From the LIFE Vaults: LeMans ’53

As you may have read recently, Life Magazine has dug up thousands of images from its archives and released them as hosted content for search on Google’s image search. With such a deep bounty of vintage photography, I’ll be posting a few images at a time over the next few weeks.

Take this crop from the 1953 LeMans 24 Hours race. This was, of course, before the disastrous crash in ’55 in which Pierre Levegh careened off the course, killing more than 80 spectators. So you’ll notice the immediacy and danger that led to such tragedy—and made spectating much more interesting—in this photo of Alberto Ascari’s and Luigi Villoresi’s Ferrari 340MM Berlinetta. That little fence and hay bales wouldn’t hold in a horse, especially not this prancing one. Ascari and Villoresi DNFed that year, completing 229 laps.

Here’s a shot of the start of the race—how thrilling that classic running Le Mans start must have been to see. Missing from this shot (unless that’s it peeking out from behind Fangio’s Alfa Romeo #22) is Tony Holt and Duncan Hamilton’s #18 Jaguar C-Type that won the race that year.

And here is the sprint for the start itself. Prominent in this shot are the cars of the Briggs Cunningham team in the foreground bearing racing numbers 1, 2, and 3. Phil Walters and John Fitch took the #3 car to third place.

I’ll close with a couple of fantastic shots of the Nash Healey pits. First, just this lovely atmospheric shot of the calm before the 24 hour storm.

And here’s a shot of Nash Healey #10. Bad luck for Pierre Veyron and Yves Giraud-Cabantous that year, the car DNFed at lap 9. I don’t think Yves even got behind the wheel. But look at that tail! What a marvelous, almost whimsical extravagance; predating the long-tail Porsches by a good 15 years.

There you have it, Life Magazine’s archives of the 1953 24 Hours of LeMans. Excellent photos, and I’ve only just begun to dip my toe into the archive. Look for more in the coming weeks.