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Sunday, January 18, 2015

Le Monstre

Cunningham's Cadillacs entered in the 1950 24-hours of Lemans. 
Check out the numbers. Is that a 2 or a 9 or an alien squiggle from the planet Zarkon?
Briggs Cunningham was big into racing cars. He even built his own sports cars, mostly so he could claim to be a manufacturer and enter his cars in races open only to 'production' automobiles. I never cared much for his cars, they always struck me as a bit thick, but they were from an earlier automotive generation and the cars of my day (my day being the 1960's when I was ten years old) were oh-so-much sleeker.
    Posthip Scott got me started on this and while I am poking around I come across 'Le Monstre'. In 1950 Briggs tackled the 24 hours of LeMans with a pair of Cadillacs. One was near box-stock, the other was stripped to the chassis and then given an aerodynamic aluminum body made by Grumman. The cars didn't win, but they did finish, which was a bit of an achievement back then. To my race-prepared mind a Cadillac with its big heavy body and soft springs seems like the absolutely worst kind of car to go racing in, but if you 'return with us now to those thrilling days of yesteryear'*, what kind of car should you choose for a 24 hour road trip? A Cadillac might be just the thing.
    Automobile racing is an expensive hobby. Where did Cunningham get his money? He's from old money, or at least as old as old gets in the good old USA. On VIR History I found this:
"Briggs Swift Cunningham Jr. was the son of a wealthy Cincinnati financier who had made his fortune in the 19th Century in real estate, railroads, utilities and banking. Already wealthy, he later financed two young men in business who had plans to market a cake of soap they had produced by mistakenly over-mixing the ingredients so much that the soap floated. The senior Cunningham received a share in the company formed by the partners Proctor and Gamble, with one of them becoming godfather to young Briggs Jr. The elder Cunningham died at age 75 when his son was only 7, leaving a family fortune sufficient for Briggs to lead a privileged lifestyle and to develop his competitive personality through a variety of interests."
Emphasis mine. Make of it what you will. Proctor and Gamble are people's names? Who knew? Soap that floats? I knew that one. I wonder how long that bit of common knowledge will last. It may already be fading from the lexicon.
    Le Monstre is not a car to garner the adulation of the crowds, but at least one guy thought it was interesting enough to build a model and an elaborate diorama to showcase it.

*I thought for sure I could find a video clip with the phrase ringing out, but no. A dozen or so clips and the only catch phrase I found was 'Hi-oh Silver, away", which isn't really the same thing at all.

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