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Vintage Racer of the Week: Briggs Cunningham’s Le Monstre

Vintage Racer of the Week: Briggs Cunningham’s Le Monstre

For this first installment of the Vintage Race Car of the week we wanted to show you something you may have never seen or heard about before.

First off, this thing is actually a ’50 Cadillac. No kidding. It competed at the running of the 1951 24 Hours of LeMans in France and managed an 11th place overall finish. That was a major feat, considering less than a half an hour into the race the car was stuck for 40 minutes after spinning off the course.

This creation came from the fertile (and well funded) mind of Briggs Cunningham. Cunningham was born into wealth as his father was the director of a large bank and also served as a director for a railway line. Because of this wealth, Cunningham’s life was a pursuit of the stuff he felt like doing. Lots of sailing and other gentlemanly activities, but his true love was cars and racing them.

Through competition at sports car races Cunningham quickly rose to national prominence as a very talented driver who was always sitting in top-notch equipment. Having run in the 1950 24 Hours as a driver for another team, Cunningham’s interest in returning with his own cars was paramount.

After an initial car was rejected by officials because it violated several established rules and, gasp, looked too much like a hot rod, Cunningham took matters into his own hands. He bought two brand new ’50 Cadillacs optioned with crash boxes. The first car had some minor work done in order to beef the suspension and ensure longevity during the race. The second one got this treatment, whatever the hell this treatment actually is. It also received multiple carbs and lots of instrumentation to monitor driveline temps and other vital functions of the car.

The totally custom body sits on what is an essentially stock 1950 Cadillac frame. The body was created to provide less of a weight penalty as opposed to the rolling vault that normally sat on the car’s frame. Its odd shape, massive slab sides, and sci-fi, hover-car-looking front end all added to the “beauty” of this car. The open cockpit provided the perfect location to hear the screams when this beast rolled by.

Upon its arrival on French shores the press dubbed it Le Monstre or The Monster. It was a shock to everyone to see a car this big on the course. The fact remains that it could have punted every other car off the track and barely scratched the paint. The snickers could probably be heard all the way back to the Maginot line when the car went off at the beginning of the race and sat idle for the better part of an hour. Those snickers turned to slack-jawed disbelief when the final results were tallied and the two Cadillac entries crossed the line nose to tail to capture the 10th and 11th overall spot at that race.

After LeMans, the car saw some more action stateside and was eventually (like all racers) replaced with a newer, faster, sexier model. The car is now in the hands of a collector and makes infrequent public appearances. If you get the chance to see it, take a few minutes and admire the car, just don’t spend too much time trying to justify the styling to yourself.

Le Monstre

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