Andre's Angels - 1975 Moynet LM75 Simca
In 1968, 47-year old businessman Andre Moynet started a new adventure as a manufacturer of sportscars. As a highly decorated World War II fighter ace, early jet airliner test pilot, former French Minister of Youth and Sport, acclaimed engineer, aerodynamicist, aeroplane manufacturer, boat builder and CEO of aerospace parts manufacturer Saint Institutions Chamond Granat, the Frenchman felt it was time to branch out into something entirely different.
Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, Moynet raced for Deutsch Bonnet, a small manufacturer of sub 750cc Le Mans racers, and briefly for famed sportscar manufacturer Alpine. With DB, Andre Moynet managed to win the S750 class at the 1953 edition of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, driving alongside team owner Rene Bonnet.
These tiny cars were not aimed at outright speed, but were geared for the ACO's Index of Thermal Efficiency Award, a prize given to the car which used the least amount of fuel during the race. With their tiny engines and extremely streamlined bodies, the DB's were the kings of the ITEA anthill.
Despite being a very busy man juggling his businesses and political career, his passion for fast cars started to take priority. To this end he hired aerodynamicist Jacques Hubert, former head of research and development at Deutsch Bonnet, to design a car suitable for both competition at Le Mans, and everyday fun on back roads.
Andre Moynet decided to take charge from an aerodynamic perspective, with Hubert assuming the position of consultant. Engineer and fabricator Stephane Seckler was then drafted in to make the men's plans a reality, using his experience with the Panhard Le Mans specials.
Despite the talent involved, the deadline for the big race proved to be a tad optimistic. In an effort to speed things up, Moynet reached out to British constructor Roger Nathan to provide him with a ready-made chassis.
Eventually a deal was made for Nathan to supply a Costin-Nathan GT chassis, a plywood monocoque supplemented by aluminium subframes front and rear. The GT had been designed by aerodynamicist and and engineer Frank Costin. Costin had been responsible for the famous de Havilland Mosquito fighter bomber, and was the brother of Mike Costin, co-founder of Cosworth.
Using the Costin-Nathan as a starting point, Moynet, Hubert and Seckler created the Moynet MH68. Overall the car was slightly larger and heavier than its donor, despite the use of advanced plastic body panels fashioned by the Generale Application Plastique division of Moynet's long-time associates Matra.
Aiming for the 1600cc class, the team solicited the help of Honda, who plainly refused. An agreement with Renault also proved to be out of reach, as the brand had associated itself firmly with Jean Redele's Alpine operation. Since the 1000 cc Hillman Imp engine found in the Costin-Nathan wasn't very reliable, Andre Moynet opted to go for a 1.2L Simca engine.
At the time, Simca was owned by American auto giant Chrysler, but still decidedly French in nature. Detuned for endurance use, the little four cylinder pushed out around 102 horsepower through a five-speed manual transmission taken from Renault, as Simca only produced four-speeds at the time.
Even though it had the second smallest engine on the 1968 Le Mans grid after the 1000cc Alpine A210 of Jean Louis Mariat and Jean-Francois Gerbault, the XS managed to beat four larger displacement cars. In the hands of Jean Max and Rene Ligonnet, the car qualified 48th on the 54 car grid. Sadly an oil pump drive failure spelled the end after just seven laps.
An appearance at the 1000 KM of Monthlery followed, where the car qualified 34th out of 36 starters. Fortunately, the oil pump drive held together for the full six hours, allowing Max and Ligonnet to finish 18th out of 20 finishers. In the process, they had been lapped by the winning Porsche 908 of Hans Hermann (GER) and Rolf Stommelen (GER) as much as 44 times. However, it was the smallest displacement car to make it to the finish, and it wasn't last.
After the brief misadventure in 1968, Andre Moynet's racing ambitions seemed to fade away. His car was denied entry at Le Mans in 1969 and 1970 due to an overabundance of entries, giving him very little incentive to continue the project. As a result, he halted his activities after the 1970 season.
However, some five years later, Moynet was suddenly back. This time around though, it wasn't entirely Andre Moynet's initiative. Instead, the operation largely consisted of former employees of small sportscar factory Chappe et Gesselin, which had constructed a series of Simca-powered rally prototypes. The new venture was backed by the Esso oil concern, which promptly hatched a plan to take maximum advantage of a recent event.
As luck would have it, the United Nations had declared 1975 as International Woman's Year, which gave Esso a great idea. At the time, Esso was heavily involved with Team Aseptogyl, an all-female rally squad set up by French dentist, toothpaste manufacturer and former rally competitor Bob Neyret.
Seeing as it was the International Woman's Year, Esso used its contacts within the team to lure two of the best Aseptogyl drivers to the project. As such, Marianne Hoepfner and Christine Dacremont joined the team, accompanied by double European Ladies Rally Champion Michele Mouton, also under contract with Esso.
The ladies were given an updated version of the old Moynet XS. Gone was the Costin-Nathan chassis, replaced with the unused underpinnings of a Simca-GC prototype. On the engine side, the car was given a larger 2.0L version of the venerable Type 180 straight four tuned by JRD, moving the car up into the S2.0 class.
In this form, the engine produced a healthy 190 horsepower at 7000 rpm, which was handled by a five-speed manual transmission taken from Porsche. The bodyshell from the old XS was in essence re-used with widened wheel arches for wider tires, and revised ducting to improve cooling for the front-mounted radiator.
When all was said and done, the new LM75 outweighed its dainty predecessor by 195 kg (429 lbs), clocking in at a still svelte 675 kg (1488 lbs). The weight gain wasn't the car's biggest problem however. In fact, it was time.
In the seven years since the general shape of the car had been conceived, much had changed in the world of motorsport. The designs of the day had steadily abandoned the concept of a tremendously low drag, streamlined body in favor of one that generated meaningful downforce, a concept which was in its infancy in 1968. In an effort to give the old girl some new dancing shoes, the Moynet was fitted with a large front splitter and a ducktail rear spoiler.
Wedge-shaped machines like this Lola T292 represented the cutting edge in sportscar technology in 1975
Comparatively, the Moynet was a bit of an old dog. With this in mind, the team aimed for a the Index of Thermal Efficiency Award, since the LM75 was one of the slipperiest and most frugal cars in the field. As the world was still in the middle of the energy crisis brought on by the 1973 Yom Kippur War, the award was more topical than ever, making an oil company like Esso eager to win it.
In any case, direct competition with the more modern prototypes was seen as impossible. In spite of the focus on efficiency, the lack of speed frustrated the team somewhat, as Esso's arch rival Elf Oil had arranged seats for Aesoptogyl driver Lella Lombardi (ITA) and rally driver Marie-Claude Beaumont. The women enjoyed far superior material, as Elf had provided them with a far superior Renault-Gordini V6-powered, 295 horsepower, 580 kg (1278 lbs) Alpine A441C 2L prototype.
Given the emphasis on economy rather than raw speed, the trio of rally drivers did well to qualify 46th out of 60 entries overall. In class, Mouton, Hoepfner and Dacremont placed 8th out of 9, beating the Lemerle Lola T292 by 9.8 seconds.
Incidentally, the LM75's 4:34.400 lap was some 14.3 seconds faster than the time recorded in 1968, underlining the massive performance gain over the older car. However, the gap between the LM75 and the class-leading Elf Alpine was even more staggering 31.5 seconds, as Lella Lombardi and Marie-Claude Beaumont settled into 8th on the overall grid.
Without any hope of catching the leading ladies, the Moynet set off to start a grueling 24 hour ordeal on the long straights of Circuit de la Sarthe. In the early hours, Michele Mouton, Christine Dacremont and Marianne Hoepfner could do little more but trundle around at the back of the pack.
During those first few stints, the women lost their direct competition, as the Lombardi/Beaumont Alpine was sidelined with what was initially identified as a terminal fuel pickup problem on lap 20. Later on, team principal Gerard Larrousse admitted the team had actually gotten their fuel calculations horribly wrong, a crucial error in the ACO's new mandatory 20 lap minimum fuel stop formula.
However, the ordeal had only just begun. After a few stops, the LM75's starter motor went on strike. The issue was rectified relatively easily, but the replacement starter motor promptly copied the behavior of its predecessor. Adding insult to injury the replacement also failed.
At around midnight, the team was hit with misfortune once again, The cable driving the rev counter had snapped, and there was no replacement ready. After suffering a cumulative three hour delay, the women were now forced to shift on ear, a real challenge in a tiring 24 hour event.
Consistent performances from all three women and a high attrition rate saw the Moynet steadily rise through the ranks though, as the LM75 went into the deep dark night virtually without issue.
The rest of the race was largely uneventful, until heavy rains arrived at Le Mans around noon the next day. Michele Mouton was at the helm of the Moynet, and had the time of her life.
Though she was running on slicks like everyone else, her rally background helped her deal with the slippery conditions, allowing her to pass cars left and right.
By this time, Andre Moynet is rumored to have been at the bar, drinking away his sorrows over another lost race when a crew member stormed in. Their car had just taken the class lead with just two hours left on the clock.
Amazingly, it would be a lead the team would not relinquish. After almost an entire day of playing catch-up in what was in essence a horribly outdated and out-paced car, Moynet's all-star female crew had managed to drag the LM75 to a class win, and 21st overall.
In the process, the ladies had politely put four laps between them and the next best S2.0 competitor, the Lemerle Lola T292 of Jean Marie Lemerle, Patrick Daire and Alain Levie, powered by a similar Simca engine tuned by ROC. Unsurprisingly, Moynet had failed to secure the Index of Thermal Efficiency Award, as chasing the win had burned a decidedly larger amount of fuel than planned.
None of that mattered however, as the team had achieved something far more significant. Against all odds, the Moynet LM75 had helped three rally drivers totally unfamiliar with circuit racing take the first all-female class victory at Le Mans, a feat that has never been replicated since.
Following the victory at Le Mans, Andre Moynet once again put his sportscar plans on hold. His and especially Esso's mission had been accomplished. The sad result was the total abandonment of the LM75, as it was callously shoved into storage and left there for 35 years.
It was finally saved in 2012, and entered a lengthy restoration process. In 2014, it was added to the inventory of French specialist car dealer Atelier 46. Four years later, the car returned to Le Mans to join the festivities of Le Mans Classic. There it was driven by Alain Boite and Gerard Pagamin, competing in Plateau 6 for cars produced between 1972 and 1981. At long last, the unlikely hero had returned to hallowed ground.