The Le Mans Era
1950 – 1955
Text by Kane Rogers
 
 

While attending Yale University in the late 1920s Briggs Cunningham had struck a friendship with the Collier brothers, Barron, Samuel and Miles; they were not sailors as Briggs was even then, but they shared his interest in cars and the friendship grew from there. After the Colliers formed the Automobile Racing Club of America in 1933, Briggs joined in some of their racing endeavors, both in the U.S. and in Europe. These experiences planted the seeds of Cunningham’s dream of American victory at Le Mans.

At the outset of World War II, Briggs was turned down for service in the Navy. Undeterred, he joined the Civil Air Patrol, piloting his own plane on submarine patrols along the Atlantic Coast and the Gulf Of Mexico until the end of World War II. In 1940, however, Briggs was again drawn into the world of motor sport by the New York World’s Fair Grand Prix, in which Miles Collier drove Cunningham’s “Bu-Merc Special” to second place before retiring against a lamp post.

After the war (and his mother’s passing) Briggs was free to engage in competition, so in 1948 he entered the inaugural Watkins Glen Grand Prix. Driving his old Bu-Merc, which was prepared for the event by his new friend Alfred Momo, Briggs finished two races in second place ahead of his friends Miles and Sam Collier. Bouyed by those results, Briggs then bought the first Ferrari in America from Luigi Chinetti and repeated his second-place finish with that car at the following year’s race at the Glen.

Chinetti returned to the States after winning the 1949 Le Mans with a message from the organizers to Cunningham that he would be invited to race two entries in the 1950 event. The news was accompanied by Chinetti’s offer to put in a word with Ferrari, but Briggs’ plan for an all-American entry was already firm, if not in detail at least in resolve. His first choice of machinery was a hybrid American hotrod, the Frick-Tappett Fordillac, a Ford sedan powered by the big new Cadillac V-8, but the organizers demurred, citing their homologation rules. Sticking with his engine of choice, and energised by Cadillac president Ed Cole’s offer of two Series 61 Coupe de Villes, Briggs assembled a team for the 1950 race that amounted to the first all-out American effort at Le Mans.

1950 1951 1952 1953 1954 1955
 
     

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Credit to Kane Rogers for his important contributions to this website's creation.