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However, this motorcar is not just remarkable for its rarity value – but also for its fascinating history of leading
a ‘double life’ in the top flight of motorsport – firstly as a single-seater ‘monoposto’ competing in the forerunner
to Formula 1, then, following its transformation into a two-seat barchetta, as a challenger in the 24 Hours of
Le Mans and other leading sports car series, piloted by such greats of the motorsport world as Juan Manuel
The 15S started life in 1947 as one of only five ‘Type 11’ single-seaters (chassis 04) built by legendary sports
car manufacturer Amédée Gordini, nicknamed ‘The Sorcerer’, for his Grand Prix racing team.
Its first appearance at a circuit was in Pau that year, where, powered by a 1,220cc engine, it was designated
as a spare car for French driver Jean-Pierre Wimille.
Others to take the wheel were Prince Igor Troubetzkoy who drove it to fourth place in the Grand Prix de
Perpignan and Robert Manzon who took the third place on the podium in Geneva, before the Gordini was put
to the test at the Monaco Grand Prix, part of the international series – the forerunner to Formula 1 - in May by
Wimille, who had crashed his own car in testing. To everyone’s astonishment, he was chasing the race leader
in second place until the 57th lap when he was forced to retire due to an issue with the oil quality.
Two months later, it was the turn of the great Juan Manuel Fangio, the future five-times world Formula 1
champion, to sit in the Gordini’s ‘hot seat’ at the French Grand Prix at Reims, but the magical combination
was sadly short-lived with Fangio retiring from the race.
For the next three years, Gordini’s son Aldo was at the helm of the 04 GC, a partnership which proved
rewarding for the Gordini ‘Simca’ team. In 1950, the 04 GC picked up a clutch of promising fifth place finishes,
before coming second in the Grand Prix de Cadours.
Teammate Jean Behra took on the driving duties in the latter part of 1951, gaining podium finishes at the
Grand Prix des Sables d’Olonne and at Cadours in September and at Pau the following year, by which time
the 04 GC had been fitted with a Type 18 engine. He was followed into the cockpit by Prince Bira of Siam who
also finished on the podium at Marseille, coming second in the French Grand Prix, before being forced to
retire during the Swiss Grand Prix at Berne in mid-May.
Birth of the Barchetta
This race also heralded the retirement of 04 GC as a single-seater. The very next day, the car was completely
dismantled at the Gordini workshop in Paris, being transformed into a two-seat barchetta, which was often the
case with racing cars of the period, with a new ‘spider’ bodyshell, with the steering wheel on the left, being
married to the original chassis which was given a new number, 018 on 12 June.
Two days later, the Gordini barchetta made its debut for the ‘Équipe Gordini’ at the legendary Le Mans 24
hours, driven by Roger Loyer and Charles Rinen, completing over two thirds of this grueling race before retiring
at just over 18 hours with a faulty clutch. However, after just a fortnight, Loyer drove the barchetta to fourth
place overall in the Sport du Grand Prix de Reims, winning the 2,000cc category.
In the off-season between 1952 and 1953, the Barchetta was further transformed by having its steering-wheel,
pedals and instrument panel converted from left to right-hand drive; a windscreen was fitted and the car was
treated to new ‘marine blue’ paintwork.
Now known as the ‘18S’ the Gordini was displayed at the Motor Sports Show of New York in April 1953, but,
with no interested buyers, was sent back to France to again contest the Le Mans 24 Hours, reaching top
speeds of over 190 km/h before again retiring after 20 hours due to a piston failure.
However on its next outing for the Gordini team, the 18S took second place at the Grand Prix de Roubaix,
finishing ahead of its Maserati, Porsche, Aston Martin, Osca and Jaguar rivals, so impressing two Irish
spectators, Redmond Gallagher and Dernot O’Clery of Dean’s Garage, Dublin, that they demanded a meeting
with Amédée Gordini and bought the car within five days.
With a new livery of the Irish colours of green and orange, the 18S was entered into the Dunrod Tourist
Trophy, where it finished first in the 1500cc category and 10th overall. That year’s campaign took it to Oulton
Park and Silverstone before tasting victory with a first place in the Wakerfield Trophy, with a further category
win at the second Dunrod Trophy and a seventh-place overall finish.
The following year, the 18S was sold to a fellow Dubliner, Colonel John Burk who returned it to its original blue
colour and entered it into several club meetings, before selling it on to Colin Crabbe of Baston. The car was
bought by an English collector, Tony Gosnell, who kept it until 1978 but never used it.
Gosnell advertised the car for sale in February, sparking the interest of French Gordini aficionado, Jean-Louis
Hamoniaux, from Allones, near Le Mans, who commandeered Amédée Gordini to accompany him to England
to view the 18S. The car was not running but had not undergone any major modifications and a deal was
Fittingly, the car returned ‘home’ to the Gordini workshop in Paris, where Gordini still had the original 1952 log
book bearing his name, while Hamoniaux was having a house and garage built.
Hamoniaux finally took possession of the car on 25 May 1979 – the day that Gordini died. However, due to
lack of finances, the restoration did not begin until more than 25 years later when the late Jean Sage footed
the bill and the work was carried out by Corrado Capello in Zané, Italy.
With its new lease of life, the 18S was entered by the two enthusiasts, Sage and Hamoniaux, in the Mille
Miglia, Monaco Historic and Le Mans Classic races, until Sage’s death in 2009.
For the past ten years, the 18S has been displayed in several concours and is now ready for a new
appreciative owner to keep the magic alive.
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