“The Smiling Shark” as the Revs Institute’s 1953 Cunningham C-5R was affectionately known, made quite a splash at the Le Mans 24 Hour event in 1953. A pre-race favorite against the Jaguar C-Type, the C5-R was the most powerful Cunningham to date, and came equipped with the largest drum brakes ever fitted to a race car (17″ diameter) to compete with Jaguar’s innovative new Dunlop disc brakes. Unfortunately, Cunningham’s calculated average speed wasn’t enough for the Jaguar, and despite being down only 1 mph from the winning C-Type’s speed average, it placed this C5-R four laps behind the winner.
James Taylor brought his 1954 Cunningham C-3 Vignale Coupe once owned by Briggs Cunningham’s grandson, Robert B. Cunningham. Chassis 5441 was returned from Vignale to the Cunningham plant on December 1952, and this appearance on the lawn at Pebble Beach marks the first time its been publicly displayed.
Acting as a book-end to The Revs Insitute’s remarkable Cunningham race car collection, this 1955 Cunningham C-6R represents Briggs Cunningham’s last valiant attempt at the overall victory at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. After four years of trying to beat the Europeans at Le Mans with the big Chrysler Hemi V8, Briggs Cunningham made the move to another famous American powerplant, the 3.0-liter, twin-cam, 16-valve Meyer-Drake Offenhauser four-cylinder. Unlike the engine’s Indianapolis roots, it would have to burn gasoline instead of methanol. This would prove fatal, as the cooling properties were sacrificed, which would ultimately lead to a burned piston that retired the C6-R.
“…with one fragile dynamometer, a crew of 40 men, the back roads of Florida for a test track and considerable quantities of his own money, Briggs Cunningham proved that America could be a contender in international sports car racing,” friend and team driver, John Fitch said.
Cunningham’s career extended far beyond his own automobiles, and the 2015 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance offered a sampling of cars originally campaigned by Briggs Cunningham. Not the least of which was Jeff Lotman’s 1959 Lister Costin Roadster. One of three Costin-bodied Jaguar powered Listers, this example was ordered by Cunningham for the 1959 season, where it would eventually go on to compete in the inaugural 12 Hours of Sebring piloted by none other than Stirling Moss and Ivor Bueb. Chassis BHL123 would eventually dominate the SCCA C-Modified National Championship in 1959 at the hands of Walt Hansgen and would be piloted by Cunningham before its retirement.
The 1961 Fiat Abarth 1000 Bialbero GT Coupe of Jeff and David Brynan was the other ex-Cunningham car on the lawn. Don’t let its diminutive size fool you, as this Fiat 600-based fire breather was entered by Cunningham in the 1962 running of the Sebring 3-Hour Race where it would steal a class victory with Bruce McLaren at the helm and teammate Walt Hansgen just behind.
[Source: Revs Institute, Pebble Beach Concours; photos: Revs Institute (period), Tim Scott, Sports Car Digest]