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He was a racing car constructor, driver, and team owner as well as 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. He died died in Las Vegas at the age of 96
Cunningham sports-racing cars Cunningham’s 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. His team was already a favorite with the Le Mans fans, and the announcement demonstrated his commitment to fielding a winning team of American drivers and automobiles. One of the cars, the Chrysler-powered Cunningham C2-R 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. The other, driven by George Rand and Fred Wacker Jr., failed to finish.
In 1952 the C4-R of Briggs Cunningham and Bill Spear finished fourth overall at Le Mans and first in its class. The team returned to the U.S. and clearly became the dominant sports car of the early fifties, routinely beating Ferrari, Jaguar, Aston Martin and Maserati. A C4-R won the 1953 Sebring 12 Hours. These years were to be the high point of achievement for Cunningham-built cars at Le Mans. With victory unattained, the effort was described as a “gallant failure” by American journalist Ozzie Lyons. Later in 1954, a C4-R driven by Briggs Cunningham and Sherwood Johnston finished sixth in the Reims 12 Hour sports car race, behind three Jaguars and two Ferraris. Malcolm Sayer, designer of the Jaguar D-Type, which had exceptional torsional rigidity, noted after the 1954 Le Mans that the chassis frame of the C-4R had “no effective diagonal bracing. It therefore twists so much that the door cannot work if one rear wheel is jacked up”, and that the bodies were designed “with no theoretical basis”. The original C4R, built in 1951, was America’s first sports car, and it was the inspiration for all those to follow. Built 12 years before the Cobra, and two years before the Corvette, its intended purpose was to win Le Mans, but its influence would reach far beyond France. The C4R is credited with putting America on the map in international motor sports, winning worldwide recognition and respect.
At Le Mans in 1955 the Cunningham C6-R, fitted with an Offenhauser engine, retired from the race. Second and third gears failed, and the engine, designed for methanol fuel and insufficiently modified for the mandatory French pump gasoline, overheated. A burned exhaust valve ended the car’s run. Revival With the original C4Rs now worth millions and locked away in private collections, Cunnigham Historic Motors Cras, of Lime Rock (CT) has reintroduced the C4R by accurately rebuilding the car based on the original design.