Sometimes winning isn’t required to elevate a car to star status. The Tipo 60/61 has that intangible
quality in spades, for its fame far exceeds its track record. Even its significance in history as the last of the
classic front-engined sports-racers is overpowered by the sheer glamour of the car.
“Birdcage” was the car’s nickname, derived from the way the car was constructed. Its foundation
was made up of approximately 200 finger-sized tubes welded at hundreds of points under a body contoured
to fit skintight over the essentials. Weighing less than 70 pounds in all, the frame was a marvel of
engineering. Italian historians have referred to this Giulio Alfieri design as courageous. Certainly it was
very clever. It was also very complex…too much so.
Designing the engine into a Birdcage required dry sump lubrication and canting it 45º to the right.
Getting an engine out of a Birdcage required better than four hours. Merely getting at the engine at any time
was not easy. Fortunately, in either two liter (Tipo 60) or three-liter (Tipo 61) size, a Birdcage engine was
the most dependable part of the car. Unfortunately, other things broke. A lot.
When nothing broke, a Birdcage was wonderful – as in its first-time-out victory at Rouen (Stirling
Moss driving) in 1959, the Nürburgring wins in ’60 and ’61, as well as Gaston Andrey’s SCCA
championship in ’60 and Roger Penske’s Cooper Monaco-assisted championship in ’61.
No two Birdcages were precisely alike. Variations depended on the whim of the welder and the
preference of the customer. The car on display was the sixth of the 22 Tipo 60/61s built and was purchased
by Briggs Cunningham in August 1960. At Le Mans in ’61, Briggs and Jim Kimberly drove to an eighthplace
finish overall and third in class behind two Porsches. The car behaved impeccably, asking only for fuel
during the entire day’s drive, proving that the one trait that links most super stars is unpredictability.
Photos – Peter Harholdt
Briggs Cunningham was one of the first to use two-way radios at Le Mans in 1950 by installing them in both the LeMonstre and the Petit Pataud. You can see both cars at Revs. Learn more