For these automotive disasters, there was life after death
An enthusiast’s ingenuity knows no bounds, and when it comes to rare and classic cars, the art of restoration is one that could easily pass for black magic. But while barn finds and forgotten classics are often the subjects of miraculous transformations, the most incredible revivals are those arising from the disaster. As much as we all love rare, classic, and high-performance cars – and we love when they’re driven as intended – accidents happen, especially when enjoying the thrill of the drive. But from some of the most gut-wrenching wrecks, the restoration stories that arrive fill our hearts with joy, and at times bring a tear to our eyes. Here are ten times rare cars were restored after devastating wrecks.
Most famous for his role as Mr. Bean, Rowan Atkinson is a notorious car nut. One of his most prized automotive possessions was his burgundy McLaren F1 – number 64 of 107 – which he notoriously drove as his daily, doing milk-runs and hill climbs, racking up 41,000 miles in the process. Atkinson is the automotive hero we all aspire to be, but because he liked to enjoy his F1, and because accidents happen, he also crashed the F1… twice. The 2011 crash resulted in the largest ever single-car insurance claim in Britain, with his insurance company paying out about $1.4 million.
The car was sent to McLaren Special Operations (MSO) to carry out the repairs, where it was meticulously restored to complete road-going condition again. Atkinson continued to drive the car after restoration until he sold it in 2015.
There were just 39 iconic Ferrari 250 GTOs ever built – so it’s not surprising when one comes up for auction, it usually ends up being the most expensive car there, and usually one of the most expensive in the world. But what happens when 1 of 39 gets crashed? Well in 2012, a blue and yellow 250 GTO owned by American investor Christopher Cox got severely pranged at the Le Mans historic rally. After being crashed into from the rear, the initial impact put the 250 GTO in the path of an oncoming minivan, leaving Cox’s wife with a broken arm and injuring two passengers in another vehicle. It was billed as one of the most expensive accidents ever – likely due to the value of the car more than the repair costs – but strangely enough, no pictures ever surfaced of the incident. Chassis 3455GT was shipped to Maranello though, where Ferrari Classiche oversaw its restoration back to its former glory. Needless to say, as 1 of 39, no one wanted to see it dead and buried, and the restoration was carried out meticulously. The 250 GTO was saved and sounds as good as ever…
What started life as a yellow Pagani Zonda F Clubsport coupe would see itself evolve into something else. The car was involved in a serious accident, after which it was sent to Pagani’s factory for restoration and some upgrades that would turn it into a rather unique specimen. The result was the Zonda Riviera – with updated looks to match the latest models, and an engine upgraded to output 760 horsepower. The Riviera received a black and white paint job with blue striping, a carbon-fiber roof scoop, canards on the front bumper, and a large rear spoiler. It’s not like the Zonda F was an ugly car to begin with, but in Riviera guise it evolved into a gorgeous one-of-one hypercar, proving that accident-damaged hypercars never really die.
Even well into his 80s, Sir Stirling Moss is still an absolute champion, willing to go racing even after falling down an elevator shaft. But in 2010, the legendary racing driver was involved in an accident in a car he’d only just bought that same year, his 1961 Porsche RS61 Spyder. He brought the car to Laguna Seca for the Monterey Motorsports Reunion. But on his first lap out, disaster struck – due to technical issues the car spun and was then promptly hit by a Lotus that lost control in the same spot.
However, the RS61 was repaired thanks to the diligent work of the folks at Maxted-Page & Prill in England, and not even a year later, Moss hit the track once again. Moss entered the car in the Le Mans Legend, proving once again that you can’t keep a great racing driver – or race car – off the track.
The Jaguar E-Type is one of the world’s most iconic sports cars, held in such high regard that even Enzo Ferrari thought it was the most beautiful car in the world. Well, one example, a racing version of the E-Type, would lose its beauty to a horrific crash at the French racetrack, Montlhery, in 1964. The driver, Peter Lindner, died in the crash, and the wreckage of the car went missing after the incident.
But in 1990 – 36 years later – the car was found in the garage of a Frenchman, and over a period of 10 years, taking 7,000 man-hours of work, the E-Type was fully restored to its former glory. Of course, E-Types are valuable, but this one even more so, with estimates valuing it at well above $7 million.
The Jaguar XJ13 was an experimental prototype racecar originally intended to compete at Le Mans during the 1960s. Only one prototype was ever developed and built, but it was never prioritized, and by the time it was ready to race, it was already obsolete. The project was shelved until the car was pulled out of storage in 1971. Jaguar wanted to film the XJ13 as part of a launch film for the new Series 3 E-Type, owing to the fact that the XJ13 was powered by a V12, as the Series 3 E was. However, against advice from Jaguar’s director, the car was driven at MIRA on a damaged tire at speed and suffered a wreck.
The wreckage was once again placed in storage until Edward Loades convinced Jaguar his panel-beating company should restore the car. Using the remaining pieces, and some original jigs for the car’s production, the car was rebuilt to a similar specification as the original. However, Jaguar clearly states that the car was not built to original spec, meaning the XJ13 that lives today is not exactly the same as the one that crashed in 1971.
The Ferrari F40 is hallowed metal, so when a red F40 crashed in Houston a few years back, we all shed a manly tear. GAS Monkey Garage bought the wreckage and set about the repairs, repainting it black, retrofitting LED headlights, equipping three-piece HRE wheels, and fitting Penske Racing adjustable shocks. The turbos were replaced and the intake revised, with power jumping to 550 horsepower. The restored and modded F40 was then sold in 2014 for a shade under $750,000 – not too pricey as far as F40s go, but alive and drivable once again, which makes us feel warm and fuzzy on the inside.
The Pagani Zonda, chassis number 53, was built in 2005. But in early 2012 the car was involved in an accident, after which it was sent back to the factory of the Italian supercar manufacturer. There, the Zonda was upgraded to the Zonda SH, and later to the Zonda Fantasma. Then in 2017, it went for another round of updates resulting in the Fantasma Evo. Among the upgrades made from the original, power received a decent bump and the car was fitted with a manual gearbox.
Few accidents are as cringe-worthy as seeing one of the world’s premier hypercars being torn in half in an accident. Well, that’s what happened to the 2004 Ferrari Enzo, chassis number 135564, after it split in two after when it crashed in Malibu. It looked beyond repair; however, the mangled chassis was repaired and overhauled by the Ferrari Technical Assistance Service to good-as-new status, even getting the seal of approval from Ferrari Classiche – the division responsible for restoring vintage Ferraris. The Enzo that was once red is now black, and during restoration, it even benefitted from the addition of navigation, a Bose sound system, a backup camera, and power windows. The car was auctioned by RM Sotheby’s for a rather impressive $1.7 million.
Who could forget the tragedy that struck the National Corvette Museum in 2014, when a sinkhole opened up and swallowed hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of classic machinery? Well, while some cars were barely damaged, others were mangled beyond recognition. Thankfully, some of those were repaired.
The final car to be repaired was a 1962 Corvette finished in Tuxedo Black – a car that had been donated to the museum in 2011 by David Donoho, a diehard enthusiast who’d saved up enough money to buy the car when he was in high school. Thankfully, the Vehicle Maintenance and Preservation coordinator and his team were able to restore the classic Corvette completely, and it now lives safely in the museum once again, commemorating the sinkhole disaster.