The Ford GT40 may have been the only American car to truly dominate at Le Mans, but American teams had presented at the French track for years. One such example is Briggs Cunningham. His creations brought the best of American engineering and Italian styling to racing, and are being celebrated at this year’s Lime Rock Park Vintage celebration.
Briggs Cunningham was a racer and a businessman. He raced sportscars and America’s Cup boats, and even invented a rigging system that could change the shape of a sail. But it was his automotive exploits that caught our attention.
Cunningham had been racing since the 1930s, but it was in the 1950s that he set his sights on building a successful racer for Le Mans. In 1950, he fielded a pair of Cadillacs. One looked near-stock, and the other had body work previously unseen in racing, leading the locals to dub it “Le Monstre.”
In 1951, he announced that he would build an American car of his own design to race at Le Mans. At this point, Cunningham had built specialty performance road cars in limited numbers for customers like Nelson Rockefeller, but now needed to produce a track-worthy roadster. The Cunningham C4-R would finish 3rd overall at the 1952 24 Hours of Le Mans, and generally dominated the SCCA racing world throughout the 1950s.
This year, Lime Rock park is honoring the marque, by bringing together the largest meeting of Cunninghams ever assembled. The body of the C3 was built by Italian coachbuilder Vignale. Additionally, Cunningham racecars were the first to ever sport racing stripes. Though Cunningham might not be a household name, his legacy is one that is forever entwined with 20th century motorsport.