A Man of Tragedy

Talbot, Levegh, Le Mans, klemcoll

This is June 12, 1953 during practice at Le Mans for the 24 hour race. The car seen here is a Talbot Lago T26 GS and its driver standing next to it uses the nom de course of Pierre Levegh. Levegh’s real name was Pierre Bouillin. He had adopted the racing name of Levegh because it had been used by an uncle who had been a racing driver in the earliest years of the sport. This Talbot Lago had been built up and modified by Levegh in 1952. It had a 4.5 liter six cylinder engine which produced close to 200 bhp.

Levegh was devoted to Le Mans, having attended every one of its 24 hour races since 1925 and having competed there in the postwar years, finishing fourth in 1951 with another Talbot. Talbot, Levegh, klemcoll, Le MansIn 1952 he had tried to run single-handed, seen at the left. As the faster cars fell out with mechanical failures, Levegh’s Talbot attained a significant lead and lasted for over 23 hours before his car’s engine broke. In that race he had as a co-driver another experienced French driver, René Marchand. But in spite of entreaties from Marchand, the Talbot factory’s owner Antonio Lago and Levegh’s wife, Levegh, now almost robotic, had insisted on staying in the car and driving solo. His reasons were probably not so much ego as a worry that Marchand might not have the driving delicacy to preserve the car’s engine. But then, totally exhausted, neither did Levegh.

In 1953 Levegh was paired in his same Talbot with fellow Parisian and Le Mans driver Charles Pozzi, who was well known in the 1960s when he became the Ferrari importer for France. Whereas Levegh had led the race in 1952, the faster cars lasted for the 24 hours in 1953 with the victory going to a Jaguar C-Type with other Jaguars, Cunninghams and a Ferrari following. Levegh and Pozzi would finish in eighth place, although their pace had exceeded that of Levegh’s in 1952.

Impressed by Levegh’s knowledge of Le Mans and his commitment in 1952 where the win had gone to Mercedes after Levegh’s Talbot retired, in 1955 Mercedes’ team manager Alfred Neubauer  selected him to share a 300SLR at Le Mans with American John Fitch. Levegh, now at the age of 50, took the start and in the third hour became trapped by others’ mistakes on the narrow road approaching the pits at about 150 mph. His Mercedes hurtled into a banking where the car broke up and exploded with major components flying into the grandstand area. Pierre Levegh was killed instantly along with 83 spectators and with over 150 others injured.

Photos by Louis Klemantaski ©The Klemantaski Collection –www.klemcoll.com

To see more of our photographs please go to: http://www.klemcoll.com/TheGallery.aspx

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