Briggs Cunningham

Briggs Cunningham

19/1/1907 - 2/7/2003

Born January 19, 1907, to a wealthy Cincinnati financier who had made his fortune in real estate, railroads, utilities and banking, Cunningham’s privileged lifestyle enabled him to explore a variety of interests that not only included Yacht racing, but while attending Yale and befriending classmates, Sam and Miles Collier, his love for high-performance automobiles was spawned as well. While Briggs would respect his mother’s wishes never to personally race, he partnered with Miles, Sam and Barron Collier to form the Automobile Racing Club of America (ARCA) in 1933, and endorsed automobile races from 1934-40. Still honoring his mom’s "no-racing policy”, Briggs continued his quest for racing by demonstrating his mechanical expertise and constructing his first “special” in 1940. Utilizing a Buick Century chassis/engine setup and Mercedes SSK body (a Dr. Ferdinand Porsche inspired design---SS standing for Super Sport, and K for kurz, German for short), the hybrid, christened the “BuMerc” special went on to compete in the 1940 World’s Fair Grand Prix at Flushing Meadows, New York with his good friend, Miles Collier at the wheel. This was ARCA’s final race prior to the outbreak of World War II. The war over and Brigg’s mother deceased, a new chapter in his life began when Briggs entered the newly-formed Sports Car Club of America’s (SCCA) first major race at Watkins Glen, New York in 1948, and he drove his BuMerc special to a second place finish. Briggs would additionally hire Haig Ksayian to race his speedy supercharged MG-TC to a third place podium as well. These two acts launched Cunningham’s driving and team-ownership careers. The subsequent year, Cunningham might have switched gears wheeling Ferrari’s first imported racer in America, a Ferrari Corsa, to second place in both the 1949 Watkins Glen Grand Prix and Seneca Cup race, but he didn't detour from his real love for big American power that was the cornerstone for many of his creations including a Cadillac-propelled Healey that was raced in 1950. 1950 was a very busy year as Briggs Cunningham fielded two Cadillacs in the 24-Hours of Le Mans (Sam and Miles Collier’s Caddy finished 10th followed by Cunningham, teamed with Phil Walters for 11th---all became the first Americans ever to participate in the lengthy contest). Additionally that year, he formed B.S. Cunningham Company, producing the Cunningham C-1 designed around a familiar Cadillac motor. However, the Cadillac marriage ended much too quickly and a Chrysler Hemi soon replaced the GM engine creating the C-2R. John Fitch not only gave the Cunningham C-2R racecar a victory on its maiden American outing through the streets of Elkhart in ’51, but captured the 1951 SCCA National Championship in the Cunningham C-2R. Associated with the era’s Who’s Who of American road racing; Walters, Fitch, Sherwood Johnson, Dick Thompson, Roger Penske, Augie Pabst and employing the skills of Bruce McLaren and Jack Brabham, Briggs Cunningham had always surrounded himself with great talent that propelled him to the apex of American road racing. He proved that an All-American pure-breed sports car “could” compete with Europe’s best. The C-6R model might have marked the end of the B.S. Cunningham Company when it ceased operations in 1955, but the Cunningham legacy of a sleek two-seater wrapping around a big monster motor remains the design parameters for the Corvette, Cobra, Viper and many of today and tomorrow’s limited specials. Briggs Cunningham would leave racing in 1965, but not before amassing an impressive resume of accomplishments either driving or successfully managing others in D-Types, Masarati 61 Tipos, Listers, Corvettes, OSCAs, E-Type Lightweights and of course, plenty of chariots wearing his own badging. Cunningham won the 1954 SCCA F-Modified Championship in an OSCA, sailed to victory the 1958 America’s Cup, a 2003 inductee in the International Motorsports Hall of Fame, Talladega, Ala. and more importantly, represented America’s best and made the world stand up and take notice. Briggs Swift Cunningham represented American pride and will always remain in our hearts as an icon of the “golden age of road racing in America.” He will be missed! His fine collection of sporting and racing automobiles is now part of the Miles C. Collier Museum, Naples, Florida.

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