Despite its power and speed, the Cunningham C-2 had been regarded by motoring pundits in Europe
as outrageously heavy and much too big for Le Mans. Briggs agreed. To the extent that the massive
Chrysler hemi allowed, the new Le Mans car for 1952 was much reduced – slimmer by six inches, shorter by
sixteen and lighter by nearly a thousand pounds.
By now Bill Frick had returned to Long Island, and G. Briggs Weaver – well known for his design
of sporting and racing duPont cars of the twenties – had come aboard at West Palm Beach. In Detroit,
Chrysler engineers were providing advice and assistance.
Two roadsters and a coupe (here displayed alongside) were prepared for Le Mans. Briggs paired
himself with Bill Spear, a hard driving amateur on the American sports car circuit. John Fitch, who had
become the SCCA’s first national champion in 1951, was paired with George Rice, a talented Eastern midget
car driver. Sharing the coupe with Phil Walters was Duane Carter, an Indianapolis veteran.
Practice revealed problems. The Chrysler-designed Alfin brake drums began to crack their liners
and, with no spares available, would have to be babied during the race. Thus, even before the starter’s flag
fell, high expectation was tempered by rude reality.
By midnight just one of the Cunninghams was still in the race – this one – with Briggs driving. He
would continue doing so for nearly 20 of the 24 hours. The clutch on his C-4R was slipping. That, plus
awareness that Bill Spear “liked to go like the hammers of hell” and that Bill’s less-than-perfect vision would
present grave dangers when the early morning fog rolled in, had convinced Briggs that he should remain at
the wheel. He was determined that a Cunningham would finish the race. This one did, in 4th place. It had
been an epic drive.
Photos – Peter Harholdt
Briggs Cunningham imported the first Ferrari to race in the US and you can see it in the museum. Learn more