News & Stories

Greenwich’s Concours d’Cunningham

June 8, 2018 In the News

by John Lamm

Briggs Cunningham is justly remembered as one of America’s greatest sportsmen. He fielded a race team and competed as a driver in the 24 Hours of Le Mans — not for his own glory, but to show that America could compete and win in motorsports on the world stage. When the America’s Cup was revived in 1958 after a 21-year hiatus, Cunningham skippered the 12-meter yacht Columbia to victory, continuing the United States’ undefeated record in the competition, which still stands as the longest winning streak in sports history (1851-1983).

This year’s Greenwich Concours d’Elegance in Greenwich, Connecticut, celebrated the legacy of Briggs Cunningham with an unprecedented gathering of Cunningham-built race and road cars from 1950-1955, as well as two of his favorite sailboats, the 12-meter Columbia and Brilliant, his personal yacht, now on permanent display at Mystic Seaport in Mystic, Connecticut.

Briggs Cunningham won the 1958 America’s cup yacht race in the Columbia 12-metre yacht, which was moored near the Greenwich Concours.

How complete was the Cunningham collection at Greenwich? Cunningham experts Tom Cotter and Chuck Schoendorf managed to gather 33 of the remaining 35 Cunninghams on the concours field. Schoendorf commented, “A comprehensive turnout of Cunningham cars on this scale has never happened before and likely never will again, at least any time soon. It took Tom and me 10 years to personally inspect all 33 cars.”

From Naples, Florida, the Miles Collier Collections at The Revs Institute brought a full lineup of Cunningham racers, including the only C-5R and C-6R cars ever built, as well one of two C-4Rs — the other was also displayed at Greenwich, by the Simeone Museum in Philadelphia.

A Miles Collier Collection award winner, the 1952 Cunningham C-4R in which Briggs Cunningham and Bill Lloyd finished in a commendable 4th place in that year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans… and 5th in 1954. The award is presented by concours organizer Mary Wennerstrom and her daughter Christa.

The Miles Collier Collections’ unique C-1 prototype and a C-3 production coupe were also in attendance. The C-3 is one of 25 examples built by Cunningham (with help from Italian coachbuilder Vignale) as sports cars for wealthy enthusiasts in the early 1950s. Remarkably, the entire set of 25 was on display, with the Greenwich Harbor as a backdrop. Included was comedian Jay Leno’s C-3 from California. It was an impressive array of coupes and roadsters, their distinctive oval grilles lined up and visible from across the concours field.

Among the 25 Cunningham production cars at the Greenwich Concours was this C3 owned by comedian Jay Leno. Under the hood? A 331-cubic-inch Chrysler Hemi V-8.

This year’s show was especially relevant for The Revs Institute because Briggs Cunningham began racing in the early 1930s with friends Sam and Miles Collier. Appropriately, Miles C. Collier — son of Miles Collier — was the Grand Marshal at Greenwich this year.

Given its display area, the Greenwich Concours is held on two days, Saturday for American vehicles, Sunday for foreign cars. On day one, you wander among the likes of a Pontiac GTO, numerous hot rods, a huge fire truck and U.S. motorcycles. On Sunday, you’ll see Ferraris, Jaguars, MGs and other imports.

A wonderful brute of a race car also campaigned by the Cunningham team — a 1962 Maserati Tipo 151. That dramatic hood covers a 4.0-liter, 4-cam V-8 with 350 horsepower. This car is now regularly used in vintage car races.

The concours is set next to Greenwich Harbor, and come midafternoon each day, the crowd gathered near the water for the awards ceremony. Among the winners were a number of the cars raced but not built by Briggs Cunningham, including a 1960 Le Mans Corvette and 1961 Cooper Monaco MkIII. Miles Collier gave a Grand Marshal’s award to the only surviving ex-Cunningham 1962 Maserati 151 GT.

The Collier Collections’ Cunninghams won, too. The C-5R took First in Class among the Cars of Briggs Cunningham, while the C-4R earned the Briggs Cunningham Award, and the C-6R earned People’s Choice.

Ah but for a set of disc brakes. This Cunningham C-5R – here with a First in Class award — finished 3rd in the 1953 24 Hours of Le Mans preventing a 1-2-3 finish by Jaguar C-Types which had Dunlop’s new disc brakes.

The real winners from the weekend were Cunningham enthusiasts, who — thanks to the vehicles’ owners and the diligent and tireless efforts of the show’s organizers — were treated to a gathering of Cunningham vehicles the likes of which may never happen again.

Winner of the International Best of Show-Sport class was this 1957 Ferrari 335 Sport Spider Scaglietti. It raced at the Mille Miglia, Nürburgring, Le Mans, Spa, in the Swedish and Venezuela Grands Prix and twice at Nassau.

On the awards field, what some consider the best looking of all Cunningham race cars, the C-6R. Sleek as it looks, the car was hampered at Le Mans by its engine, an Indy Offy modified to run on gasoline.

While Vignale in Italy created the body for the Cunningham C-3, this one has unique metalwork done by famed industrial designer Brooks Stevens.

Hood up and at the heart of Cunningham C-3s, a Chrysler Hemi V-8. Fed through four Zenith downdraft carburetors the engine produces 220 horsepower at 4000 rpm.

Here is the first Cunningham, appropriately named the C-1. The initial car built in West Palm Beach by the B. S. Cunningham Company, it had a Cadillac V-8, but when General Motors balked at selling engines for the C-1, Cunningham turned to Chrysler.

Among the cars raced by the Cunningham team was this 1961 Cooper Monaco Mark III Type 61. A Coventry-Climax 4-cylinder engine originally powered the mid-engine race car, but Cunningham had a small, light Buick V-8 installed.

In 1960, Briggs Cunningham took a trio of Chevrolet Corvettes to the 24 Hours of Le Mans. This car finished 8th overall and won the 5-liter Grand Touring class.

Not all the cars at the Greenwich Concours were vintage as seen with the Scuderia Cameron Glickenhaus SCG003S road car. The automaker has federal permission to build the cars, which will cost around $2 million each.

In stark concours contrast to the SCG003S is this diminutive 1960 Morris Minor Traveller Estate Wagon. It has left hand drive and was built for the U.S. That wood on the side isn’t just decoration, it is structural.

What a machine to cruise the forests and lakes of the northeast. A 1941 Oldsmobile Model 68 Station Wagon Woodie. In California it would have a surfboard up top.

A wonderful complex engineering exercise, Ford’s retractable hardtop Skyline convertible. This one is from 1957, but the model was continued for 1958 and 1959. Head to YouTube and watch a video of the top folding.

A great beast of a machine, a 1923 Ahrens-Fox Model JM-4 Fire engine. The pump weighs 900 pounds and is made from solid bronze.

A matched set. That’s a 1958 Ford Ranchero hauling a trailer with a 1950 Kurtis Kraft Midget that is powered by a Chevrolet II Iron Duke engine.

Not every Ford GT40 was a race car. The company assembled seven GT40 MkIIIs for the street.

John Fitch was a great driver who raced for Briggs Cunningham but never had a chance to become an automaker. He started with the Corvair-based Phoenix, its flat-6 tuned to 170 horsepower. It has Italian-built bodywork and a top speed of 130 mph. But before he could get serious about a production run, federal safety standards stepped in. Miles Collier gave it a Grand Marshal Award on Saturday.

A very different looking Ferrari, a one-off 330 GT Shooting Brake by Vignale that was created for the 1968 Turin Auto Show.

Day one winners. The American Best of Show – Elegance was a 1934 Packard Convertible Victoria (left) owned by Judge Joseph and Marie Cassini III. Best of Show – Sport went to Joseph Robillard’s 1952 Cunningham C-3.

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John Lamm started his automotive journalism career in 1965 as a racing photographer for Autoweek magazine. After a tour in Vietnam, he joined Motor Trend in 1969, then Road & Track in 1975, where he worked for 37 years. He has also written for Car and Driver and Automobile magazines. Credits include 10 books and Lamm has been honored with the International Motor Press Association’s Ken Purdy and the Motor Press Guild’s Dean Batchelor awards for writing. Lamm’s photo archives include hundreds of thousands of images ranging from an 1893 Benz Victoria to many of the latest automobiles. He is on the organizing committee for the Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion and been a judge at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance for two decades. Lamm lives in San Clemente, California with his wife, Scheri.

5 Responses

  1. Willem Oosthoek

    Briggs Cunningham’s 1961 Cooper Monaco Mk III never had a Coventry-Climax engine originally, but a 4-cyl. 2.9-liter Maserati engine from the start. Eventually it was replaced by a BOP V8.

  2. Karl Ludvigsen

    Absolutely awesome display of Cunninghams. I’ve been passionate about them since 1951 when my photo of a C-3 winning Watkins Glen was used in a Cunningham advertisement.
    Those seeking more info should look for my Iconografix book on the Cunninghams, readily available on Amazon.
    Great story, John Lamm!

  3. Tom Cotter

    The Greenwich Concours was over the top! Chuck Schoendorf and I appreciate Cunningham owners coming from all over the United States to participate. There will likely never be an event as comprehensive as this again. And the fact that threatened storms gave way to sunshine means that Briggs was looking down on us. Nice story, John Lamm. Captured the mood just right.

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