1976 LENHAM Ex 24 Hours of Le Mans 1976
1976 LENHAM Ex 24 Hours of Le Mans 1976
Lenham: from polyester to racing
In the early 1960s, Lenham was a small English restoration firm that specialized in polyester kits for "Spridgets".With their passion for racing and also for advertising purposes, they produced a single specimen of a small GT coupe powered by the 4 cylinder 1600 Lotus TC engine. In 1969, Ray Calcutt entered the car, with some success, for various club races. After being turned into an open prototype, it was given the name P69.At that time, Roger Hurst got involved in this racing venture and decided to form an independent structure called the Lenham-Hurst Racing Organisation, to develop and build racing cars under the Lenham name. The P69 was hired out to the Frenchman Francis Kruch who entered it for a number of French events.In 1970, Roger Hurst applied to enter for the Le Mans 24 Hours race. The P70, a slightly modified version of the P69 with the same engine, was built for Ray Calcutt and Francois Libert. The application was, however, refused by the race-organisers.
Roger Hurst’s ambition with the P71At the end of 1970, Roger Hurst started work on the P71 with the ambition of competing in the World Championship for Makes. He acquired an ex-F1 3-litre V8 Repco engine. In addition, an F3 Brabham, with chassis N° BT28 / 6 was used as a source of various components. It was entered for the 197I Brands Hatch 1000 km, but failed to actually make it there, for lack of preparation.
"Works" version of the LENHAM P71
It was also absent from the Nurburgring 1000 km and the project was finally put on standby. Now working with the Le Havre firm Darnval, Roger Hurst again applied to the ACO to enter it for the 1972 le Mans 24 Hours race. The P71 was renamed Darnval LM2, in the hope that the selection committee might give more credence to a French make.Roger Hurst and Francois Migault took part in the April practice sessions and even in the Le Mans 4 Hours event which took place alongside the practice sessions. After achieving only modest results in practice, they fell victim to clutch failure during the race event. The "Darnval / Lenham" did not take part in the June event and Le Mans remained just a dream for Roger Hurst, who subsequently sold the P71.
The Leboucher period
It was Roland Leboucher who acquired the P71 and took part with it in several events of the “Championship of France of the Circuits” during the 1973 season.The roll bar and the rear bodywork were modified to meet regulation requirements. Depending on the race-entries and the newspaper articles, the Lenham was called either Darnval or R.L. In 1974, it raced again in the same championship. In partnership with Jacques Prévoteau, it even took part in the ACO 2 Hour race which was run alongside the preliminary practice sessions of the 1974 le Mans 24 Hours race.The drivers soon realised that the bonnet tended to dangerously lift up the front of the car. Above 220 km / h in the Hunaudières straight, the front lifted up and in the bends, the lightness of the front end resulted in serious under-steering.Over the rest of the season, Roland Leboucher modernised the P71 in an attempt to solve the road-holding problems by grafting onto the car a modern body inspired by the Porsche 917/10 Can Am. The Repco engine was running out of steam and blew up at the end of the season. Throughout 1975, Roland Leboucher put the car up for sale in the classified ads in “Echappement” magazine. The asking price was 30,000 French francs.
The 1976 Le Mans 24 Hours race
It was finally at the start of 1976 that José Thibault offered to buy the little beauty: "I bought this car in Le Havre. It was fitted with the broken Repco V8 engine that I promptly sold. I absolutely wanted to do Le Mans because I’d been frustrated in 1975 at not qualifying because of the Wicky Pantera’s short-winded engine.I took the Lenham back to my garage in rue des Etats-Unis in Chateauroux. And I worked to put a new engine into it.I bought a 1840cc Cosworth FVC engine from Philippe Mettetal. It was the one that was planned for the Le Mans Tecma in 1975; It had blown up in the tests but had since been overhauled. To comply with the new regulations, I had to have the car modified.It was fitted out with side tanks and the regulations demanded a deformable structure. I had sheets of tap-ground aluminium made by a sheet-metal manufacturer for truck construction that was next to my garage.That protected the tanks. It was also necessary to modify the front bonnet to integrate the headlights. We were a really small team, with very little money. We went to Magny-Cours on 1 May 1976 to test the car during the 2-L championship round.
But we only did a few laps in the practice session due to shock absorber problems because the rear load with the Cosworth engine wasn’t the same as with the Repco! Michel Lateste came to see me to say that he didn’t have a car to drive at Le Mans but that he had backing from the sponsor Monsieur Meuble. That supplemented the very small budget I’d obtained from la Nouvelle République. It all came down to resourcefulness to enter the car, with the addition of the young driver Alain Hubert, who raced single-seaters and who also had a small budget.During practice at Le Mans, I had a visit from the customs, who told me that only one of the three imported Lenhams had been cleared through customs. Fortunately, Leboucher had given me the papers proving that it was in order. It was Michel who started the race and stopped at the pits after the warm-up lap to please… his sponsor."Bearing N° 29, the Lenham had trouble with its gear lever which came unsoldered, and with vibrations in the front axle. After 4 hours of the race, it had only completed 8 laps and was in last position."I had high hopes of finishing the race - it was my aim after working several nights long to get the car race-ready. But I have to admit that I was really exhausted, and in fact during my stint at the wheel, I occasionally shut an eye in the Hunaudières straight. I think we were clocked at 290 km / h in the Hunaudières.During one of his stints, Michel had a shaft drive break on him and stopped on the edge of the track. With the tools that had been taped up inside the cockpit, he managed to lock the differential with an adjustable wrench and was able to get back to the pits. But we had very few spare parts. A friend drove out to a garage in nearby Champagné to find one. These drive shafts were mounted on the Saviem SG2 cars. After repair-work, we could set off again... "But the repairs took time and the Lenham was ruled out of the race during the 14th hour for not covering 70% of the distance required.
After Le Mans
José Thibault sold the car to devote himself to other projects. It was a gendarme who bought it. He occasionally raced it in hill climbs before selling it in the 80s. A collector put it away in a garage for about twenty years until its current owner discovered it, restored it and entered it for the Le Mans Classic race in 2014.