Cunningham: The Passion, The Cars, The Legacy
An expansive book outlining the career and contribution of
humble and passionate racing pioneer
Erwin in Culture on
08 January 2014
Cunningham is the most important American racer and sportsman
you have never heard of. Not only is he responsible for racing stripes on cars,
but he also owned the first Ferrari (166SC) ever raced and sold in the USA.
Cunningham—who was tremendously rich—would be seen sweeping his garages at
races and doing other menial tasks, insisting the mechanics were too important
and he was just a driver and had nothing better to do between shifts. These are
just a couple of facts to be found in the fascinating stories featured in
Richard Harman's new double-volume whopper of a book, "Cunningham:
The Passion, The Cars, The Legacy," which details the life and
racing endeavors of the late, great Briggs Cunningham.
"My work began in 2007—although I had collected photos,
magazines and books for many years before that," Harman tells CH.
"The Dinky Toys model of the Cunningham C-5R was my favorite in a large
collection of model cars and remained with me long after the childhood
collection had been disposed of. I had seen the obituary for Briggs following
his death in 2003, which re-kindled my memories."
These memories were from Harman's youth in England.
Cunningham's successes abroad made him better known in Europe, but Harman
attributes Cunningham's lost legacy more to the humility of the man. "That
he has not been universally recognized and appreciated amazes me and is more a
reflection of his unassuming and modest personality." Harman continues,
"His heroic exploits at Le Mans—from 1950 to 1963—made him a favorite in
France, where he was hailed as a hero each time his white and blue-striped cars
appeared. He was the antithesis of [the stereotypical] multi-millionaire; being
a shy person who always underestimated his personal contribution.
Cunningham's contribution to the sport was significant.
"His quest to win the most prestigious race in the world (Le Mans 24
Hours), with an American-built car and American drivers, had opened the way for
many of his compatriots to follow," Harman explains. There probably
wouldn't be Cobras, Mustangs, etc if there wasn't Cunningham. He was the first
to put a big American V8 in the lightweight chassises of European cars. He also
manufactured his own cars for sale, so his team could be classed an original
equipment manufacturer (OEM) at Le Mans. Although Cunningham didn't make the
necessary 54 cars to be considered a full OEM, the 25 C-3s that he did make and
sell have all been recently accounted for and restored—even the once lost 25th
car that was found rotting away in Connecticut. Harman's book features every
car made, raced and owned by Cunningham (including the Bugatti that sold for
over $12 million) securing the new building that now houses the rest of his collection
at the Collier Automotive Museum in Naples, FL.
The complete picture of the racing legend has never been
recorded until now. Under the good graces of the Cunningham family along with
years of work, travel and tracking, Harman's book has completed the Briggs
Cunningham story. "The two-volume book was just finished on the last
possible day for printing. As it was, copies had to be air-mailed from China to
the US in order to be in Connecticut for the Labor Day weekend launch at Lime
Rock [Park]," Harman laughs.
Lead image by Walter Hergt, additional images courtesy of
Dalton Watson Fine Books