This was Fangio’s sixth victory (from eight starts) of the season to date.
Le Mans, however, was another matter: not even Moss enjoyed the 24-hour marathon, with its heavy emphasis on straight-line speed, running to a strict and conservative pre-planned regimen and bottling competitiveness in order to preserve machinery. He and Fangio had been leading in 1955 when Mercedes-Benz withdrew their 300SLR in response to the calamitous crash that had killed team-mate ‘Levegh’ and more than 80 spectators.
Now Moss had persuaded Maserati to build them a coupé version of the 450S, based on a design by British aerodynamicist Frank Costin, the man responsible for the Vanwall’s efficient teardrop shape. Farmed out to Zagato of Milan, the job was misunderstood, rushed and botched, and the resultant car, minus its full-length undertray, for example, was slower than its open-topped cousin. Fangio took one look at its cramped and stuffy cockpit and walked away.
As he had at the Nürburgring, however, he set the pace in practice in a 450S – the difference being that on this occasion he held himself in reserve, waiting to see which car was best placed before agreeing to drive. According to Motor Sport correspondent Denis Jenkinson, this was a “crafty move” and Fangio “did not weep any tears” as the red cars, Ferraris as well as Maseratis, dropped like flies in the early stages.
Even though team-mate Behra ended the opening stint in the lead – this 450S was soon to retire in co-driver André Simon’s hands – and though the works 300S, never in the hunt for victory, lasted more than seven hours before its clutch failed, Fangio didn’t budge, “but smiled blandly and looked forward to the next Grand Prix.”
Photography courtesy of LAT Images