Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Minis at Le Mans: 1962


It's June, and in motor sports circles that means 'Le Mans' is under way. This is the first part of a series about Mini derivatives that made it to the legendary 24 hours race. Or, well, who attempted to do so as the very first Mini based sports car meant to tackle the French endurance never even made it to the circuit de la Sarthe. It was Gordon Fowell of West Bromwich who entered his Gitane GT in the experimental one-litre class in the 1962 race, starting on June 23 of that year. The pretty aluminium bodied Gitane, named after the French cigarette, had only just been finished with an 887cc 84bhp Mini-engine at the rear. It used wire wheels which did not give a clue to its Mini-motorisation while suspension used coil springs although the idea was to use the Mini’s original rubber springs for production versions.

Production was to start later that year, but first Fowell wanted to promote the car with a comprehensive racing programme and he entered it not only for Le Mans, but also to that year's 1000 kilometers of the Nürburgring in May and the Trophée d’Auvergne in July. Fowell was to drive the car himself with London-based car dealer Dan Margulies as a co-pilot. But Margulies, who passed away in September last year, told me he never even saw the car when I spoke to him a couple of years ago about the Gitane. The car was sold to the brother of the man who helped Fowell build it, who raced it throughout the 1960s. He sold the prototype in 1968 'to a chap in Devon', but it never reappeared. Gordon Fowell passed away at 62 in 1999 but had a stake in a few more racing cars. For more information and cool pictures of the Gitane GT you will have to buy my book, I am affraid.

Original sketch for the rear-engined Gitane GT shows an extremely low sports car. This is
years before the Unipower GT came to life but there are some definite similarities

This is a picture of the clay model. Note the sketching on it that was done by
Gordon Fowell who clearly found the design not low enough

And that's what the prototype looked like when finished. This could have been fun in between the
big Ferraris. The last trace of it dates from 1968 when it went to Devon

Not a Mini derivative but the famous Morgan Super Sports that won the two-litre class in '62. It lead to a string of Le Mans entries for driver Chris Lawrence who returned the next year with his
Mini powered Deep Sanderson 

No comments:

Post a Comment