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Watch three legendary 24 Hours of Le Mans race cars tear up Japanese streets

30 December 2013

Most legendary race cars, after their stint is over, end up on display in fancy museums or preserved, never again started, in the well-heeleds' temperature-controlled garages, guarded by hordes of tall gentlemen wearing black suits. But not these three.

You'd never expect to see 24 Hours of Le Mans machines—like a Jaguar XJ220LM, a Porsche 962C or a Mazda 767B—careening around the city of Hiroshima, Japan. But on streets temporarily closed by Japanese 5/0, these cars and their owners did just that, blasting to speeds close to 190 mph, utilizing these iconic race cars the way they were originally intended. Flat out.

See the beautiful video below.

"I enjoy the race car in my daily life," claims Mr A, owner of the Jaguar XJ220LM that raced in the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1993 and 1995. The XJ220 Le Mans car never had Jaguar backing, but in 1995, Tiff Needell was running a strong fourth place in the GT1 class when his engine failed during the night. Keeping with the car's history, track use is imperative for Mr A: "When I sleep, I never dream," he says. "I live my dreams everyday."

Takeshi Moroi owns the Porsche 962C race car, which is now—amazingly—street legal. In 1984, Porsche debuted the 962 at the 24 Hours of Daytona, where Mario and Michael Andretti teamed for a father/son duo, leading the race until lap 129 when the car's engine and gearbox failed. It wasn't until 1987 that the car won the 24 Hours of Le Mans, with Derek Bell, Hans Stuck and American Al Holbert at the wheel. In all, Porsche produced 91 962s between 1984 and 1991; 16 run by the factory team with the rest sold to customer teams.

Decked out in its fabled Rothmans livery, the car's street legality allows Moroi the opportunity to enjoy the Le Mans racer on public roads, regularly: "It even has air-conditioning," he says, "so it's quite comfy." During filming of the video, overheating was a problem; race cars are not meant to be driven at low speeds. In the winter, Moroi says the car is much friendlier on a day-to-day basis. Despite its street-legal status, the 962C also stretches its legs on track, but Moroi favors utilizing the car on the street.

Senji Hoshino now owns this Mazda 767B, a car that placed 9th at Le Mans in 1989. Under the hood is Mazda's notorious four-rotor Wankel engine, boasting 600 hp. Hoshino's opinion on how these cars should be used differs from Moroi and his Porsche: "Racing machines were built for the track," he says, "that is where they belong." Hoshino takes his 767B on regular demonstration and track events. The sound of the four-rotor engine ensures the 767B draws huge crowds.

These are just three examples of owners that don't shield their prized, historic race cars. There are others out there, too, with the same mentality. Some might say that preserving these cars as a piece of art is imperative; keeping the history intact and untainted. But what these owners do is perhaps more artistic than any museum could ever replicate—they keep them moving, screaming, resonating. While most historic cars spend the remainder of their lives lifeless; these are three machines that are kept alive.

Photo: Luke Huxham, Maiham Media

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