I L TRIDENTE On-Line
Briggs Cunningham at the wheel of his Tipo
60 in March of 1961. Bill Kimberly (right) seems to be kicking the left front
tire! They finished 18th due to exhaust manifold problems. (photo: Al Bochroch)
Cunningham dead at 96
July 2nd 2003: Long time Maserati racer, team owner, importer and supporter Briggs
Swift Cunningham died on July 2nd in a nursing home in Las Vegas. He was
96 years old.
One of the last of the gentleman racers, he competed in numerous competiton
cars during his career, which began as soon as World War II ended. He ran
his last race event at Sebring in 1966, retiring the Porsche 904 co-driven
with John Fitch.
Cunningham was born in Cincinnati on January 19, 1907. His father, an entrepreneur
who ran various businesses and who was on the board of directors of the recently
formed Procter & Gamble company, died when Briggs was five. With the benefit
of a sizeable trust fund, the young Cunningham discovered his love for competition
sports while at Yale University: not yet with cars but with sail boats. This
would eventually lead to his victory in the 1958 America's Cup.
Obviously, cars became another strong interest of his. In 1945, while having
his V12 Lagonda repaired in New York, Briggs met mechanic Alfred Momo and
the two would become close business and racing associates for the next 20
Briggs brought the first Ferrari to the East Coast and in the early fifties,
he took his own Chrysler-engined Cunningham cars to the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
Only the new disc-braked Jaguars prevented him from winning the race. At the
same time he produced a production version of the Cunningham sports car in
West Palm Beach, Florida, until the IRS disallowed the business after 5 unprofitable
Cunningham closed his manufacturing operation in 1955 and began racing
other manufacturers' products, 300S Maseratis, D-type Jaguars, Lister/Jaguars
and Oscas. His entries won the 12 Hours of Sebring 3 consecutive times: in
1953 with a Cunningham C4R [John Fitch and Phil Walters], in 1954 with an
Osca MT4 [Stirling Moss and Bill Lloyd] and in 1955 with a D-type Jaguar
[Phil Walters and Mike Hawthorn]. From 1956 on the Cunningham team became
a dominant force in SCCA racing, with Momo as its chief mechanic and Walt
Hansgen as its premier driver. Other top drivers racing for the team around
the mid and late fifties were Sherwood Johnston, Bill Spear, Charlie Wallace,
Ed Crawford, John Benett, Phil Forno, Russ Boss, Archie Scott-Brown, Ivor
Bueb, Dick Thompson, Lake Underwood and Denise McCluggage.
With the arrival of the Birdcage Maseratis in 1960, Cunningham provided
rides to a new generation of drivers: Bill Kimberly, Augie Pabst, Bruce McLaren,
Roger Penske and Paul Richards. The team's well documented attack for GT
honors at Le Mans in 1960, entering 3 Corvettes, included the services of
Bob Grossman and Fred Windridge as well. Formula One-stars Dan Gurney, Jack
Brabham and Bruce McLaren raced Briggs' ill-fated experimental E-type Jaguar
At the end of 1962 the Birdcage era was over and by then Cunningham had
switched to Buick-powered Cooper Monacos, with the E-type Jaguars being the
team's selection for GT honors. The 1963 Pacific GP at Laguna Seca would
turn out to be the last race in which a Maserati, or any other car, carried
the Cunningham racing colors of white-and-blue. After 3 pitstops, Dick Thompson
finished 16th in the now Ford V8 powered Tipo 64.
Having married for the second time, Briggs moved to California, his new
wife's home state, in 1965. He raced 3 more times at Sebring with a private
Porsche 904, finishing a remarkable 9th overall in 1964 with Lake Underwood.
Subsequent entries in 1965 and 1966 with John Fitch were less successful.
Cunningham opened his Costa Mesa car museum, where he put his private collection
on display. Due to poor attendance the museum was closed in 1985 and its
contents sold to Miles Collier Jr, whose father had been a good friend of
Briggs. Collier started a new museum in Naples, Florida, but it was closed
after a couple of years due to high overhead. The old Cunningham car collection
is now part of Collier's private museum.
Briggs Cunningham was universally known as a class act, the quintessential
gentleman whose rides were always a first-rate assignment. Services will
be held on August 8th at 2:30 pm, at Pacific View Cemetary, 3500 Pacific
View Drive, Corona Del Mar, California.