1952 Fitch-Whitmore Le Mans Special

This lot has been removed from the website, please contact customer services for more information

Lot 269
1952 Fitch-Whitmore Le Mans Special

Sold for US$ 403,000 inc. premium
1952 Fitch-Whitmore Le Mans Special
Jaguar XK-120 Chassis No. 79456

As a young American abroad, Indianapolis native John Fitch attended the last race held at Brooklands before WWII. After serving as a USAF fighter pilot during the war, Fitch became a sports cars advocate in the U.S. By 1949, he was racing his own MG TC. The next year, Fitch and illustrator Coby Whitmore teamed up to take the latter's new Jaguar XK-120 racing. (Whitmore, incidentally, famously pioneered the “New School” style of commercial illustration that would predominate1950s advertising art.)

Fitch sensed Whitmore's XK-120 could perform significantly better than its factory configuration permitted. He set out to convert it to a “special” that would handle better, weigh less and have more power. The resulting Fitch-Whitmore Le Mans Special, cloaked in a new racing body, weighed in at 2100 lbs.—800 lbs. less than the stock Jaguar.

The subtly sculpted body was a tour de force of hand-beaten aluminum, crafted by Andy Salada at Fitch's Sports & Utility Motors in White Plains N.Y. Even the hood louvers were hand-formed. The windshield frame was cast aluminum, as was the grid-type grille, behind which the car's headlamps were mounted.

A set of Rudge-Whitworth spoke wheels, made by Borrani, enhanced stability by adding two inches to the track; while large Alfin finned brakes provided stopping power. Chassis tuning included resetting the front torsion bars to compensate for the car's reduced weight, while the rear springs were recontoured to lower the car. The 3.4L DOHC Jaguar engine received a more aggressive camshaft.

Whitmore originally envisioned the Special to be a Le Mans contender, but as the project proceeded, it became apparent the car was better suited for American road-course racing—which was just then exploding in popularity. So, the Fitch-Whitmore Special's first appearance—with its aluminum body still au naturel —was at Bridgehampton in May 1951. Fitch deftly steered the car to a class win, placing fourth overall.

Shortly after the Bridgehampton victory, Briggs Cunningham invited Fitch to drive a Cunningham C2 at Le Mans, beginning a long and extremely productive racing relationship between the two men. Even so, Fitch ran the Special again at Bridgehampton in 1952, finishing third overall; later that year, the car was sold.

By 1955, a large American V8 had been stuffed into the car, throwing it severely out of balance and ending its days as a viable racer. Thankfully, the Fitch-Whitmore Special would eventually come to the attention of prominent collectors who appreciated its significance and ensured its survival. The car passed from the Joel Finn collection to the current owner in 1990. Vintage Racing Services, Inc. was then retained to restore the car to its original John Fitch design configuration, completing it in 1991. Sasco Motorports rebuilt the restored racecar's 3.4L Jaguar DOHC engine.

A 2002 Vintage Motorsport article calls the Fitch-Whitmore LeMans Special, “…one of the very finest early American pure road racers,” while also commending it as, “…one of the breakthrough examples of early-American road-racing innovation.”

The Fitch-Whitmore car's next owner will have the privilege of writing the next chapter in the saga of this important, well-documented and absolutely unique automotive artifact from the dawning years of American road-course racing.

As is common practice with racecars, the Fitch-Whitmore Special's VSCCA logbook provides ownership documentation. In lieu of a motor vehicle title, the logbook will be transferred to the new owner upon completion of the sale.
1952 Fitch-Whitmore Le Mans Special
1952 Fitch-Whitmore Le Mans Special
1952 Fitch-Whitmore Le Mans Special
1952 Fitch-Whitmore Le Mans Special
1952 Fitch-Whitmore Le Mans Special
1952 Fitch-Whitmore Le Mans Special
1952 Fitch-Whitmore Le Mans Special
1952 Fitch-Whitmore Le Mans Special
1952 Fitch-Whitmore Le Mans Special
Auction information

This sale is now finished. If you are interested in consigning in future sales, please contact the specialist department. If you have queries about lots purchased in this sale, please contact customer services.

Buyers' Obligations


If you have any complaints or questions about the Conditions of Sale, please contact your nearest customer services team.

Buyers' Premium and Charges

Like the vast majority of auctioneers Bonhams charge what is known as a Buyer's Premium. Buyer's Premium on all Automobilia lots will adhere to Bonhams group policy:

25% up to £50,000 of hammer price,
20% from £50,001 to £1,000,000 of hammer price,
and 12% on the balance thereafter. This applies to each lot purchased and is subject to VAT.

For Motor Cars and Motorcycles a 15% Buyer's Premium is payable on the first £50,000 of the final Hammer Price of each Lot, and 12% on any amount by which the Hammer Price exceeds £50,000. VAT at the standard rate is payable on the Premium by all Buyers, unless otherwise stated.

Some lots may be subject to VAT on the Hammer Price. These lots will be clearly marked with the relevant symbol printed beside the lot number in the catalog.

Payment Notices

Payment for purchases may be made in or by (a) cash, (b) cashier's check or money order, (c) personal check with approved credit drawn on a U.S. bank, (d) wire transfer or other immediate bank transfer, or (e) Visa, MasterCard, American Express or Discover credit, charge or debit card for returning clients only. Please note that the amount of cash notes and cash equivalents that can be accepted from a given purchaser may be limited.

Shipping Notices

For information and estimates on domestic and international shipping as well as export licenses please contact Bonhams Shipping Department.