The French called this car “Le Monstre.” As Le Mans rules permitted rebodying of standard
automobiles, this aberrant look represented an attempt to reduce both weight and wind resistance. Briggs
Cunningham had decided to hedge his two-Cadillac bet for Le Mans, streamlining this car to render it more
competitive, while leaving the other alone in case the aerodynamic experiment failed.
Both Series 61 Cadillacs were prepared for the race at Frick-Tappett Motors. The Colliers’ coupe
received twin carburetor manifolding by Frank Burrell, air scoops for the brake drums and an extra gas tank
for the trunk. Otherwise, that car was essentially showroom stock.
Underneath so was Le Monstre, although its body was so extraordinary that Le Mans officials spent
hours in examination to assure themselves that the chassis was standard Cadillac. Standard, too, was the
engine, except for a five carburetor induction system and some fine tuning.
A Grumman engineer on Long Island had contributed the body design. The scale model was tested
in a wind tunnel normally used for evaluating crop dusters and other slow flying airplanes. Aircraft influence
in the car extended to inclusion of a tubular “crash frame.” Notwithstanding its barge-like appearance, the
Cadillac Le Monstre measured three inches narrower than the Cadillac Petit Pataud. With top speed of 130
mph, it was some 13 mph faster than its teammate.
Despite its theoretical advantages, the Cunningham-Walters Le Monstre finished 11th to the Collier
brothers’ 10th. Although Briggs had pooh-poohed Miles Collier’s suggestion that a shovel be carried as onboard
equipment, he doubtless rued that decision after slamming into a sandbank and laboriously digging Le
Monstre out by hand. The time was lost there, and the subsequent loss of all but high gear, prevented this car
from realizing its potential.
The American entry had been a popular one at Le Mans, and the Cadillacs finished to a tremendous
ovation. The American drivers were toasted in the European press for their “skill, sportsmanship and
dauntless good humor.” Much had been learned. Better was to come.
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