Friends Reunited After 60 Years Apart: 1953 Le Mans 24 Hours Austin-Healeys Meet Again At Bonhams
The first time NOJ 392 and NOJ 393 have been seen in public since competing at the 1953 Le Mans 24 Hours supported by Swiss watch manufacture Frédérique Constant
Two Austin-Healey motor cars that competed as the factory entries in the 1953 Le Mans 24 Hours Race have been reunited after almost exactly 60 years apart. Le Mans, 1953: NOJ 392, car no. 34, alongside NOJ 393 (masquerading as NOJ 391), car no. 33, in the pits prior to the race On Wednesday 8th May the Bonhams headquarters in New Bond Street, London, saw the unveiling of ‘NOJ 393’, the ex-Works 1953-1955 Austin-Healey Special Test Car/100S, after its comprehensive restoration by marque specialists. The car realised a world record £843,000 at a Bonhams auction in December 2011, despite being in ‘barn-find’ condition, having been untouched since the 1960s.
Joining ‘NOJ 393’ at the unveiling was its sister car – ‘NOJ 392’ – which Bonhams is to offer for sale at this year’s Goodwood Festival of Speed on Friday 12th July. The only Special Test Car remaining in its original form, the car is estimated to realise between £500,000 and £600,000 at the auction.
Together the two cars formed the Works entry into the 1953 Le Mans 24-Hours but for one – ‘NOJ 393’ – it was so nearly not to be. Originally journalist Gordon Wilkins had been assigned to co-drive ‘NOJ 391’ alongside Belgian Marcel Becquart but, on the drive back from scrutineering to the hotel, the car was hit by a truck and suffered severe damage that would prove impossible to repair in time for the race.
Consequently the team set about transferring the car’s engine, brakes and all scrutineer-stamped components into the spare Special Test Car – ‘NOJ 393’ – which had been brought to the race “as insurance”. The necessary registration and race numbers were painted onto the car and it competed in the race masquerading as its compatriot.
Both cars finished strongly, with ‘NOJ 392’ coming in 12th overall, second in class, and ‘NOJ 393’ finishing 14th, third in class.
James Knight, Group Motoring Director of Bonhams, handled the sale of ‘NOJ 393’ and will preside over the sale of ‘NOJ 392’ in July. He said: “It suddenly dawned on me that these cars had been like two comets, each in their orbit since the ’53 Le Mans race – and we now had an opportunity to bring them together. For many years both cars had pretty much languished in garages at either end of England, with ‘392 then heading off to Australia. I think it is great we can re-unite them here today.”
Meanwhile, Swiss watch manufacturer Frédérique Constant was proud to support Bonhams in the unveiling of the restored NOJ 393.
The story between Frédérique Constant and the Austin-Healey cars is a story of passion. The brand has been the annual Official Time Partner of Healey events around the globe since 2004.
Frédérique Constant was founded in 1988 by Peter and Aletta Stas in Geneva, with a clear objective to create what became known as “accessible luxury” watches. By offering excellent quality watches with affordable prices Frédérique Constant has gradually become an important player within the Swiss watch making industry. The company’s slogan “Live your Passion” symbolises their philosophy also present in their support of important charitable organisations that are driven by passion and the sponsorship of prestigious events like the Peking Paris Motor Challenge and Grand Tour.
In 2010 Frédérique Constant introduced two new limited editions of its iconic Healey Chrono-Automatic, limited to 1,888 pieces in each version. The hand-polished, rounded case with a diameter of 43mm comes in two different finishings: rose gold plated case, chocolate dial and leather strap, and in a steel case, silver dial with green accents and brown leather strap. The limited edition Healey Chrono-Automatic timepieces are presented in an elegant gift box combined with a unique mechanical, handmade Stoptimer.
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