11.06.

1955: The Most Catastrophic Accident in the History of Car Racing

1955: The Most Catastrophic Accident in the History of Car Racing
Photo Credit To Wikipedia Commons/Le Mans Memorial Plaque

Story Highlights

  • Historical event
  • 11 June 1955
  • When it crashed into the retaining wall, the Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR was damaged and some of its large fragments of debris hit a large number of viewers. Fuel from the tank ignited the magnesium in the alloy from which the vehicle bodywork was made of.

On this day in 1955 the most serious accident in the history of motor racing occurred.

Specifically, as many as 83 spectators were killed when the competitive Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR crashed into the retaining wall during the “24 Hours of Le Mans”.

Some parts of the vehicle flew into the audience and caused a large number of people to die in a horrible way.

The fact that the Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR was made from an alloy that was high in magnesium content was particularly deadly.

Due to high temperatures, the metal parts of the car were ignited (magnesium burns with an extremely white and bright flames).

The local fire crew was not aware that water does not have a good effect on magnesium fire, so their use of water only worsened the accident.

The accident occurred when, at the end of Lap 35, one Jaguar D-type unexpectedly decided to make a pit stop.

He slowed suddenly, which caused confusion among the vehicles behind him. The British Austin-Healey 100, which was right behind the Jaguar, swerved left to avoid it.

This placed him on the path of the Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR driven by the French competitor Pierre Levegh.

Mercedes hit the Austin-Healey with its front end and bounced towards the edge of the track and the audience.

Since the Mercedes was moving at a speed of about 240 km/h at the time of the impact, its collision with the audience was disastrous.

When it crashed into the retaining wall, the Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR was damaged and some of its large fragments of debris hit a large number of viewers.

Fuel from the tank ignited the magnesium in the alloy from which the vehicle bodywork was made.

The consequences were disastrous. 83 spectators along the course were killed, and approximately another 120 were injured.

The mentioned driver of the Mercedes – Frenchman Pierre Levegh – was also killed, so that the total number of victims was 84.

After that season, Mercedes withdrew from competitive motorsport and returned only in the 1980s.

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