The seven craziest cars ever to race at Le Mans

15th September 2020
Ben Miles

The Le Mans 24 hours has been going since 1923, and in that time there have been one or two oddities that have taken part. They might be weird, but in reality these Le Mans racers end up being some of our favourites whenever they crop up.

We’re going to ignore moments when the rules allowed an entire strange class to take part, like when NASCARs raced in 1976 to celebrate the bicentennial of the US declaration of independence, and just focus on the truly strange cars that have legitimately entered Le Mans in an existing class. Starting with something really odd.


Le Monstre – 1950

Briggs Cunningham is a name at the centre of American Sportscar racing in the 1950s. His love affair with Jaguars saw some legendary machines painted in his famous white and blue and that later lead to some extraordinary racing machines penned under his own name. But early in his career, when he was still exploring racing outside of the US, Cunningham hedged his bets with some all-American machinery. He was going to race at the 1950 Le Mans 24 Hours with a pair of Cadillac Series 61s. One of the cars would be given an extraordinary experimental aerodynamic body, while the other (where Cunningham hedged his bets) would race as standard. The body they gave the 61 was so amazing that the French Scrutineers spent hours examining it on arrival in La Sarthe, refusing to believe that there could be a standard 61 chassis underneath. But standard chassis there was, and the car would be allowed to race, but so hated by the locals was it, that they gave it the name that has stuck to this very day: “Le Monstre”. Designed in a wind tunnel normally used to design slow-flying crop-dusting planes, Le Monstre would be able to 130mph – 13 more than its sister car. Sadly it never really showed its true potential, crashing out into one of the sandbanks that then lined the track, where Cunningham was forced to dig Le Monstre out by hand. Top gear broke during the crash and Le Monstre struggled home to 11th, one place behind the sister car.

Read our ultimate guide to the Le Mans 24 2020 here.


Nardi Bisiluro 750 – 1955

There are a couple of cars on this list that look like cars, just odd ones. Then there are a couple that have truly bonkers bits that make them weird. Then there are the ones that just don’t look like anything you’ve ever seen. The first of these is the Nardi Bisiluro 750, a car that looks like the lovechild of a menage a trois between a ‘60s F1 car, a sidecar and a U2 spyplane. The theory is spelled out in the name. Nardi, famous for steering wheels today, was still making racing cars back then and wanted to race at Le Mans. Bisiluro roughly translates as ‘twin torpedo’ in Italian, and 750 stood for the little 55PS BMW motorbike engine it stowed inside. And I say stowed, because it was tucked into just one side of this bonkers machine like it was a passenger.

Looking, as the name suggests, like two torpedo tubes, Nardi was aiming for low drag and ideal weight distribution with the 750. Driver on one side, engine the other, barely anything in between, except for a giant radiator. Entered into the 1955 Le Mans 24 Hours the car apparently weighed under 500kg, and legend has it that it’s non-finish was down to it literally being blown off the track by a passing D-type. Oh, and we haven’t even mentioned that it had an oval steering wheel.


Mazda 787B – 1991

The 787B is the car in this list that is only here because it uses something truly unusual to power it. And if you don’t already know, that is a 2.6-litre, four-rotor, naturally aspirated rotary engine. The thing that makes this car so famous is not that it was the only Japanese car to win Le Mans until Toyota finally overcame its demons in 2018, but that it won powered by a screaming rotary engine. If you’ve never heard the 787B then you are missing out. Arguments will rage forever over the sound it makes, some say it is an incredible sound, a real thing of beauty, others argue that it is just wantonly loud. Either way there is no denying it makes an impact when both when you hear it and when you see it – thanks to a lurid green-and-orange livery.

The 787B was never actually the fastest car to race at Le Mans, but as the new era of 3.5-litre Le Mans cars was just starting, and while Jaguar brought its XJR-14 and Peugeot its 905, it was the more reliable older cars that would triumph – locking out the first 11 places at the finish. The 787B proved to be the most reliable of them all and ended the race two laps clear of the field (only 12 cars finished). It wasn’t the easiest to drive though, with Johnny Herbert pretty much passing out after he crossed the finish line, so exhausted that he actually missed the podium ceremony.


Bugatti Type 57G Tank – 1937

Another entry to this list that arrived by dint of being an aerodynamic testbed, the Type 57G was a super-low drag version of the Type 57 sportscar ­– the car that spawned the Atlantic. Amazingly this car raced in Grands Prix as well as the Le Mans 24 Hours and won both, the Deauville Grand Prix in 1936 and Le mans in 1937!

It was powered by a 3.25-litre straight-eight engine and was capable of over 120mph. It gained its nickname of Tank, the second Bugatti to do so, because of its rather butch looking lines, with an incredibly bluff front and longer tapered rear making it look much bigger than in reality it is. Only one of these cars remains to this day, which was allegedly hidden in Bordeaux as the Germans marched across France in 1940 and it crashed on the way to its hiding place, overturning and requiring a rebuild. It has since raced at Goodwood.


Nissan DeltaWing – 2012

Garage 56 was the ACO’s (the organisers of the Le Mans 24 Hours) idea to bring new technology to the race, making it a test bed for the very latest automotive engineering just like it once was. Sadly there hasn’t been a Garage 56 entry since 2016, but when it first started it brought some truly incredible ideas. The first Garage 56 entry was the first hybrid car to race at Le Mans (Hope Racing in 2011), but it was the second that really caught the eye. The DeltaWing was like nothing you had ever seen before, with two tiny front wheels mounted close together to reduce drag and tyre wear, a wide rear and a fin rather than any aerodynamic aids. Except that you had seen it before, if you were paying attention, because the DeltaWing was originally a concept for the new generation of IndyCars set to be introduced in 2012. When IndyCar went with Dallara and the DW12 – which still runs today – the team behind DeltaWing, including the legendary Don Panoz, turned it into a sportscar.

Ignore the Nissan badges plastered all over it (some clever marketing from the Japanese manufacturer), this was a truly independent effort, attempting to create something radically different. And it worked, the DeltaWing was able to run at LMP2 speeds and was performing incredibly well until it was hip-checked off the circuit at a restart by Kazuki Nakajima. The DeltaWing would go on to race for many years in the US, eventually becoming a rather regrettable coupe (which we’ve mentioned before in our list of ugliest racing cars), but it is the performance at Le Mans deserved more than it received in return. And it did sort of return in 2013. Nissan’s Zeod-RC electric-hybrid racer was designed by the same man, and looked so similar that DeltaWing sued Nissan.


Rover-BRM – 1963

The Rover-BRM makes this list by being both bonkers to look at and powered by something truly strange. A partnership between, you guessed it, Rover and BRM, the Rover-BRM was designed to be very aerodynamically efficient, and was powered by a gas-turbine engine. Rover had worked on using gas turbines in road cars sins World War Two, and had run demonstration laps in various prototypes before the 1962 24 Hours. But then the ACO upped the stakes by adding a prize for any gas-turbine car that could complete 3,600km during the race. And this car did it at its first attempt, passing the 3,600km mark with hours to spare and doing more than 140mph down the Muslanne straight. If it weren’t entered in a non-classified experimental class the Rover-BRM would have finished an amazing eighth in 1963. It failed to enter the 1964 race – apparently due to either limited time to test a new engine or damage in transport – but ran in 1965, finishing a creditable 10th. The best description of this extraordinary machine comes from Graham Hill, who raced the car in ’63 and ’65, who said: “You’re sitting in this thing that you might call a motor car and the next minute it sounds as if you’ve got a 707 just behind you, about to suck you up and devour you like an enormous monster.”


WM Peugeot P88 – 1988

Our final car on this list was designed with one purpose and one purpose alone, to be the fastest car ever down the Mulsanne Straight. Gerard Welter – a well-known madman when it came to designing racing cars – had been entering sportscar into the great race since the 1970s, with a little success, but just as little funding. For 1987 he and business partner Michel Meunier hatched a plot to make some headlines instead. Rather than win the race, the two Peugeot employees would instead build a car to be the first to hit 400km/h (249mph) at Le Mans. Starting with their P86 racing car, Welter and Meunier were handed some covert help from Peugeot, who liked the idea of the attempt, in the form of access to its wind tunnels – on Sundays when the manufacturer wasn’t using them. The result was the super-streamlined P88. A car so dedicated to aero efficiency that even the wing mirrors are enclosed to reduce drag. A 3.0-litre Peugeot engine was squeezed into the back, and with some nifty wizardry 910PS was extracted, along with a bonkers 1,020Nm (752lb ft) of torque. So important became this record attempt to Peugeot and the French organisers that a new radar system was installed to measure the speed – and then replaced mid-practice when it didn’t appear to be registering speeds properly. Come race day though, everything was set, and the P88 set out for its attempt. A few teething issues initially hampered it, but after hours of repairs driver Roger Dorchy finally did it, hitting a dizzying 407km/h (252mph). The car, having done its duty, duly overheated and retired, but the work was done. Later the number was changed to 405km/h to help Peugeot launch its new road car, but what did two km/h matter to Welter and Meunier?

Like this list? You might enjoy the seven best racing sportscars of all time.

Le Mans images courtesy of Motorsport Images, 72MM image by Jochen Van Cauwenberge.

  • List

  • Le Mans

  • Peugeot

  • BRM

  • Rover

  • Nissan

  • DeltaWing

  • Bugatti

  • Type 57G

  • Mazda

  • 787B

  • Nardi

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