In 1950 Briggs Cunningham decided to try his hand at Le Mans. He liked Cadillac’s new 5.4 liter V8 which had the basics to be a powerful engine. Cunningham had wanted to enter a pair of “Fordillac” hotrods, being lightweight Fords with the Cadillac V8, a creation of his driver Phil Walters, but Le Mans regulations prohibited a “heart transplant.” So Cunningham bought a pair of stock Cadillac 61 sedans. One was entered just as you see here with only a twin carburetor setup on its otherwise stock motor. The other became a more modified Cunningham special with a racier body on an otherwise relatively stock Cadillac chassis. There were a few minor modifications to the Cadillac 61, such as better air feed to the brakes and some stiffening of the springs. It also got a larger fuel tank.
The sedan was dubbed “Petit Pataud” by the French (freely translated as little clumsy oaf) and seemed very out of place at the world’s most important sports car race. But it ran well as driven by Cunningham’s long-standing friends Miles and Sam Collier. Here is the Cadillac at speed leaning over at White House corner which at that time led to the front straight and the pits.
Both Cunningham entries finished the race – no mean achievement in itself. The Sedan came in 10th and averaged over 81 mph for the 24 hours. The special, called Le Monstre, was delayed early on by a visit to a sandbank, but was finally classified in 11th place.
This initial and somewhat amateur attempt at Le Mans gave Briggs Cunningham the interest to try to compete seriously there which he did for many years with his own Cunningham cars as well as with others such as Jaguar.
Photos by Louis Klemantaski ©The Klemantaski Collection – http://www.klemcoll.com
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