The Ten Coolest Le Mans Prototypes Of All Time – Jalopnik Gets It Wrong

I have this theory that any list, top ten, top five, top 100, whatever, are only there to start arguments, rather than be definitive statements. 99% of the time, I have no problem with Jalopnik. They are a rather funny and irreverent car site, and in addition to the standard fair of who’s releasing what ride or which car is getting yanked from production, they have a real penchant for top ten lists. Like I said, lists are there to start arguments, and this list leaves me with a big bone to pick with the boys at Los Jalops.

First off, let’s take a look at their list, then I’ll bitch a little bit, and then we can look at why their individual picks are cool.

Here they are:

10.) Jaguar D-Type
9.) Porsche 911 GT-1
8.) Jaguar XJR-9
7.) Chaparral 2F
6.) Ferrari 330 P3/4
5.) Toyota GT-One
4.) Audi R10 TDi
3.) Ford GT40
2.) Porsche 962
1.) Mazda 787B

Impressive list, no? Really, who can argue? All those cars were serious competitors, and most of them were winners. But do you notice anything missing? Any car that should be in there that’s not? Do the words “Watch out for the red Lola, the red Lola,” or “This isn’t just a thousand to one shot. This is a professional bloodsport. And it can happen to you. And then it can happen to you again,” or Steve McQueen knock anything lose?

Yup, for some reason, they didn’t include the Porsche 917 on their list.

The car that issued in a level of utter domination in Le Mans that anyone is yet to equal, (although Audi is starting to get close) and they didn’t include it in the list? Kind of strikes one as a mistake, doesn’t it?

Not only did the 917 win Le Mans over and over and over, but it is one of the most recognizable racing cars in the world, mainly thanks to the 1971 feature film starring Steve McQueen. Leaving it off the list seems like a major stumble to me.

But the rest of the list sure is worth noting.

Take for example number 10, the Jaguar D-Type.

The D-Type deserves to be on the list for a slew of reasons. The D was the first post war Le Mans car to issue into being the ongoing tradition of one car factory dominates and then gets knocked off the top of the mountain, only to be knocked off by another factory effort that then goes on to dominate for the next string of victories. And, the D-Type is gorgeous. And it also pioneered the use of disc brakes in racing.

At number 9 on the list is the Porsche 911 GT-1. Not only fast, durable and a winner at Le Mans (all of those are Porsche hallmarks, by the by), but it also closely resembled the road-going 911. Although only the chassis, taken from a 993-edition of the venerable 911, was road car sourced, everything else was pretty cool. The water-cooled engine came from a 962, for example. And when the GT1 finally did win over all, it gave Porsche their record-breaking 16th overall win at La Sarthe.

The Jaguar XJR-9, the eight-place car on the list, was the car that returned Jaguar to the top step of the podium at the 24 hour classic. In 1988, when it faced off against the might of the Porsche factory 962s, the XJR-9 was in the lead by the second lap. And despite the Jag suffering gearbox issues, with the car being stuck in fourth gear for much of the race, it won. That was the first time since 1980 that a Porsche did not win, AND it was the first time since 1957 that Jaguar did win.

Ah, the Chaparral 2F landing in seventh place. What is not to like about Jim Hall’s high tech racers from Midland Texas. OK, so they were kind of fragile and prone to breaking. But they did feature such neat bits of tech like a composite fiberglass chassis and a semi-auto gearbox. And this was back in the 1960s! Just check out the video, featuring Phil Hill and narrated by Chris Economaki, to see how cool.

Number 6, the Ferrari 330 P3/4. Really, this car needs to explanation. No, they didn’t win at Le Mans in 1967 (although they did come in one-two-three at Daytona the same year), but dear God what a gorgeous car. That’s reason enough right there.

The Toyota GT-One takes up the fifth place spot, and might be termed the best car never to win Le Mans. Toyota dumped trainloads of money into this beast winning the 24 Hours. It never did, but it was packed with enough tech to make a cruise missile pale in comparison, and seemingly had speed to match. Why did it fail at winning at Le Mans? A lack of reliability. A very un-Toyota like thing to do.

At number 4 on the list we see the Audi R10 TDi. Of course you have to put this car on the list. Speed, solid engineering, horsepower and torque. Lots and lots of torque. Did I mention it was a diesel? It is. Lots of people think that diesel = lack of speed and performance. Audi (and Peugeot) would beg to differ.

Of curse the Ford GT40 is on the list, coming in at number three. This was the car that blew Ferrari into the weeds and one of the few times an American manufacturer won anything on an international stage. Sure, it had an engine half again as big as what Ferrari was running, and a racing budget larger than the GDP of Ivory Coast, but it is damn cool and a winner. Nice video of the GT here:

At number 2 we have the Porsche 962. Essentially an IMSA spec 956 (they had to lengthen the wheelbase to get the drivers feet rear of the front axel line), but dayum these things were quick. And as reliable as an anvil. Porsche could stand on these things, literally all day and all night, and they still one, year after year, race after race.

And finally, the Mazda 787B tops the list. For starters, it’s the only Japanese car to win at Le Mans. For another thing, it’s the only rotary powered car to win the 24 hour race. And for yet another thing the four-rotor plant sounded like shrieking Harpies at full song. Just a terrible/gorgeous wail that most likely could be heard back in Paris.

So, that’s their list and my one addition … I think they seriously slighted the 917, and should have dumped the 911 GT-1.

Source: Jalopnik, lede photo from Fliker user Dave Catchpole.

About The Author

Tony Borroz grew up in a sportscar oriented family, but sadly, it was British cars. His knuckles still show the marks of slipped Whitworth sockets, strains to reach rear upper shock bushings on Triumphs and slight burn marks from dealing with Lucas Electric "systems". He has written for a variety of car magazines and websites, Automoblog chief among them, as well as working on very popular driving games as a content expert. He has also worked for aerospace companies, software giants and as a movie stuntman. He currently lives in a secure, undisclosed location in the American southwestern desert.

3 Comments on "The Ten Coolest Le Mans Prototypes Of All Time – Jalopnik Gets It Wrong"

  1. I think you're probably right – top 10 lists act as an argument starter. Still, nothing wrong with a good argument amongst equally strong willed individuals.

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