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Briggs Cunningham on a 1954 cover of Time magazine

Briggs Swift Cunningham II ( January 19, 1907 - July 2, 2003) was an American sportsman who raced cars and yachts.

He was a racing car constructor, driver and team owner; also a sports car manufacturer and automobile collector.

He skippered the victorious yacht Columbia in the 1958 America's Cup race, and invented the eponymous device, the Cunningham, for increasing the speed of racing sailboats.

He featured on the April 26, 1954 cover of Time magazine, with three of his Cunningham racing cars. The caption reads: Road Racer Briggs Cunningham: Horsepower, Endurance, Sportsmanship.

The October 2003 Road & Track magazine article "Briggs Swift Cunningham—A Life Well Spent" states that "by building and sailing his own ships, and building and racing his own cars, Briggs Cunningham epitomized the definition of the American sportsman." He was inducted into the America's Cup Hall of Fame in 1993, the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America in 1997, and named to the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in 2003.

Contents

Automobile competition, manufacture and collection

Introduced to motor racing as a youngster when his uncle took him to road races just after the first world war, Cunningham began international automobile racing in 1930 with his college friends Barron, Miles, and Samuel Collier, who in 1933 founded the Automobile Racing Club of America (renamed the Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) in 1944). He continued in competition for thirty-six years.

By 1940 he was building sports cars for other drivers to race. His first race as a driver was with his Bu-Merc, a hybrid combination of modified Buick chassis, Buick engine and Mercedes-Benz SSK body, at Watkins Glen shortly after World War Two. Some of his other hybrids involved Cadillacs, Chryslers, and Fords. Cunningham was one of the first to purchase a Ferrari barchetta, which was raced along with other brands he constructed or owned.

In 1950 Cunningham entered two Cadillac cars for Le Mans, one a stock-appearing Cadillac Coupe de Ville, the other a special-bodied sports machine dubbed "Le Monstre." [1] They finished tenth and eleventh overall. [2]

Cunningham C-4R sports-racing car

His announcement in 1951 of his intention to build an American contender for outright victory at the Le Mans race caused a stir on both continents. [3] His team was already a favorite with the Le Mans fans [4] and the announcement demonstrated his commitment to fielding a winning team of American drivers and automobiles. One of the cars, the Chrysler-powered Cunningham C-4R built by The B. S. Cunningham Company of West Palm Beach, Florida and driven by Phil Walters and John Fitch, finished 18th out of 60 starters. [5] The other, driven by George Rand and Fred Wacker Jr. failed to finish.

In 1952 the Cunningham C-4R of Briggs Cunningham and Bill Spear finished fourth overall at Le Mans. [6]

A Cunningham C-4R won the 1953 Sebring 12 Hours. At Le Mans Walters and Fitch finished first in class and third overall with a C-5R and the two other Team Cunningham cars finished seventh and tenth. They repeated with a third and fifth place at Le Mans in 1954. These years were to be the high point of achievement for Cunningham-built cars at Le Mans. The longed-for victory remained elusive. American journalist Ozzie Lyons later, rather harshly, described the whole effort as a "gallant failure." [7] Later in 1954 the Cunningham cars finished fifth and sixth in the Reims 12 Hour sports car race. [8]

At Le Mans in 1955 the Cunningham C6-R, fitted with an Offenhauser engine, retired from the race. This was attributed to transmission trouble and the poor quality of the French petrol.

By 1956 the Cunningham team was described as a dominant force in SCCA sports car racing—a distinction the team retained for the next decade. In addition to Cunninghams, the team raced Ferrari, Jaguar, Maserati, O.S.C.A., Porsche and other sports cars. One of these set a record in 1954 that remains unbroken: Stirling Moss and Bill Lloyd drove Briggs Cunningham's 1.5-liter O.S.C.A. MT4 (Maserati Tipo 4) in the Sebring 12 Hours, where it defeated its higher-powered competitors to become the smallest-engined car ever to win the race, and also the first to win on wire wheels. The next year, two other drivers from the team won Sebring in a Team Cunningham Jaguar D-type. In 1964 Briggs Cunningham and Lake Underwood won first place in the 3.0 Litre Prototype class at Sebring with the new Porsche 904 GTS, and took first place in the 2-liter class and ninth overall the following year, again with a 904 GTS.

Sebring International Raceway: Cunningham Corner at top center

Alfred Momo was the team's chief mechanic.

Cunningham automobiles were mostly high-performance prototypes that Briggs Cunningham and his team built specifically for racing in the 1950s. A few, adapted for street use, are used as historic personal vehicles. Cunningham's cars were the first to sport racing stripes, the traditional Cunningham racing colors being blue stripes on white. Carroll Shelby, who competed against Cunningham and his teams and was influenced by Cunningham in his similar quest to build a victorious American racecar, adopted the Team Cunningham colors and revived the stripes.

Sebring Raceway's "Cunningham Corner" is named for Cunningham and his team.

Cunningham amassed a high-quality collection of automobiles that included the first Ferrari sold in the United States by Luigi Chinetti, and a Bugatti Royale, one of only six made. The collection was displayed in the Cunningham Museum in Costa Mesa, California and eventually was sold to long-time friend Miles Collier to be added to the Collier Automotive Museum collection in Naples, Florida.

Briggs Cunningham's only son, Briggs S. Cunningham III, along with Robert (Bob) Lutz and Lawrence (Larry) Black, resurrected his father's car company in the late 1990s and introduced a modern Cunningham car, the C-7 model, at the 2001 Detroit International Automobile show. While the Cunningham C7 was very well received, no customer cars were built.

Briggs Cunningham's grandson Brian S. Cunningham, son of Briggs S. Cunningham III, raced in Formula 3 in 1994.

Drivers

Cunningham team drivers and Briggs Cunningham co-drivers included:

References

  1. ^ See: Motor Sport, January 1951, Page 8.
  2. ^ See: Motor Sport, August 1950, Page 389.
  3. ^ See: Motor Sport, June 1951, Page 296.
  4. ^ See: Motor Sport, May 1951, Page 229.
  5. ^ See: New York Times, June 25, 1951, Page 24.
  6. ^ See: Motor Sport, July 1952, Page 317.
  7. ^ See: The Batsford Colour Book of Sports Cars, 1962, B. T. Batsford Ltd., Page 26.
  8. ^ See: Motor Sport, August 1954, Page 427.

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