove for an incredible 22 hours and 48 minutes, only letting his teammate Lord Selsdon drive between 04:26 and 05:38 on the Sunday morning! This would no longer be possible today because there are minimum and maximum driving times: a competitor may not drive fewer than 6 hours at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, and is not permitted to drive more than 14 hours in all.
- This was the first year a car competing at Le Mans was equipped with a radio. The #47 Simca 8 (14th overall) was driven by Norbert Jean Mahé and Roger Crovetto, who later became head of public relations for the 24 Hours and godfather of Princess Caroline of Monaco.
- Personalities present at the race included French president Vincent Auriol, the first time that a president had paid a visit to the event.
- The first woman driver of the post-war period was Viviane Elder, a French aviator. Unfortunately she had to retire after 13 hours, plagued with engine issues on her #54 Simca 8.
- British motorcycle champion Norman Culpan finished third in the #26 Frazer Nash. This was his first competition on four wheels and he was teamed with Harold John Aldington.
- French miller Camille Hardy entered his own 4 CV (#57) in 1949, against Renault’s advice. It was the first rear-engine car to feature on the 24 Hours grid. It did not complete the race but showed real potential, which encouraged Renault to make an official entry subsequently.
- 1949 was also the year of the first prototypes and the first diesel engines. Parisian firm Delettrez specialised in this type of technology for trucks and fitted a GMC diesel engine to a Unic racing chassis. The #5 car put on a 20-hour display but had to pull out because of fuel supply issues! ‘Ternary’ fuel, a blend of 60% petrol, 25% ethanol and 15% benzole, also made its first appearance at Le Mans that year.
- The Czech Aero Minor (#58), fitted with a twin-cylinder, two-stroke engine, made its debut in 1949, finishing 15th overall.
Photo (Copyright ACO archives) - On 18 June 1939, Bugatti triumphed with Jean-Pierre Wimille and Pierre Veyron at the wheel. Ten years and one week later, 49 starters lined up on the grid for the renaissance of the 24 Hours of Le Mans on 25 June 1949.