1982 RONDEAU M382 Chevrolet
24 Hours of Daytona in 1982 and 12 Hours of Sebring in 1984
Powered by a 5.4-liter V8 Chevrolet
Eligible for Group C Racing Series, Daytona Classic, Sebring Classic & Le Mans Classic
Jean Rondeau, a native of Le Mans, is a key figure in the history of the 24 Hours of Le Mans. He became the first driver to win the race at the wheel of a car of his own design, teamed up with Normand Jean-Pierre Jaussaud (in 1980). It was to be a truly emblematic victory, just two years after the victory of Renault Sport in 1978, and before a long series of Porsche successes at Le Mans (seven wins from 1981 to 1987). Jean Rondeau capitalized on this victory in 1980 by developing the Rondeau M382, which was invested with great ambitions. The model being offered for sale today is the very first M382 chassis (out of a total of seven assembled), and bears testimony to this bygone era of the craftsmen designer-constructors of endurance racing.
The Rondeau M382, more than a transitional car
The 1980 edition of the 24 Hours of Le Mans saw three cars built by Rondeau lining up at the start. They were M379Bs, two of which were entered in Group 6, and the third in the GTP category. Henri Pescarolo and Jean Ragnotti took pole position, but it was the car sponsored by the newspaper “Le Point” that claimed victory in the 24-hour marathon, with Jean-Pierre Jaussaud and Jean Rondeau behind the wheel. It was reliability that was the key to this 1980 edition and which allowed the Le Mans craftsman to carry on developing his dreams.
In 1981, he tried the experiment again, this time by entering five M379C chassis. Thanks to the victory won the previous year, he could had larger budgets at his disposal. Two cars completed the race – finishing in second and third position, and winning honours in the GTP category. It was this edition that saw the tragic death of Jean-Louis Lafosse, at the wheel of one of the M379Cs. After 1981, which was a logical follow-up to the1980 victory, Jean Rondeau decided to go one step further in 1982. To do this, he entered for a full season in the Endurance World Championship (WEC), with the M382.
The car was presented at the end of 1981, on the Bugatti Circuit. It distinguished itself from the previous edition from the outset by its more generous dimensions, giving it a larger volume. It was also due to an increase in the diameter of the rims (from 13 to 16 inches) that the car seemed larger. We should also mention the switch from Goodyear to Dunlop, a manufacturer chosen for its experience in world endurance racing. The tyres were 12 inches wide at the front and 14 inches wide at the rear. Additionally, the ‘gullwing’ doors gave way to a more traditional opening, while the front cover and the rear part were redesigned. It was a creation of Jean Rondeau’s design office. The bodyshell was made of kevlar and carbon fibre.
The car now had a slightly longer tail, without the rear wheel guards that were typical of the M378/9 series. It also marked itself out by a 22-cm-longer wheelbase, which now reached 2.72 m. This was an evolution necessitated by the desire to fit it with a Chevrolet engine to give the car an American career. The engine required larger water pumps and therefore more space than with the classic Cosworth engines.
On the mechanical side, the car was fitted with a new Hewland VG 5-200 gearbox. When it was first presented, the M382 was slightly too heavy, weighing in at 820 kg, against the 800 kg maximum allowed by Group C rules. But whatever, it was designed to be a transitional car before the arrival of a first ground effect car, the M482. Things were to work out very differently however, with the M382 enjoying a much more accomplished career than Jean Rondeau could have imagined.
Rondeau sets out to conquer America
The M382 was the very first Rondeau to be made available to paying customers.
The #001 chassis being offered for sale by Ascott Collection here was delivered at the beginning of 1982 to start its career at Daytona, with Team Belcher Racing.
It was the day following the 1981 edition of the 24 Hours of Le Mans that Jean Rondeau resolved to develop competition cars for customers. After failing to win the queen of endurance races for the second time, he came under pressure from his sponsors. So, to find more financial resources, he decided to imitate the model adopted by another craftsman constructor, Lola. Why not sell his creations to private teams to enter them for competitions on the other side of the Atlantic? Like the T600, the M382 was designed to enliven the IMSA championship.
This explains why the car’s architecture enables it to be fitted with several different engines. The big Chevrolet V8 engine, the V8 Cosworth engine, but also the flat six-cylinder engine from the Porsche 935.
From his trip to the United States in July 1981 to test potential racing teams’ possible interest in the car, Jean Rondeau came back with two firm orders. He owed them to Philippe de Lespinay, an agent for Stand 21 in the United States, who was helping Jean Rondeau to develop this new market. The latter became the link with Rondeau on American soil, before quickly putting an end to their agreement after the 24 Hours of Daytona 1982, following a dispute with the boss/driver.
Philippe de Lespinay explained that the 001 chassis had been sold for the first time… in truly bizarre circumstances![i] He had made a deal with Belcher Racing, Gary Belcher’s racing team. But “It appeared that, unbeknown to me, Jean Rondeau had also sold the car to... another team! So when I arrived early in the week at Daytona, I was faced with the task of figuring out who owned the second car, and this went nearly into a legal fight with talks of attorneys and marshals seizing the car... I had to use all my diplomatic talents (and I don't have that much of it!) to sort things out. At the end of the day, the Belcher camp won but now we had a situation where the two teams (Golden Eagle and Belcher) were at war with each other and were pitting at opposite ends of the long pit row.”
18 hours into the race, the Rondeau was forced to retire. It was victim of fuel pump and then alternator problems, just like the Golden Eagle team’s car. It would no longer race with its Ford DFV engine but instead with the Chevrolet V8 engine, with Walrus Racing.
Imported into France and restored
It was then imported into France. After acquiring the car, the current French owner decided to have it completely restored by a top workshop. An exhaustive photo file documents this complete restoration.
Now available for sale, this Rondeau M382 001 offers its next owner the possibility of competing in the prestigious Group C series, whether in Europe or the United States. As a 1982 Group C car, it’s eligible for the C1B category of the Group C Racing Series and can clearly compete for victory in the category. Indeed, the combination of the Chevrolet engine with its generous torque and power, and the very fine Rondeau chassis, offers a high level of performance to this Group C car for a much lower operating cost than one powered by a Ford Cosworth engine. It’s a car you should study closely before acquiring a group C car!