Cunningham

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Cunningham
Cunningham Le Monstre
The "Le Monstre" would remind you of the saying “a face that only a mother could love”....

Cunningham C2R A Cunningham could easily be described as a "bitsa", but what wonderful bits were used! The C2R featured a 220bhp version of the Chrysler Hemi engine mated to a three-speed Cadillac transmission...

Cunningham C2R The Cunningham C2R of 1951 was one of three cars entered into that years event...

1954 Cunningham 5.4 Litre The 1953 Cunningham 5.4 litre came as a body dropped onto an engine/chassis combination, with Pontiac usually being the donor car...

To say Briggs Cunningham was an enigma would be an understatement. Born in 1907, Cunningham was a natural athlete excelling in everything from bobsledding to golf and yachting – and in this latter sport he even pulled off victory in the America’s Cup.

After World War 2, Cunningham began racing and tinkering with sports cars, once putting a Buick engine in a Mercedes! He even went street racing with his uncle in a Dodge tourer powered by a Hispano-Suiza airplane engine.

Cunningham’s burning ambition was to build American cars and have them driven by American drivers in premier European motor-sport events. His Holy Grail was naturally enough the Le Mans 24 hour race, but Le Mans race regulations stated that prototypes could only be entered by an established motorcar manufacturer.

Undaunted, in 1949 he hooked up with Phil Walters and Bill Frick who had also experimented with engine swapping, and in 1950 they formed Cunningham, Inc. With his newly formed company Cunningham was ready to make his first assault at a Le Mans podium finish.

He entered 2 cars in the 1950 race, the first being a standard bodied Cadillac two-door coupe that, much to the amazement of both the crowd and commentators, was to finish 10th. But it was his “Le Monstre” entry which most people still remember.

The aptly named “Le Monstre” was Cunninghams first-ever prototype sports car – although it shared much in common with his other entry. Cunningham and his team had simply removed the Cadillac body shell and draped it in their own peculiar and rather ungainly version. Dubbed the “C-1”, it would remind you of the saying “a face that only a mother could love”.

He returned to Le Mans in 1951 with three race cars and a spare of the new C-2R. This car had a massive tubular chassis frame, independent front suspension, de Dion rear suspension with inboard brakes, a 220bhp version of the Chrysler Hemi engine, and a three-speed Cadillac transmission. One of these cars was in second place after 16 hours, but mechanical troubles then ensued, and it could only finish eighteenth. The other cars retired.

In 1952, one of his C4Rs driven by Cunningham himself finished fourth, while in 1953 the same models achieved seventh and tenth places. In the same year, however, the new rigid-axled C-5 took third place.

His last Le Mans attempt (in a Cunningham built car) was in 1954 when, once again with C4Rs, his cars achieved third and fifth places. This was remarkable by any standards (don't forget that a Ferrari won, and a Jaguar D-Type came second), but it was still disappointing for a man who always wanted to win outright.

It was during this period, while back on home soil, that Cunningham’s new 'production line' produced a series of 18 C-3 coupes. These cars all featured the same basic mechanical design, though a semi-automatic transmission was also optional, along with coupe bodywork by Vignale.

Though his cars were good, they were rather more muscular and less polished than the competition, and so Briggs Cunningham decided to switch to Jaguars and, in 1962 at the age of 55, he finished 4th at Le Mans in an XK-E. Cunningham would continue racing for several more years, often using Jaguars painted white with blue striping, but he never again produced his own machines.

Today Briggs Cunningham is widely recognized as one of the great patrons of sports car racing, providing cars for Walters, John Fitch and Bill Spear in the early days, then for Dan Gurney, Roger Penske, Bruce McLaren, Stirling Moss and others later on.

Sadly he passed away in 2003, the same year that he was inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame.

Also see: Lost Marques - Cunningham (USA Edition)

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