After a successful career as a rugby player in the French national team, Guy Ligier turned to motor racing. He entered Formula 1 in 1966, but withdrew from active racing two years later after a heavy accident and the fatal crash of his close friend Jo Schlesser. At that time Ligier had already commissioned the construction of a new sportscar to take on Porsche's successful 911. The project was temporarily halted, but when the design team was joined by ex-Renault engineer Michel Tetu early in 1969, it was back on track.
At the Paris Motorshow in September Guy Ligier unveiled the JS1, named after his late friend. Reflecting the political situation, the JS1 was a true European car, with a British engine, French chassis and Italian designed body. Inspired by the Lotus Europa, the new Ligier featured a steel backbone chassis, which was suspended by double wishbones front and back. Power came from a mid mounted Cosworth FVA Formula 2 engine, displacing close to 1.6 litre. The package was completed with a Pietro Frua penned fiberglass body.
Guy Ligier competed in a single race in 1969, where he forced to retire with a broken enginemount. For 1970 the 220 bhp FVA engine was replaced by the slightly larger FVC 'four', good for 240 bhp. Victories were scored in races on Albi and Montlhery. For the 24 Hours of Le Mans Ligier teamed up with Jean Claude Andruet, but the JS1 was forced to retire eight hours in the race with distributor problems. The JS1 had proven to be very quick in qualifying, beating other cars powered by the same engine with a fair margin and claiming a thirteenth qualifying position.
For the 1970 Tour de France, Ligier prepared two JS1s, both powered by a Ford V6 engine. The first car was equipped with a 2.4 litre Weslake prepared engine and the other with the regular 2.6 litre version also found in the Ford Capri. To make room for the bigger engines, the chassis was lengthened considerably. The Hewland gearbox used together with the Cosworth engines did not fit the V6s and was replaced by a Citroen SM derived five speeder. Both cars failed to finish, having been forced to retire with engine problem.
This was the end of the line for the JS1 after just three cars were constructed. For road use Ligier launched the Maserati engined JS2 exactly a year after the JS1 and for competition use the Cosworth DFV powered JS3 was prepared for 1971. Sadly none of the three JS1s found a caring owner after its active career. Fortunately the featured example was saved and has benefited from a meticulous restoration between 1999 and 2004. It is the second JS1 constructed, which competed at Le Mans and victoriously at Montlhery.
Returned to its Tour de France specification, the restored JS1 made its debut at the 2004 Retromobile show. In the 2004 historic racing season, it competed in the Tour Auto and the Le Mans Classic. It is pictured above competing in both events.
Article by Wouter Melissen, last updated on April 18, 2005
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