From one racing driver to another today, this time the focus is on Guy Ligier and to say that Guy lived an interesting life would be an absolutely gigantic understatement. He was a real story of rags to riches, doing the impossible through hard work and true grit plus a little dash of cunning thrown in for good measure.
Orphaned by age 7 in Vichy France, Guy was determined to be a success in everything he lent his hand to (which was a hell of a lot). Like a lot of young men, Ligier left his job as a butcher to become a professional rugby player/part time construction company owner. This though was not to last as rugby can be quite a damaging sport, so when injury inevitably hit Ligier he had to make the simple segway into motorcycle racing which of course usually leads to GT car racing which naturally meant he could take the easy step up into F1 driving.
Which sadly he was not too amazing at so he went for the obvious move of setting up and managing his own F1 team. This team he built up for several years and sold at the crucial moment so Guy could go live his real dream of becoming a natural fertiliser magnate. It was an absolutely insane turn of events, but cars and manufacturing always seemed to be a staying part of his life.
Ligier somehow managed to find the time in his rise to fame and riches to construct a fair few production cars too,one of which was very good indeed. Ligier is a name you might have heard before but when most people think of Ligier cars they think of the forklift engined ‘voiturettes’ that inexplicably made it over the channel tunnel. But the first production car was a bonafide mini supercar with Italian DNA.
Car production first came into Guys head when talking with his Gt40 racing team mate Jo Schlesser, Jo decided they both had the ability and important knowledge to produce a good racing car. He believed that if they put their minds to it they would be able to make a much better car than the existing status quo.
Schlesser sadly died in a Formula 1 accident on a practice run in 1968. But Ligier never gave up on fulfilling Jo’s dream and he soon set to work setting up shop. The first car’s in tribute to Jo took on the initials JS.
The original car the Js1 (above) never went further than the prototype racing stage, the 3 cars used a variety of Ford and Cosworth engines, it held promise but was not quite right as it was believed to be too wide to be properly homologated.
This car evolved into having tighter dimensions and became the Js2, which was to be fitted with a Cologne V6 mated to a modified transaxle from a Citroen SM.
Making the boat anchor fit and work with the Citroen transaxle was an expensive and complicated parts bin job, but this was not the biggest hurdle. Crucially Ford were not happy with this arrangement one bit as they were developing a strikingly similar car themselves in the form of the GT70, so unsurprisingly Detroit were unwilling to provide any engines for the project. Thankfully Ligier soon came to his senses. Suddenly he realised what was the point of fitting an old tech iron lump to a gearbox that was already designed to take an advanced lightweight alloy v6 built by super car royalty Maserati themselves?
Ligier later approached Citroen and showed them his Frua designed baby supercar, in the interest of buying enough engines to homologate his Racing car.
Citroen perhaps drunk on national pride surprisingly not only allowed Ligier to take the Maserati engine but they also allowed them to use the Citroen dealer network in France to sell the cars. That must have been a real kick in the teeth for Maserati. Yup the Js2 might be one of the best kept secrets in classic supercars.
Here we have a lighter, possibly better built , arguably prettier Merak with a plastic body and rear lights from a Peugeot which was also available to buy at one of the most comprehensive dealer networks in France.
Just look at that well proportioned rear end, you can just tell its French as it appears to have a rear window you can actually see out of, unlike a contemporary Ferrari or Lamborghini which would ram an engine and Louvre’s into your face as you reverse into your neighbours wheeley bin. The Ligier then is a dignified supercar that never forgets its also a car right? Erm well no…
The Js2 was first and foremost , a racing machine and one that raced in many different disciplines, from road rallying to Endurance racing. And it conquered nearly every discipline it entered, winning the Tour de France in 1974 and following that up with an unbelievable 2nd place at Le Mans in 1975. This was a very talented monster of a car, perhaps Jo, Guys old partner was onto something when he spoke about making better cars.
What’s impressive also is how the Ligier manages to look even more beautiful when donning the racing paint and body kit, this is an absolute object of desire for me, not just a curiosity.
That’s not to say that Ligier did not find ways to ruin the proportions, as on some of the later models they fell into the trap of pop up headlights. They don’t make the car look ugly per se but they did make it look more like an out of proportion De Tomaso Pantera and that’s no good at all. The mid engined supercar of course is a French invention, not an Italian one and the Ligier should have set the standard.
The Js2 remained in production until 1975, Citroen unfortunately hit financial difficulties that year which lead to the sale of Maserati to De Tomaso and their own sale to Peugeot. Peugeot incidentally also had some part in ending the Accord that helped create some of mid engined Matras from yesterday, the spoil sports.
After this setback or perhaps due to the JS2 already proving itself in motorsport, Guy quietly put automotive production on hiatus for 5 years when finally the Js2 got a successor. Now with a very Alpine like rear engine! Shame it was a wheezy 50cc 2-stroke from a moped. Sadly like Matra (who partnered with the F1 team) Ligier went main stream and sold out in favour of production volumes, actual profits and crummy fork lift Diesel engines. Shame.
Monday: Matra Djet https://petrolheadia.com/2018/05/28/french-fancies-cotd-matra-djet/
Tuesday: Ligier Js2