American sportsman, Briggs Swift Cunningham, was determined to win the 24 Hours of LeMans race with an American car. Cunningham had made his first attempt to do so with Cadillac cars in 1950. Refer to my post on June 7, 2012 to read about his 1950 effort at LeMans. After that attempt Cunningham decided to build his own car and established the B. S. Cunningham Company in West Palm Beach, Florida. There he built a prototype car, known as the Cunningham C-1 to develop the basics for the LeMans car, and from that car, he then went on the build the Cunningham C-2R as shown in this post.
A Cunningham C-2R
The first thing that I noticed, and frankly quite surprised me about the Cunningham C-2R car was the size of the car. The car was much larger than I had expected – especially the width of the car. The wheelbase of the car is 105 inches and the track is 58 inches. The Cunningham C-2R weighs about 3,400 pounds.
The Cunningham C-2R Is An Attractive Car
The specific car shown in this post has a very utilitarian bumper, more like a nerf bar, but I saw a picture of the car when it was first built that showed a full front bumper similar to a road car. I assume that the full front bumper was removed for weight reduction in a racing situation.
Cunningham never produced cars in high numbers. Cunningham only built a total of three C-2R cars all of which he entered into the 1951 24 Hours of LeMans.
From This Angle The Size Of The Car Is Apparent
The Cunningham C-2R had drum brakes from Cadillac and steering from Chrysler Corporation. Cunningham had started out working closely with Cadillac to build cars to compete at LeMans, but Chrysler offered to provide more financial support, plus Chrysler had the wonderful hemispherical head engine which had so much power potential.
The Cunningham C-2R Has Very Smooth Lines
As many of you know, certain colors were assigned to race cars depending upon their country of origin – for example British cars are British racing green, Italian cars are red, French cars are blue, and race cars from Belgium are yellow. American cars are white; but in order for Cunningham to recognize his cars on the track, he added two blue stripes on his cars so that he could differentiate the Cunninghams from the other white colored cars on the track. This was the first known use of what became known as racing stripes!
The Cunningham C-2R Was Available With Borani Wire Wheels
The Cunningham C2R had the new Chrysler 331 cubic inch V8 engine with the new hemisphere head. In its standard configuration this engine produced 180 horsepower at 4,000 rpm. By increasing the compression from 7.5 to 8.9 and adding four Zenith carburetors, the power output became 220 horsepower at 5,500 rpm when tuned for the LeMans 24 hour race. For American races,the engine was tuned to produce about 270 horsepower.
The Cunningham C-2R Was Powered By The Chrysler 331 Cubic Inch Hemi Head V8 Engine
The above image of the Cunningham C-2R engine and the two images below of the Cunningham C-2Rs at LeMans came from Karl Ludvigsen’s book “Cunningham Sports Cars – American Racing Legends 1951 – 1955”. That book has a large number of large black & white photographs of all of the Cunningham cars.
Interesting Instrumentation Cluster With Two Tachometers
To match the Chrysler engine the transmission was a three speed manual transmission as Chrysler did not make a four speed transmission at that time.
In 1951, Briggs Cunningham entered the three Cunningham C-2Rs in the 24 Hours of LeMans race. Car #3 was driven by Briggs Cunningham/George Huntoon, Car #4 was driven by Phil Waters/John Fitch, and Car #5, shown in this post, was driven by George Rand/Fred Wacker.
The Cunningham C-2R Behind Car #14 At LeMans Start In 1951 Is Car #5 Shown In This Post
In the above photo Car #14 is an aerodynamic Bentley and Car # 15 looks like an AC Ace. Car #4 has already ahead of Cars # 3 and #5. The size contrast between the Cunningham C-2R and AC Ace (which eventually evolved into the Shelby Cobra) is indicative of the large size of the C-2R.
Two Cunningham C-2R Cars Behind The 1951 LeMans Winning Type C Jaguar
Car #4 driven by Walters/Fitch finished 18th overall, but Car #3 and Car #5 did not finish the race. The Cunningham C-2R did win a number of races in the United States, but Briggs Cunningham knew that improvements were needed to build a car that would be more competitive at LeMans.
For very complete information about the Cunningham cars please check out a website prepared by automotive historian Lawrence Berman at the following address:
I will have more on the other Cunningham cars in upcoming weeks.