The Mirage Lightweight Racing Car was a family of race cars built by J.W. Automotive Engineereing (JWAE) at Slough in England, initially to compete in international sports car races in the colours of the Gulf Oil Corporation.
In all, from 1974 to 1978, the Mirages never finished outside of the top-ten positions at Le Mans, posting a first, two seconds, a third, a fourth, a fifth, and a tenth. Mirage race cars were the first to wear the legendary powder blue and marigold livery of Gulf Oil, the first to post race wins for Gulf Oil, and the last to win the 24 Hours of Le Mans overall for Gulf Oil.
Mirage is one of only two independently constructed racing car marques (the other is Rondeau) to win the 24 Hours of Le Mans overall since the post-World War II return of the Grand Prix d’Endurance in 1949.
For the 1967 season, JWAE built and raced the M1, a Sports prototype based on the Ford GT40. The M1 used the standard Ford GT40 V8 engine in various capacities up to 5.7 litres. The highlight of the M1's short racing career was without doubt the victory by Jacky Ickx and Dick Thompson in chassis M.1003 in the 1967 Spa-Francorchamps 1000 km. The sole surviving Mirage M1 is on public display at the Blackhawk Museum in Danville, California (no longer on display mid April 2017).
The M2 was built in 1968 for the new 3 Litre Group 6 Prototype class, but the BRM V12 powered cars were rarely raced and met with no success. The revised and roofless M3 of 1969 was powered by the Ford Cosworth DFV V8 but again this model saw little use, JWA having largely concentrated on racing Ford GT40s during these two years.
The M4 was a roadster conceived between the end of 1969 and the beginning of 1970 coupling M3 chassis with a 5-liter Ford GT40 engine, but development of this particular car was stopped once JWAE signed the agreement with Porsche to use their 917 for the 1970 season, while in 1969 M5, a Formula Ford single seater, was built, and raced during 1970 British F.Ford season under Willment Group banner. Many fans got confused about M4-M5 denomination due to John Horsmann calling M5 the roadster and M4 the single seater.
After competing with Porsche 917s during the 1970 & 1971 seasons, JWAE developed the new Ford Cosworth powered M6 model to race as a Group 5 Sports Car in the new World Championship for Makes from 1972.
At the end of the 1971 season big "5 liter sportcars" like Porsche 917 and Ferrari 512 were banned, leaving the scene to nimbler "3 liter prototypes" and JWAE was ready with a new project from Len Bailey: the M6. The M6 consisted of a steel reinforced riveted aluminium chassis coupled with a detuned 3 liter Cosworth DFV Formula 1 engine as a stressed member, and covered by open fiberglass bodywork with a large rear wing: the first chassis was completed in March 1972 and raced at 12 Hours of Sebring, the second car was completed halfway into the season, and the third was used to test Weslake V12 engine. While heavier, the Weslake V12 was expected to be smoother and more powerful than the Cosworth, whose strong vibrations caused many reliability issues. Again the only victory was at Spa, in the 1973 Spa-Francorchamps 1000 km. Apart from this win, the 1973 season was less than successful. Most of the teams resources were dedicated to Weslake V12 engine development, which did not prove better than the Cosworth, and led to the end of the program with four chassis out of five rebuilt as GR7.
The M6 Coupé was the closed version with low-drag bodywork and powered by the 2995 cc Ford-Weslake V12 engine planned to be used at 1973 24 Hours of Le Mans: poor performances (laptimes were 16 seconds slower than M6-Cosworth) ended the project.
In 1975 the team obtained its last victory in the 24 Hours of Le Mans with the GR8 driven by Jacky Ickx and Derek Bell. The other car finished third with Vern Schuppan and Jean-Pierre Jaussaud. The race was excluded from the World Championship for Makes by the CSI because of new fuel consumption rules introduced for the race in the wake of the oil crisis.
Upon Gulf Oil’s sponsorship withdrawal from international sports car racing in late 1975, American entrepreneur and former racing driver Harley Cluxton III purchased the Mirage team and all associated manufacturing rights from John Wyer and the Gulf Research Racing Company. As a Group 6 Prototype entrant, Cluxton continued successfully contesting the Mirages at Le Mans as a two car team. With primary sponsorship from JCB Excavators, Elf Lubricants, and Renault Sport, and under the continued management of John Horsman and counsel of John Wyer, the Mirage M8 finished second overall in both 1976 and 1977, behind Porsche’s factory Martini 936s.
The M9 of 1978 featured a new open long-tail body and was powered by a turbocharged 2.1 liter 6 cylinder Renault engine. Two examples started in the 1978 24 Hours of Le Mans with one gaining tenth place.
The M10 of 1979 used an updated M8 chassis with revised open long-tail body and a 3-liter Ford Cosworth DFV engine. Two M10s were entered in the 1979 24 Hours of Le Mans by Grand Touring Cars Inc / Ford Concessionaires France, officially as Ford M10s. Neither car finished.
The last Mirage to be constructed was the M12, a Group C prototype featuring an aluminum honeycomb monocoque and Cosworth 3.9 liter DFL engine. Entered at the 1982 24 Hours of Le Mans with Mario Andretti and son Michael Andretti co-driving for the first time, the car was ultimately disqualified 20 minutes prior to the start of the race for a technical infraction relating to the placement of an oil cooler. Much controversy surrounded the ACO's decision, with many citing organizational politics as the cause. Though the M12 showed great potential as both a Group C and IMSA GTP competitor, the program was aborted after Le Mans.
- "MIRAGE CARS". www.gtc-mirage.com (official website). Retrieved 3 March 2012.
- Wouter Melissen (24 February 2012). "Mirage M3 Cosworth". www.ultimatecarpage.com. Retrieved 3 March 2012.
- steveod2007 (4 June 2007). "(image) Mirage-ford M5". www.flickr.com. Retrieved 24 October 2013.
- John Horsman, Racing in the Rain (on page 193)
- 1972 - 1973 Mirage M6 Cosworth - Images, Specifications and Information
- original M6 coupé image
- Restored M6 coupé Archived 17 September 2011 at the Wayback Machine
- (in English) http://www.racingsportscars.com/chassis/archive/M6__603.html
- Le Mans 24 Hours 1973 - Les 24 Heures du Mans de 197
- 1973 Endurance Racing: Combat Between Ferrari and Matra for the World Championship of Makes
- Automobile Year 1974/75, page 137
- Results of the 1974 FIA International Championships, 1975 FIA Yearbook, grey section, page 89
- Mirage Cars, www.gtc-mirage.com Retrieved 15 June 2015
- János Wimpffen, Time and Two Seats, pages 1167 & 1168
- Le Mans 24 Hours, www.racingsportscars.com Retrieved 15 June 2015
- 1979 24 Hours of Le Mans Official Program, www.racingsportscars.com Retrieved 15 June 2015
- János Wimpffen, Time and Two Seats, pages 1207 & 1208
- Heseltine, Richard. "Top 10 Group C Oddities". www.autoclassics.com. Retrieved 13 May 2018.
- John Horsman (2006). Racing in the Rain, My Years with Brilliant Drivers, Legendary Sports Cars, and a Dedicated Team. David Bull Publishing. ISBN 1-893618-71-4.
- Time and Two Seats (© 1999 by Motorsport Research Group)
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