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Racing Cars

The 1950s was the decade of successful front-engined racing cars, especially in sports-car racing. European marques derived from road going sports cars dominated, gradually becoming more and more different from their street origins. Disc brakes proved a huge advantage and would be rapidly adopted, along with other improvements, such as fuel injection, that would filter through to improve road cars in time.

Talbot-Lago T26 Grand Sport, 1951


Engine4,483 cc, straight-six
Top speed125 mph (201 km/h)

Based on the chassis and engine from a successful Grand Prix racer, the Grand Sport was an early post-war sports racing car that won at Le Mans in 1950.

Ferrari 375 MM, 1953


Engine4,522 cc, V12
Top speed150 mph (241 km/h)

Built primarily as a competition car, the 375 Mille Miglia won the Spa 24-hour race, Pescara 12-hour race, and Buenos Aires 1,000 km at the start of its glittering racing career

Kurtis-Chrysler 500S, 1953


Engine6,424cc, V8
Top speed145 mph (233 km/h)

Typical of the effective U.S.-built racers that contested the Carrera Panamericana and U.S. endurance races, this car has the Chrysler Hemi V8 in a light, aluminum body.

Ferrari 250GT SWB, 1959


Engine2,953 cc, V12
Top speed160 mph (257 km/h)

The gorgeous Pinin Farina-designed SWB dominated the Group III (2-3 liter) racing class, winning many races outright. It was equally at home on the road.

Abarth 205, 1950


Engine1,089 cc, straight-four
Top speed108 mph (174 km/h)

The first complete car from legendary engine tuner Carlo Abarth, the 205 used a tuned Fiat engine in a body styled by Giovanni Michelotti. It was a successful endurance racer.

Lotus Eleven, 1956


Engine1,098 cc, straight-four
Top speed112 mph (180 km/h)

The elegant Lotus Eleven marked a step forward in professionalism for Lotus and proved hugely successful. It came seventh overall at Le Mans in 1956, against many larger-engined cars.

Pupulidy-Porsche Special, 1954


Engine1,582 cc, flat-four
Top speed130 mph (209 km/h)

American racer Emil Pupulidy built a body inspired by Mercedes’ Silver Arrows, fitted it to a VW floorpan, and went racing. He won the car’s first race at the Nassau Speed Week in the Bahamas.

Porsche 550/1500RS, 1953


Engine1,498 cc, flat-four
Top speed136 mph (219 km/h)

When Porsche designed a new engine with double overhead camshafts on each side for its mid-engined 550 racer, it became a race winner. The actor James Dean had a fatal crash in his.

Porsche 550 Coupé, 1953


Engine1,488 cc, flat-four
Top speed124 mph (200 km/h)

This was Porsche’s first purpose-built works racing car. Mid-engined 550s won their class in 1953 events from Le Mans to the Carrera Panamericana.

Aston Martin DBR1, 1956


Engine2,922 cc, straight-six
Top speed155 mph (249 km/h)

The most successful Aston Martin racing car until 2010, the DBR1 had six major international race wins, including Le Mans, Nürburgring, Goodwood, and Spa.

OSCA MT4, 1953


Engine1,490 cc, straight-four
Top speed120 mph (193 km/h)

Superb design by the Maserati brothers and a twin-camshaft, twin-spark engine made the MT4 more competitive than it looked. It won the U.S. Sebring 12-hour race in 1954.

Aston Martin DBR2, 1957


Engine3,670 cc, straight-six
Top speed160 mph (257 km/h)

Aston built two cars to race its new 3.7-liter engine, with semi-backbone chassis and styling like the DBR1; they later raced with 4.2-liter engines in the United States.

Maserati 250F, 1954


Engine2,494 cc, straight-six
Top speed180 mph (290 km/h)

The elegant 250F raced throughout the seven years of the 2.5-liter limit in Formula 1, winning eight Grand Prix and giving Juan Manuel Fangio the 1957 World Championship.

Panhard 750 Spider, 1954


Engine745 cc, flat-two
Top speed90 mph (145 km/h)

Built by Tino Bianchi on a 1950 Panhard Dyna rolling chassis, with frame by GILCO and body by Colli, this one-off Special competed in the 1955 Mille Miglia in Italy.

Mercedes-Benz W196, 1954


Engine2,496 cc, straight-six
Top speed186 mph (299 km/h)

Mercedes-Benz returned to Formula 1 with a complex spaceframe chassis, desmodromic valves, and fuel injection. The W196 gave race driver Juan Manuel Fangio two world titles.

Alfa Romeo 1900SSZ, 1954


Engine1,975 cc, straight-four
Top speed117 mph (188 km/h)

The Alfa Romeo 1900, marketed as “the family car that wins races,” spawned this lightweight special-bodied car by Zagato that was successful in long-distance races.

Jaguar C-type, 1951


Engine3,442 cc, straight-six
Top speed144 mph (232 km/h)

This roadgoing race car was built to win Le Mans, which it did in 1951 and 1953 (pioneering disc brakes in 1953). It was derived from the XK120, with a lightweight tubular chassis.

Jaguar D-type, 1956


Engine3,781 cc, straight-six
Top speed167 mph (269 km/h)

After the XK-derived C-type, Jaguar developed this lightweight racer with monocoque center section to win Le Mans in France. It won in 1955,1956, and 1957.


It is a quote. The Definitive Visual History Of The Automobile 2011

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