9 incredible race-inspired machines, one tiny disappointment.
The 24 Hours of Le Mans is the world’s oldest active endurance race, held annually since 1923. The race has spawned some of the greatest rivalries in the history of motorsport, and it’s birthed some of the greatest sports cars to have graced our roads. Of the many Le Mans-inspired road cars produced through the years, we’ve selected 10 notable ones for this list. Some are homologation models, some are mere tribute models, but some, well some are a few of the greatest road cars ever made, and they’re all inspired by a single great racing spectacle.
In 1995, seven McLaren-built, privateer-raced F1 GTRs were entered into and five finished the 24 Hours of Le Mans, finishing first, fourth, fifth, and thirteenth overall. To honor the result, McLaren commissioned a road legal version inspired by the GTR to be built. Dubbed the McLaren F1 LM, the road-going version weighed just 2,341 pounds, featured no interior noise suppression, and no radio It also featured more power than the racecar due to the lack of limitations for road-going models as opposed to race cars. Just 6 F1 LMs were produced, including one prototype, with the 6.1-liter V12 producing 680 horsepower.
Every self-respecting gearhead knows this story – hell, it’s just about an automotive bedtime story. Ford wanted to buy Ferrari, and the deal nearly went through, until Enzo Ferrari stopped the sale as it would’ve included the racing exploits too. Furious, Henry Ford II decided to beat Ferrari at Le Mans. He tried several times, and failed, but eventually in 1966 Ford secured a 1-2-3 finish to beat Ferrari with the help of Carroll Shelby. The Mk III Ford GT40 was the road car built to celebrate the motorsports dominance of the MK II, powered by a 4.7-liter V8 with 306hp. Just 7 Mk III GT40s were ever produced.
To celebrate the 50 year anniversary of the original 1966 Le Mans victory, Ford announced a new 2016 Ford GT that would be racing the hallowed circuit once more. In a true fairytale ending, Ford once again beat Ferrari to take the win in the GTE class. But development of the race car occurred concurrently with the road car, making it quite literally a race car for the road – right down to the inbuilt FIA-spec roll cage housed in the carbon fiber monocoque chassis. Powered by Ford’s 3.5-liter EcoBoost V6, the road car generates 647 hp, and has proved to be one of the most exclusive Ford road cars ever, with lawsuits being fought over second hand ownership.
This one’s a bit of a cheat as it isn’t a production car, or even road-legal… yet. The GR Super Sport Concept from Toyota previews a potential road-going supercar from Toyota’s Gazoo Racing subdivision. It’s directly inspired by Toyota’s TS050 WEC race car and features hybrid technology in the form of a 2.4-liter twin-turbo V6 and electric motors that generate a combined 986 hp. Styling is LMP-derived too, and Toyota hasn’t completely rubbished the idea that the GR Super Sports Concept may actually reach production, citing that “this is the starting point for Toyota’s completely new challenge to develop sports cars from active race cars.”
In 1997, Nissan entered the R390 into the GT1 class at the 24 hours of Le Mans to compete against the CLK GTR and Porsche 911 GT1. During the race, the Nissans suffered gearbox issues with a best finish of 12th overall and 5th in class. To comply with homologation rules though, the R390 had to have a road-going version built. Just one was ever built, and it was never sold. Powered by a twin-turbo 3.5-liter V8, the R390 GT1 had outputs of 550 hp and was capable of a claimed top speed of 220 mph – though the claim was never tested.
The Mercedes-Benz CLK GTR was a uniquely developed FIA GT race car that was actually developed from a disused McLaren F1 GTR, before evolving completely into its own vehicle. It was further developed for Le Mans, and as a result of homologation regulations, 25 road-going cars had to be produced. The Straßen Version featured a 6.9-liter V12 with 604 hp, and held the Guinness World Record as the most expensive production car ever at a price of $1,547,620. 20 road going coupes were produced, with a further 6 roadsters specially manufactured by HWA.
The Porsche 962 was a sports-prototype race car built by Porsche and raced by numerous privateers in its time. In addition to enjoying much racing success, several privateers also used the 962 as the basis of a few road-going sports cars. The Schuppan 962CR was one such vehicle, built by Vern Schuppan to commemorate his 1983 victory at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. The mid-engined, rear wheel drive car of which just six were produced, was powered by a 3.3-liter flat-6 engine developing 600 hp. It utilized a carbon fiber monocoque produced by Reynard Motorsport and weight just over 2,300 pounds.
The Porsche 911 GT1 rivalled the CLK GTR and Nissan R390 mentioned above in the FIA’s GT1 class of racing. The carbon fiber bodied, tube-framed race car actually had nothing in common with the 911 road car, despite the naming convention and vaguely familiar styling. It dominated at Le Mans, winning its debut race there in the GT1 class. To comply with FIA rules, 25 road cars had to be built, dubbed the 911 GT1 Straßen version. The 3.2-liter twin-turbo flat 6 developed 537 hp in production form, and enabled the 911 GT1 to sprint from 0-60 in under 3.9 seconds.
Only on Aston Martin has ever carried the ‘Le Mans’ nameplate. Built to honor the 1959 Le Mans victory, the Virage V8 Vantage was launched in 1999 and limited to just 40 units to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the original win. It featured a 5.3-liter supercharged V8 that developed massive figures of 604 hp and 600 lb-ft of torque. Bodywork was customized for the Le Mans models, as was the interior, but all that was overlooked in favor of the fact that the V8 Vantage Le Mans could top out at 200 mph.
The last entry on this list makes an appearance for all the wrong reasons as the weakest tribute to Le Mans just about ever. Ahead of the 2014 edition of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, Audi unveiled a special edition version of the A1 sub-compact city car. Built to commemorate Audi’s dominance of the race, the limited edition small hatch featured no performance upgrades at all, and was merely decked out with specialized side sills, and diffusers, sport tail pipes, and a range of R18 decals and red accents.
The only notable nod to Le Mans were the signatures of Audi’s winning drivers on the top corner of the rear window, and the number 378 displayed to represent the number of laps the winning 2013 car completed. As far as tribute models go, the A1 R18 Le Mans was pretty weak – thankfully we never got any in the USA.