US motorsport loses Briggs Cunningham

American motorsport legend Briggs Cunningham has died at the age of 96. Born into a very wealthy Cincinnati family, he formed the Automobile Racing Club of America in the 1930s, and was later a founder member of the Sports Car Club of America. He was successful as a sportscar driver but much more so as an entrant, notably with his own Florida-built Cunninghams, as well as with Ferrari, Maserati and Osca customer racecars, and with a team of factory-supported Jaguars

US motorsport loses Briggs Cunningham

Cunningham began building racecars in 1940 and, post-war, set out (at first with Luigi Chinetti) on a mission to win Le Mans and other major sportscar races worldwide. This became the first successful attempt by an American constructor to break into European sportscar racing since Stutz in the 1920s.

The first Cunningham (an ugly sedan-based vehicle nicknamed 'Le Monstre') was raced at Le Mans in 1950. He returned with two purpose-built C2R sportscars in 1951, and (after building the special, Vignale-bodied C3R production version) with three effective C4Rs in 1952, returning home with a class victory. One of these Chrysler V8 powered C4R racecars then won the 1953 Sebring 12 Hours, the inaugural race in the newly established FIA World Sportscar Championship.

C4Rs finished third, seventh and 10th at Le Mans that season, and two came in third and fifth there in 1954. The last Cunningham was the C6R, powered by a 3-litre, four-cylinder Meyer-Drake Offenhauser engine. The company was closed down for tax reasons in 1955.

Cunningham then became a Jaguar importer and ran a US factory team of three D Types, enjoying much success. In the late 1950s, his interest focused on ocean yacht racing and, in 1958, he defeated the British entry to win the America's Cup for the USA with his yacht 'Columbia'.

However, Cunningham continued to run cars in both the USA and Europe and, in 1961, entered an F1 Cooper T53 Climax in the United States GP. The chassis was sold to Roger Penske and was evolved into the famous 'Zerex Special' sports-racing car, which was later sold on to Bruce McLaren. This was the first car raced by the McLaren team.

Cunningham's Jaguars continued to compete at Le Mans until 1963, when he retired as an entrant. His last race as a driver was at Sebring in 1966. He then opened the Cunningham Automotive Museum in Costa Mesa, CA, to house his personal collection until it was closed in 1985.

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