Pierre Levegh

Alfred Velghe was a Frenchman, born in 1871. He began racing bicycles in the 1890s and created the name Levegh, an anagram of his name. He started racing automobiles in 1898 and was successful mainly with Mors products, but in 1901 he fell ill with chest problems and died in 1904 at the age of just 33. Around 17 months later Velghe's sister gave birth to a son who was called Pierre Bouillin.

Pierre was talented in many sports. He was a brilliant skater and ice hockey player and excelled at tennis. He began motor racing in the 1930s but his career was interrupted by the war. By the time racing had revived "Pierre Levegh" was getting rather old but in 1952 he finally had his moment of glory when he raced single-handedly through 23 hours of the Le Mans race only to miss a gear while leading in the last hour. This broke the engine on his car and deprived him of a well-deserved victory. At the same period he was competing in the occasional Grand Prix with the old Lago Talbots, which were never very competitive.

He was looking for victory again at Le Mans in 1955 at the wheel of a factory Mercedes-Benz 300SLR when he was caught up in an accident caused by a thoughtless Mike Hawthorn. Hawthorn had swerved his Jaguar into the pits and left Lance Macklin with nowhere to go. Macklin braked to try to miss Hawthorn and Levegh, in the much faster Mercedes, had nowhere to go but to hit the rear of Macklin's car. This launched the Mercedes into the air and over the wall into the massed spectators. Levegh and more than 80 others were killed in the worst accident that the sport has ever known. As a result Mercedes-Benz stayed out of motor racing for more than 40 years.