THE ULTIMATE LE MANS TRIBUTE

[embedyt] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vZRKod1bAi0[/embedyt]

When retired ex-BMW test driver and engineer Johan Ackermann and his friend, Manie Coetzee decided to build their own BMW V12 LMR in August last year, their motivation wasn’t the fact that this year is the 20th anniversary of the car’s famous win:

“We did not even realise this when I chose the car as my next project,” Johan says. “I just liked the clean lines of the car and the open-top configuration, as it looked easier to replicate. How wrong I was,” he admits.

“Even without a roof, it wasn’t an easy build.” Luckily, the experience he gained with the build and assembly of his previous project, a road-legal imitation of the Group C Sauber-Mercedes C9, did help.

Working from a 1:18 scale model, Ackermann measured the dimensions to fabricate the customised chassis while Coetzee found a period-correct E38 BMW 750i as a donor car for the engine – an M73B54 5,379 cc V12 rated for 240 kW and 490 Nm of torque – various suspension bits and the steering system.

“The engine was non-negotiable,” says Ackermann, “The car had to be powered by a V12, like the original race car.” With this type of power, the tribute car needed good brakes, and purely by chance Ackermann located a nearly new set from an E39 BMW M5 at a local dealer.

“To find the brakes, lookalike alloy wheels and rear lights proved the most difficult part of the project,” says Ackermann. “In the end we used the rear lights from an old Daewoo Lanos, inverted and cut to size, to use on the car…”

The body panels, fabricated from strengthened fibreglass moulds, took months to design, form and refine, and over the build period, the pair made numerous revisions to the original moulds.

It was worth it, as the result after nearly ten months of hard work – the smooth, polished exterior proudly displaying the livery of the Le Mans-winning #15 V12 LMR – is simply stunning. Only two V12 LMRs still exist (two were destroyed in crashes), and now there is a third lookalike.

Yes, one can discern some differences when you look closer but according to Ackermann and Coetzee, their aim was not to produce an exact replica. “We see it as a tribute to the V12 LMR; essentially a two-seater road car resembling the Le Mans classic,” says Coetzee.

While externally virtually complete, some hard work still lies ahead. “We still need to finish the seats and cockpit detail, do the wiring and electronics and finalise the engine installation before we can start the car,” says Coetzee.

According to him, this will probably take another month or two. Meanwhile, the V12 LMR temporarily shares parking space with the C9 replica – incidentally, the car that won Le Mans a decade earlier.

“We will then start road testing the car to ensure everything works, and to sort the suspension, ride and handling,” he adds. “Only then we will be able to present the finished product. I can’t wait for that moment.”

Report by FERDI DE VOS | Images © JAY GROAT & MANIE COETZEE