Race goers at Le Mans were surprised by the two American entries in 1950. One was this Cadillac. The other was its teammate, Le Monstre. American cars had always been rather an oddity on the Sarthe circuit – the last entry a lone Duesenberg in 1935. These two cars were also odd because of what they were not. Le Mans, of course, is a sports car race.
Co-drivers for this Cadillac – which the French dubbed “Petit Pataud”- were Miles and Sam Collier, whose father was the founder of Collier County. The team’s sponsor, co-driving the second car with Phil Walters, was Briggs Cunningham.
Briggs had initially hoped to race a coupe with Cadillac V-8 engine in a modified Ford chassis. But such a hybrid – called a “Fordillac” and built by Frick-Tappett Motors, a Long Island, New York, specialty garage – was illegal for Le Mans. To get the hot Cadillac engine, Briggs had to run the Cadillac car as well. This was fine; Le Mans 1950 was just a trial run anyway to determine if an American car had a chance. Hopes were also modest because of the team’s slender experience. Of the entire Cunningham entourage, only Miles Collier had previously raced at Le Mans (in 1939 with an M.G., also on display in this museum).
Sixty cars faced the starter’s flag at 4:00 p.m. that June 24th. A day later, the Ferraris of former Le Mans winners Luigi Chinetti and Raymond Sommer, as well as the Simca-Gordini of Fangio and Gonzalez, had fallen by the wayside. Victory went to a French Talbot, a thinly disguised Grand Prix car.
Averaging 81.5 mph for the 24 hours (only 8 mph les than the winner), this Cadillac Coupe placed 10th – a finish that, to the French crowd, was as surprising as the car’s entry in the race. In 11th, 5 miles behind the Colliers, were Briggs Cunningham and Phil Walters in the other Cadillac.
Photos – Peter Harholdt
Briggs Cunningham imported the first Ferrari to race in the US and you can see it in the museum. Learn more