Dissaster occurred during the Le Mans 24 Hour race when the Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR of Pierre Levegh flew into a crowd of spectators leaving Levegh and 82 spectator dead.
Levegh was following Mike Hawthorn's leading Jaguar D-type along the pit straight at the end of Lap 35. Hawthorn had just passed Lance Macklin's slower Austin-Healey 100 when Hawthorn began slowing to make a pit stop. Hawthorn, whose Jaguar had disc brakes, slowed much more quickly than other competitors using drum brakes. Macklin's Austin-Healey swerved into the path of both Pierre Levegh and Juan Manuel Fangio.
Levegh did not have time to react and was launced off the Healey, became airborne and hit an earth mound by the side of the track. It was then launched into a series of somersaults with parts of the car flying off.
The engine block broke free and shot into the spectators. Levegh was thrown out and perished.
The fuel tanks ruptured and the ensuing fire ignited the magnesium bodywork which exploded into white hot flames.
Attempts to put the fire out only exaserbated the situation and the car burned for several hours. In total, 82 spectators were killed either by flying parts or from the fire.
Fangio, driving behind Levegh, narrowly escaped the heavily damaged Austin-Healey which was now skidding to the right of the track, in his path. Macklin then hit the pit wall and bounced back to the left, crossing the track again. He impacted the barrier near the location of the now burning 300 SLR, leading to the death of another single spectator, although Macklin survived the incident.