Briggs S. Cunningham 1907-2003

Briggs Swift Cunningham, 96, a renowned competitor in sports car racing and competitive sailing, died July 2, 2003 at his home in Las Vegas from complications of Alzheimer's disease. From the 1940s to his last race in 1965, Cunningham was a...

Briggs Swift Cunningham, 96, a renowned competitor in sports car racing and competitive sailing, died July 2, 2003 at his home in Las Vegas from complications of Alzheimer's disease.

From the 1940s to his last race in 1965, Cunningham was a fierce sports car racing competitor who also skippered the Columbia to win the 1958 America's Cup. After winning many road races in the United States, he was the first American to challenge the Europeans in the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1950.

In 1950 he established an automobile manufacturing and development company to build his own cars to compete with the Europeans. The first Cunningham C-1 was designed around a Cadillac engine. His most successful sports car was the C-4R, which won multiple races in the 1953 and 1954 U.S. racing seasons. Cunningham's winning designs helped establish American automobiles as credible Le Mans competitors and won the respect of European and American racing enthusiasts. He also established the American racing colors: white body with blue strips down the middle.

In addition to his status as the first American to race in Le Mans, Cunningham also set the course for American leadership in the America's Cup yacht racing challenge. In 1958, after a 21-year hiatus of the event, he won the race in the syndicate's 12 meter yacht, "Columbia " which established a winning tradition for American yachts that would last until 1983. He also played a part in the development of the Chrysler Hemi "300" hemi and alfin and water-cooled brakes in the 1950s.

After retiring from racing, Cunningham and his wife Laura opened the Cunningham Automotive Museum in Costa Mesa, California, to display his personal collection of automobiles. The museum closed in 1985; the collection of cars was sold to Cunningham's lifelong friend, Miles Collier Jr., who keeps the collection in a private museum in Florida. With Miles Collier Sr., he formed the Automobile Racing Club of American (ARCA) in 1934. Cunningham was also a founding member of the Sports Car Club of America, and he was member number one ( the oldest member) of the New York Yacht Club. Cunningham also received accolades and numerous awards in automotive car racing and sailing circles. He was noted for his philanthropic work including, Hills school for Boys Pottsdown, PA, Mystic Seaport, CT among many. Cunningham was born Jan. 19, 1907 to wealthy Cincinnati financier Briggs Swift Cunningham and his wife Elizabeth Kilgour in Cincinnati, Ohio. The senior Cunningham was the principal financier and part-owner in the ventures of two young partners who developed a bath soap that floats: William Cooper Proctor and James Norris Gamble. Proctor was the Godfather of Briggs Cunningham II.

He is survived by his wife of 40 years, Laura (ne Cramer) of Las Vegas, son Briggs S. Cunningham III of Danville, Ky., daughters Lucie McKinney of Greenfarms, Conn., and Cythlen Maddock of Palm Beach, Fla., and step-sons Bill Elmer and Joe Elmer, and 19 grandchildren. 31 Great grandchildren.

Services will be Aug 8th 2:30 pm at Pacific View Cemetery, 3500 Pacific View Dr., Corona Del Mar, CA In lieu of flower's send to donations to Alzheimer's Association.

Be part of something big

Write a comment
Show comments
About this article
Series ARCA , Le Mans , General , SCCA
Article type Obituary