WATCH: These two SA motorsport fans built a BMW V12 LMR tribute Le Mans car

Against the odds. It is the only way to describe the victory by the Schnitzer-run BMW V12 LMR, developed in alliance with Williams F1, in the prestigious Le Mans 24 Hour endurance race twenty years ago. 

Facing the might of factory run entries from arch-rivals Mercedes-Benz and Audi, the Panoz threat from the West and the Toyota and Nissan menace from the East, BMW and Schnitzer had their work cut out from the start. 

Some spectacular accidents and reliability issues for the more fancied teams kept the two LMRs in the hunt but they were outpaced by the formidable Toyota GT-Ones. 

Losing one LMR near the end of the race also did not help, as this left only the number 15 LMR, piloted by Joachim Winkelhock, Yannick Dalmas, and Pierluigi Martini, to battle head-to-head with the single remaining Toyota. 

Having to pit less for fuel saw the BMW ahead with less than an hour to go but the GT-One was closing the gap relentlessly. However, the racing gods were smiling upon BMW, and the Toyota suffered a tyre blowout at high speed.

The BMW won with a single lap margin – earning the Munich-based motor company its only overall victory to date in the esteemed race.

Interestingly, both BMW and Toyota were vying for their first Le Mans victory that year, and BMW’s triumph meant the Japanese auto giant had to wait another 19 years before tasting success at La Sarthe (the Toyota Gazoo team will be the defending champions in the 87th edition of the iconic event, taking place this weekend).


                                                                                              Image: Jay Groat

Tribute car

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

“I did not even realise this when I chose the car as my next project,” he said. “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.” 


                                                     Johan Ackermann (left) and Manie Coetzee    Image: Jay Groat 

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 (he recently received a letter from Peter Sauber commending the quality of his reproduction.

Read the article here.


                                                                                            Image: Jay Groat

However, not having enough money to complete the project didn’t, so he asked his good friend Manie Coetzee to partner with him.

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 donor car for the engine – a M73B54 5,379 cc V12 rated for 240 kW and 490 Nm of torque – various suspension bits and the steering system.

V12 power, M5 brakes

"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 a 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 Daweoo Lanos, inverted and cut to size, to use on the car…” 


                                                                                                  Image: Jay Groat

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.


                                                                                                Image: Jay Groat

Finalising the project 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. 


                                                                                                    Image: Jay Groat

“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.” 

Neither can we.

We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For 14 free days, you can have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today. Thereafter you will be billed R75 per month. You can cancel anytime and if you cancel within 14 days you won't be billed. 
Subscribe to News24
Lockdown For
Brought to you by
Voting Booth
Petrol prices are almost at R30 per litre. What are you doing to help deal with monthly fuel bills?
Please select an option Oops! Something went wrong, please try again later.
I've downgraded my vehicle.
10% - 92 votes
I've joined a lift club.
4% - 34 votes
Nothing I can do. I am struggling with costs.
62% - 559 votes
Working from home is a saving grace.
24% - 216 votes