The rise of Art Cars at the 24 Hours of Le Mans (2/2)

The rise of Art Cars at the 24 Hours of Le Mans (2/2)

The history of Art Cars at the 24 Hours of Le Mans is a fascinating reminder of the alliance between art and automobiles. Continuing the story of this adventure, here is the second and final installment in this series.

A return to Le Mans in the 1990s

BMW had decided to leave endurance racing for Formula 1, but that did not signal the end of Hervé Poulain's driving career, nor the Art Cars. BMW had fielded 19 in all, including one designed by American plastic artist Jeff Koons for the 2010 24 Hours of Le Mans. Poulain carried on in 1994 with a Venturi 600 LM, nicknamed the "Reptile" as its tiled livery gave the impression of a dinosaur covered in scales. The artist Arman had included the sponsor, a tile maker, in his vision.

The following year, the sculptor César created a design reflecting the various trophies Poulain had won at Le Mans for a McLaren F1 GTR. Then came the driver's final Art Car: in 1998, the auctioneer asked illustrator Georges Wolinski to design the livery for a Porsche 911 GT2. The end result? A woman sunbathing on the body of the car.

Will the Calder make an appearance in 2025 for its 50th anniversary?

As a spectator, Hervé Poulain returns to Le Mans every year, considering the race "an exceptional show." The art enthusiast has spotted "several well-decorated cars" but no masterpieces. The era of the Art Car "was so special, the artists were so famous that it was difficult for marques to measure up in the same way afterwards, and there was always the concern of plagiarism." Also, it became increasingly challenging to decorate a car as sponsor logos began "invading" the car body.

These days, cars at the 24 Hours of Le Mans are highly decorated, with vibrant colors and designs that are must-sees for spectators. Poulain's Art Cars are now considered collector works of art and he hopes to see them back on the track again, especially "the Calder. My dream is for the car to celebrate its 50th anniversary by opening the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 2025." That first experience he had with an artist remains the most "magical." It was the beginning of an adventure dear to the hearts of countless 24 Hours of Le Mans fans.

Read the first installment in this series: THE RISE OF ART CARS AT THE 24 HOURS OF LE MANS (1/2)