1959 was the first year the Automobile Club de L’Ouest introduced a test-day long before the actual race. In this testday, held in April, Ferrari seemed to play with far better cards than the other competitors. The only competition for the impressively powerful 3-liter V12 engine of Ferrari seemed to come from Aston-Martin. The practice week before the race only confirmed the dominance of Ferrari. Only Stirling Moss at the wheel of an Aston Martin could keep up with the Ferraris.
The Porsches in the 1959 Le Mans 24H
The Porsche factory team had entered 3 RSK Spyders. Joakim Bonnier and Wolfgang Graf Berghe von Trips shared the wheel of #31.Hans Herrmann and Umberto Maglioli shared #32. Edgar Barth / Wolfgang Seidel shared the seat of #34 with a 1500cc engine and competing in the 1.5 lt. class. 2 more Porsche 718 RSKs with a 1.5 engine and a Porsche 550 Spyder , all from customers teams. With a strong entrance like that, everything seemed to look good for Porsche. Little did they know that the 1959 Le Mans 24 hours race would turn out into a complete failure.
Stirling Moss started in pole and took a good start. He led the opening lap but with only a small margin to 2 Ferraris that followed him. Jean Behra lost some places at the start but was catching up fast. Behra took the lead after 1.5 hours of racing. It looked as if there was nothing to do about a Ferrari victory. But as the first pitstops began to take place to do some refuelling and allow driver changes, the odds turned for Ferrari. A first Ferrari dropped out with a broken gearbox. Not that much later, the Aston Martin of Stirling Moss quit the race with engine troubles too.
At that time, the 2 factory Porsche 718 RSK were in position 8th and 9th. Porsche had proven to be reliable in the previous years, so people started thinking a top 3 finish would be possible. However, at 9PM on Saturday, the engine of the #32 blew up. End of race for Hans Herrmann and Umberto Maglioli. At 2AM in the morning Porsche had cars in 4th, 5th, 6th and 7th position. The drivers managed to keep those positions for a few hours.
When the Porsches start getting into trouble
At dawn, the Porsches started to run into trouble. A first 718 Spyder retired, and later the RSK of Edgar Barth / Wolfgang Seidel wrecked the engine too. It looked like they had been stretching things too far to keep up with the more powerful competitors. About an hour later, Carel godin de Beaufort quit the race with a blown engine too. And just before Sunday noon, when all eyes were directed to some of the leading cars quitting the race, the 2 remaining Porsches blew their engines too.
In the end it was the duo Salvadore / Shelby that took checkered flag in an Aston Martin DBR1/300. Another Aston Martin DBR1/300 with Paul Frere and Maurice Trintignant at the wheel finished 2nd. For Porsche, the 1959 Le Mans 24h was probably the most disappointing ever. None of the cars finished the race. It was a complete failure.
Pictures courtesy Porsche AG, Jesse Alexander and unknown.