1978 Rondeau M378Le Mans GTP
Chassis n° M378/001
- Ten participations in Le Mans 24H, record number in Le Mans 24H history
- 2nd overall in 1981, 3rd overall in 1980 and 5th overall in 1979
- 19 races between 1978 and 1988 including Monza, Spa, Brands Hatch and Hockenheim
- Main historic car of the endurance racing history
Anyone with an interest in motorsport will have heard of Jean Rondeau. Born in Le Mans, he is the only driver/constructor to have won the Le Mans 24 Hours at the wheel of a car he has built himself. He did this in 1980 but, as you can imagine, the story started much earlier.
Passionate about motor racing, Jean Rondeau competed at Le Mans in 1972 (Chevron B21), 1974 (Porsche 908/2) and 1975 (Mazda) before deciding to build his own car for the 24 Hours. His idea came to the attention of Charles James, head of Inaltera (wallpaper manufacturer), who gave him a budget generous enough for the cars to bear the company name. Using his own experience at Le Mans, with the support of talented engineers such as Gérard Welter (ex-Peugeot) and Robert Choulet (ex-Matra), Jean Rondeau created a simple machine that was strong and efficient, equipped with a Cosworth 3-litre V8 engine compliant with GTP (Grand Tourisme Prototype) specification. Two cars were built, and for the 1976 Le Mans 24 Hours, the young team was managed by another experienced driver, Vic Elford. The two Inaltera machines finished the race in strong positions : Jean-Pierre Beltoise and Henri Pescarolo were eighth, winning the GTP class, while Jean Rondeau and Jean-Pierre Jaussaud finished 21st overall and third in GTP. The following year, in 1977, the results were even better : Rondeau and Ragnotti won GTP finishing fourth overall, and the two other Inaltera came home eleventh and thirteenth.
Unfortunately, Charles James then left Inaltera. The company withdrew their sponsorship and took back the three cars. After a period of uncertainty, Rondeau found new sponsors and the unexpected support of the Le Mans prefect's wife, Marjorie Brosse, who went out of her way to help him. And so, on a modest budget and in the space of just four months, Jean Rondeau built the first "true" Rondeau that, logically, was an evolution of the Inaltera cars: it had a more highly developed tubular structure and the 816 kg car was fitted with the 410 bhp "endurance" version of the Cosworth 3-litre V8 engine. Called the M378 (M in recognition of the help given by Marjorie Brosse), the car was ready in time for the 1978 Le Mans. Driven by Jacky Haran and Bernard Darniche, it more than lived up to expectations, finishing ninth overall and winning the GTP class. This is the car on offer in the sale, the Rondeau n°001. Without yet knowing it, the car had just written the first entry in a racing history that would become extraordinary. There would be a total of 10 participations in the Le Mans 24 Hours - a record that has never been beaten.
This first success helped attract financial backing and in 1979, two new M379 cars (Group 6) were built and the M378/001 was updated to benefit from the improvements made. The two new cars, in the hands of Darniche/Ragnotti and Beltoise/Pescarolo finished fifth and tenth respectively, with victory in Group 6, but the car driven by Rondeau and Haran (the n°001) retired following an accident caused by aquaplaning in particularly bad weather conditions.
In 1980, the two Group 6 versions returned to service, now carrying the name M379B, and the older M378 remained in GTP, entrusted to Gordon Spice and the Martin brothers, Jean-Michel and Philippe. This team came with the " Belga " sponsor, and the car was given its red and white livery. That year was a triumph for Rondeau. Not only did he win the 24 Hours outright, with his team-mate Jean-Pierre Jaussaud, but the car driven by Spice and the Martin brothers also finished third and won the GTP class.
The Rondeau team continued to grow and in 1981 five cars lined up for the start. Three of these retired, but the faithful n°001, now in the colours of the magazine L'Automobile, crossed the finish line in the hands of Philippe Streiff, Jean-Louis Schlesser and Jacky Haran. Finishing second overall and winning the GTP class, n°001 was the best placed Rondeau. It would also prove to be the car's best result.
Up to the task again the following year, we find our car lining up in 1982 alongside four new Rondeau M382s. Despite " only " finishing tenth, n°001 was once again the best placed Rondeau as the new cars suffered from faults, including a vibration in the Cosworth DFL engine. Three cars were forced to retire and the fourth finished fifteenth. Another disappointment lay in store for Rondeau. He thought he had won the World Championship of Makes, but the FIA decided to include a private Porsche victory in the results and gave the title to the German marque.
Motor racing continued to evolve and Group C was now dominating endurance racing. For the 1983 race, the new Rondeau M482s defended the Le Mans marque as best they could, and n°001 also resumed service, driven this year by Vic Elford, Anny-Charlotte Verney and Joël Gouhier. But for this last race entered by the Rondeau team, our car retired in the tenth hour with engine failure. A lone Rondeau crossed the finish line, in 19th position.
Disappointed, Jean Rondeau decided to call it quits and wind up his activity as a constructor. The n°001 car sold to Jean-Philippe Grand who, to everyone's surprise, returned to Le Mans in 1984, in the livery of the cigarette brand Barclay. He came home in eleventh place and finished second in Group C2. Jean Rondeau took the opportunity that year of being " just " a driver, and amazingly crossed the line in second place, driving a Porsche 956 - he hadn't lost the passion! During the same season Jean-Philippe Grand also took part in the Monza 1000 KM (retired) and the Spa 1000 km where he finished tenth.
In 1985, Rondeau n°001 sold to Noël del Bello who entered the car for Le Mans in Blanchet-Locatop colours, but it retired in the sixth hour. However, 1985 was a bad year for a different reason for those close to Jean Rondeau. Full of ideas for new projects, Rondeau was killed in an accident when his car was overturned by a train on a level crossing near Le Mans.
This didn't prevent Rondeau n°001 from paying tribute to its constructor by continuing its own journey: Noël del Bello lined up for the start of the 24 Hours in 1986, with more luck on his side than the previous year. He finished 17th, driving with Bruno Sotty and Lucien Rossiaud. The car then sold to Alain Lombardi and took a sabbatical in 1987 before a final attempt at glory in 1988, in the midst of ultra-powerful Group C machines. With Lombardi and Sotty at the wheel, this time in the " Boom Boom " watches livery, it crossed the finish line but without covering enough distance to be classified, following problems with the door. This was the car's tenth participation in the celebrated endurance race.
After that, Rondeau n°001 passed through the hands of a few motorsport enthusiasts, starting with the American Kerry Morse in 1988 who painted it in the colours of the 1980 Le Mans winner (causing some confusion), and then took part in the Monterey Historics. The car sold in 1999 to
Chris Renwick, of Symbolic MotorCars in San Diego, who sold it on to David Scalfe. The latter had the car fully restored before selling it in 2010 to Chris Cox, a collector of competition cars.
In 2012, n°001 sold at auction in Monaco, presented in its 1980 Belga livery, the year it finished third and won GTP driven by Gordon Spice and the brothers Jean-Michel and Philippe Martin, and also the year of Jean Rondeau's victory. It was bought by the current owner, a driver and important collector, who had the car completely restored at great expense. The engine was totally overhauled last year and the final crack test carried out at the start of 2019. Numerous parts are also being remanufactured and will be delivered with the car, including a number of wheels, bonnets and various mechanical parts.
This car has a remarkable race history, having taken part in the Le Mans 24 Hours ten times, winning several class victories, two podium finishes and with only three retirements. It symbolises the success of a passionate individual, from Le Mans, who invested all his energy into a project that enabled him to beat factory teams. There is not, and is not likely to be for a long time, any equivalent.
Accompanied by a large history file, this car is ready to race and is eligible for the most prestigious events. If it reappears at Le Mans for the Classic, it is certain to arouse the admiration and emotion of enthusiasts, representing valour, longevity and with huge historical significance.
Participating in the auction on this lot is subject to a special registration process. If you would like to bid on this lot, please get in touch with the bidding office or the motorcars department at least 48 hours before the sale.
For more information and photos: https://www.artcurial.com/fr/lot-1978-rondeau-m378-le-mans-gtp-3980-106
Photos © Dirk de Jager