Shortly after Briggs Cunningham’s success with the Bu-Merc, he decided to take his new found knowledge and apply it overseas at Le Mans. While the Bu-Merc had a favorable power-to-weight ratio, Briggs thought the car lacked both grip and reliability for a successful run in France and decided to go in another direction.
The 1950 Cadillac was actually more than a luxury car. The 331-inch V8 made bulletproof power and the chassis was surprisingly nimble given it’s size. Briggs figured this to be a smart platform and quickly hired Frick-Tappet Motors to race prep a Cadillac for Le Mans.
At the same time, Briggs secured another rolling chassis and had Grunman Aircraft build a “streamlined” body for it. The end result might have been aerodynamic (the fat bastard did hit over 130mph on the Mulsanne Straight), but the car was so odd that the French nicknamed it the “Le Monstre.”
Regardless of appearances, Le Mans wasn’t the great success that Briggs had hoped… at least not on the track. The Coupe De Ville piloted by Sam and Miles Collier finished 10th and the Le Monstre driven by Briggs as well as Phil Walters finished right behind in 11th. The results didn’t matter all that much to the French though. They loved the Cadillacs and cheered madly at every pass. I think this quote from the Briggs book states it best:
Although Le Monstre was built for, and ran, only one event and was not a prototype, it was significant in bringing fame and attention to American entries at this historic 24-hour race. It was big, it was noisy, and in the traditional American white with blue trim racing colors, it portrayed the brash American spirit that Europeans expected. They weren’t disappointed.
Of course, Briggs never stopped learning. After the 1950 running of Le Mans, he was done building hot rods. From that point forward, he was gonna build race cars. Next week, we will take a look…