French Masterpiece – 1953 Gordini Type 24 S

1953 Gordini Type 24 S Track

Amédée Gordini stood at Le Mans in 1953. He had finally created his masterpiece, a three-litre eight-cylinder sports car, which he intended to use to compete at the highest level. It would run in anger against names like Ferrari, Maserati, Lancia, Mercedes-Benz, Jaguar, and Aston Martin, and it would be run not only by Works teams but also by wealthy privateers.

For his car, Gordini chose an inline eight-cylinder engine, which was chosen for practical reasons as well as for its simplicity. Lacking the capabilities to produce a modern V-8 block, Gordini took two of his four-cylinder, 1,500-cubic centimetre engines of the same size and then mounted them end-to-end. The result had a long stroke, and it was not particularly high-revving, as it could produce peak power at only 6,500 rpm. Nonetheless, this simplicity and a modest compression ratio did not reduce the engine’s performance. Originally, the output was 220 brake horsepower, with power raised to little more than 260 brake horsepower by 1955, which was a power level almost the same as the Maserati 300 S in its first guise or of the Monza Ferrari. This power was then sent to the rear wheels by a five-speed transmission.

It was mounted on a chassis that was designed based on Gordini’s principles of simplicity and lightness, with a frame made of two large-section tubes that had been joined by four tubular cross members. Independent front suspension was by double wishbones that were made of forged steel arms, and it was attached to the front cross member and hub carrier. Each main tube contained a bolted sleeve, in which a torsion bar passed up to the front arm of the lower wishbone. To further reduce weight, Messier dampers were chosen instead of the Houdaille shocks. The rigid rear axle was positioned by the trailing arms, as well as a Watts linkage that attached to the axle’s rear cover. Hydraulic drum brakes, originally fitted in 1953, would be replaced in 1954 by the latest Messier disc brakes.

The Works Gordini Type 24 S offered here, chassis number 36, was entered for the 1953 24 Hours of Le Mans, registered as 71 CB 75, with an aluminium body and a centre-mounted steering wheel. The body of this example was distinguished by four circular headlamps and wheel arches that were not semi-circular, as usual, but they rather had an angular rear design. In this form, chassis number 36 won the Tour de France Automobile in September 1953 at the hands of Jean Behra. In November of the same year, Behra raced the car at the Carrera Panamericana, but he did not finish, although he was 6th overall before retiring.

In 1954, the car sailed to North Africa in rough seas, and due to poor stowage on board, the front of the bodywork was damaged, leading it to be rebuilt and modified for the Senegal Criterium. The nose was reworked again following the 12 Hours of Reims, after a light collision with Tony Rolt’s Jaguar D-Type resulted in more damage; they were in 3rd place at the time. It then entered the Tour de France Automobile, with Guelfi and Quinlin, reaching 2nd place overall, but it did not finish. Luck would prevail at the Coupe du Salon in Montlhery, where it would take the chequered flag with Behra at the wheel.

For the 1955 season, Bayol and Shell finished an impressive 5th overall at the 1000 KM of Buenos Aires. Guelfi finish 3rd overall at Agadir, and Bordoni would then pilot this car at the Mille Miglia, but he was forced to retire after transmission trouble.

After that, and in order to compete in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the body was redesigned to be very low and built according to the style of the contemporary, streamlined Gordini Monopostos. The body, which it still wears today, appears original and impressive some 47 years later, with its four side exhausts and side vents, which were added in 1956.

Amédée Gordini faced financial difficulties in mid-1956, and despite discussion with Renault, no short-term solution was coming. After being made aware of the situation, famous novelist Francoise Sagan, a well-known petrolhead who liked to drive barefoot, went to the Automobiles Gordini head office at 69/71 Boulevard Victor in Paris, hoping to buy a car and help the team. Seeing chassis number 36, she asked how much it would cost. Gordini excused himself, went to his assistant, and asked her to add the amount of the company’s current debt to all the salaries due to be paid by the end of June. This was the price that Sagan paid for her car, which was delivered at the end of August, after having been retrofitted with a full windscreen, repainted, and fully serviced at Monsieur Gordini’s insistence. Racing driver André Guelfi later recalled helping the young Sagan learn how to control the car at high speeds.

In November 1958, gentleman driver José Piger purchased chassis number 36 and registered it on 14 September 1959, as 103 BH 43. He then raced it at the Mont Ventoux, Mâcon-Solutré, and Mont Verdun hill climbs. After many years of ownership, he sold the car on 18 July 1986, to Jacques Montanari, who would register it as 71 CB 93. The present owner acquired the car from Montanari on 1 February 1997 and returned it to the road, with assistance from the competent Michel Magnin. The Gordini successfully completed the 1998 and 1999 runnings of the Mille Miglia, as well as the 1999 Tour de France Automobile, still registered as 71 CB 93. In the past years, it has entered all the major historic events, such as Tour Auto, the Mille Miglia, and the Le Mans Classic, wearing registration 482 NDG 75. Finally, it was registered as AH-302-HJ, as per new French registration rules.

Gordinis are fabulously rare cars, as only approximately 32 chassis were produced between 1946 and 1957. Of these 32 chassis, roughly half of them are in museums, with the most notable of these being the famous Schlumpf Collection, which maintains 14 examples. Many of them have led a complicated life, as Amédée Gordini was always short of money, and he maintained the cars on a piecemeal basis.

Offered here is not only the final design by “The Wizard”, but it is also one that has originality and a defined, well-known history, which includes having only five owners for 47 years. It has been driven by the likes of Behra, Lucas, Barraquet, Bordoni, Simon, Pilette, Guelfi, Quinlin, Bayol, Schell, Manzon, and Sagan. It is capable of lapping the 6.3 kilometre circuit at Montlhéry at more than 160 km/h, reaching over 110 mph at Le Mans and 89 mph at the Dakar Circuit, which were very impressive figures in its heyday. Most importantly, this chassis has raced in the four great races of its era, the Mille Miglia, Le Mans, the Carrera Panamerica, and the Tour de France Automobile.

This 1953 Gordini Type 24 S is offered for sale at the upcoming RM Auctions Paris sale, scheduled for February 5, 2014 in Paris. It is expected to sell for €3,000,000 to €4,000,000. It is eligible for all the most important historic events in the world, and it would mark a touchstone acquisition for the most astute of enthusiasts.

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