Here’s a rare moment in motor racing: The year is 1956, and British national racing hero Mike Hawthorn is taking us on a guided tour of the historic Le Mans circuit in a factory D-Type Jaguar. Enjoy.
The Le Mans of 1956 was a very different place than the one we know today. In the practice sessions, as we discover in this amazing onboard footage with Mike Hawthorn, 180-mph race cars shared the course with village locals on bicycles. Also note that in those days, there were no safety barriers around much of the course, including along the famed six-kilometer Mulsanne Straight. And also note there is only slight mention of the horrible tragedy on the Sarthe circuit the year before. Truly these were different times, with an entirely different conception of racing safety.
The Jaguar D-Type represented the era’s state of the art in sports car engineering, winning the 24 Hours of Le Mans three years in a row, in 1955, 1956. and 1957, and taking five of the top six places in ’57. Although the speedy Hawthorn, 1955 LeMans winner and 1958 Formula 1 World Driving Champion, is not running flat-out here due to the practice conditions (including the aforementioned bicyclists), we still get a fair look at the D-Type’s impressive capabilities. Turn up the audio and enjoy the video.