Porsche at the 1951 24 Hours of Le Mans
When Porsche made its debut appearance at the high-profile Le Mans race in 1951, Auguste Veuillet and Edmonde Mouche marked the occasion with a class win.
Starting in winter 1948/49, some 52 units of the 356/2 with an aluminium body were built – 44 356/2 Gmünd coupés and eight 356/2 Gmünd convertibles. In 1951, a number of these aluminium coupés formed the basis for Porsche’s entry into the world of international motor sport. Featuring a hand-finished aluminium body, they were around 120 kilograms lighter than the 356 that had been in production at Reutter in Stuttgart since April 1950. As the first German sports cars, these racing models bore the suffix ‘SL’: standing for ‘Super Leicht’, literally ‘Super Light’, this was based on the Italian designation ‘Super Leggera’. Having built this car featuring 46 horsepower, fuel tanks with an expanded capacity of 78 litres, aerodynamic wheel covers and special gear ratios, Porsche decided to take the plunge and enter Le Mans for the first time in 1951.
Of the three type 356 SL racing cars that set out for Le Mans, one failed to reach the Sarthe course altogether due to an accident and another driven by the Franco–German pairing of Robert Brunet and Rudolf Sauerwein missed out on the race due to a mishap in training. This meant that the company’s debut Le Mans appearance consisted of a single car driven by Auguste Veuillet, Porsche’s French importer at the time, and Edmonde Mouche.
The two drivers overcame poor weather conditions and heavy rain to guide their Porsche 356 SL to a class win. They covered 2,842.65 kilometres during the 24-hour race, recording an overall average speed of 118.4 kilometres per hour and impressive lap averages of up to 140 kilometres per hour. For the French pairing and for Porsche itself, this performance delivered victory at the first attempt in the category for cars with a cubic capacity of up to 1,100 cc.
As a new manufacturer on the scene, Porsche earned a great deal of respect and recognition following this excellent result on its debut in Le Mans. The company was warmly received in international motor sport from the very beginning, a development rendered all the more remarkable by the fact that the Second World War had ended only six years before.