These three gentlemen had a great deal to do with the 24 Hours of Le Mans throughout the 1950s. On the left in the dark pullover is American Briggs Cunningham, in the middle with dark glasses is Tony Rolt who with Duncan Hamilton, standing regally at the right, teamed together at Le Mans for many years.
1950 was the Cunningham teams’ first of 10 forays to the French classic. In this initial attempt they entered two Cadillacs, one a standard-appearing model 61 with minor racing modifications, driven by Cunningham’s friends Sam and Miles Collier who finished tenth, and the other a highly modified version with a special rather ugly spider body which because of its large size became known as Le Monstre. It was driven by Cunningham and Phil Walters, who had raced on ovals as “Ted Tappett,” to finish 11th.
For 1950 Rolt and Hamilton combined in a Nash-Healey to finish an excellent 4th overall. This was the first of six appearances for the British pairing, plus another four individual entries. Their most impressive result was an overall victory with a Jaguar C-Type in the 1953 running of the 24 Hour race, followed by a second place finish in 1954 with a D-Type.
Cunningham ran cars that he had built six times in the 1950s with the best placing being a third overall for Bill Spear and Sherwood Johnson with a C4R in 1954. In the early 1960s, Cunningham entered Chevrolet Corvettes, Maseratis and Jaguars. He usually drove one of his entries himself and was a very accomplished endurance driver, being respective of the need to bring his car to the finish. Briggs Cunningham was a classic amateur sportsman with professional abilities. He excelled in everything, including winning the America’s Cup with his own 12 meter yacht Columbia in 1958.
Hamilton was a true “larger-than-life” individual and Touch Wood, his charming book about his career, is probably the most entertaining of all motor racing books. Especially amusing – whether or not actually true – is his story about the 1953 Le Mans race where his and Rolt’s car had been disqualified the night before the race for a minor infraction during practice. Upon this news, the two drivers went on a bender that night, only to be woken from their alcoholic slumbers to be told that Sir William Lyons, Chairman of Jaguar and for whom they were driving, had paid a large fine to get them reinstated in the race which would begin at 4 PM.
“I ordered a double brandy and immediately felt much better,” said Hamilton.
Photo by Louis Klemantaski ©The Klemantaski Collection
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