Sold for $758,500 at 2021 RM Sothebys : Amelia Island Auction.
Chassis #: 00867S103535
This 1960 Chevrolet Corvette was part of American privateer Briggs Swift Cunningham II's final, and most successful, effort to win at the 24 Hours of LeMans. Cunningham had made numerous attempts to win at LeMans using American cars driven by American drivers. In 1950, he entered a pair of Cadillacs, and from 1951 to 1955, he entered cars of his own with each being hand-built at his West Palm Beach, Florida facility. His team was exclusively American, and each was hand-selected and chosen as being the most elite and capable in their field. Mr. Cunningham was a wealthy and well-regarded sportsman, who was fueled by ambition and an extremely competitive nature. His endeavors in other competitive pursuits were more fruitful, however, including a victory in the 1958 America's Cup race as the skipper of the yacht Columbia.
Although his team had earned some success at the Circuit de la Sarthe, an overall victory remained elusive. The disastrous and deadly crash at the 1955 Le Man's race culminated in the Automobile Manufacturers Association racing ban, which prohibited all official American manufacturer racing programs effective 1 June 1957. It was quickly discovered that the drive for competition cannot be contained, and many manufacturers and teams found creative ways to unofficially support racing efforts and competition development. Unofficial agreements were forged between manufacturers and privateer race teams. These symbiotic relationships helped both, as manufacturers were able to test and develop new products, and teams gained an unofficial competitive edge.
Prior to the racing ban, General Motors had been developing a competition-spec car for endurance competition, intended for races such as Sebring, Daytona, and LeMans. The team was led by Ed Cole and managed by Arkus-Duntov with testing completed by drivers that included Cunningham. The racing ban halted development, but by late 1958, development had been restarted, albeit unofficially. Negotiations with Cunningham were completed on January 7th of 1960, and by the 19th of that month, Duntov's team was preparing bespoke racing engines. Three similarly equipped Corvettes were sourced for Cunningham on March 16th, but to disguise Chevrolet's involvement, all chassis were purchased via dealer Don Allen Midtown Chevrolet of New York City. The purchase order radio delete, specified quick-ratio steering, a close-ratio four-speed transmission, heavy-duty sintered-metallic brake linings, heavy-duty suspension, a Positraction limited-slip differential, and temperature-controlled radiator fan.
Alfred Momo further modified the three cars with a Halibrand quick release fuel cap, Halibrand magnesium wheels, Firestone racing tires, Stewart Warner gauges, Bendix fuel pumps (including a primary and a backup), a 37-gallon fuel tank, an additional front sway bar, Koni competition shock absorbers, and additional ducting. The two seats were from a Douglas C-47 Skytrain aircraft, and the racing exhaust system exited through the side. Further modifications made after testing including changes to the cylinder heads and engine internals, and revised rear axles. Magnesium hoods were specified, but it remained unconfirmed as to whether these were fitted.
The Chevrolet support continued with clandestine and unofficial engineering and testing expertise, with numerous improvements continually made to the chassis. In the months leading up to the 24-hour race, development tests were held at Sebring and Daytona, at Bridgehampton Race Circuit in Sag Harbor, New York, and at the Circuit de la Sarthe.
The #1 Corvette was driven by John Fitch at the 12 Hours of Sebring and the #2 Corvette by Fred Windridge. On lap 27, the #1 Corvette suffered a rear hub failure and was catapulted end over end, suffering major damage. Miraculously, John Fitch suffered only minor injuries. The #2 Corvette traveled an additional fourteen laps prior to engine failure forced its retirement.
After Sebring, the Cunningham team repaired the damaged Corvette (chassis 2538), and outfitted the other two cars with rebuilt race engines along with additional modifications.
In June, four Corvettes arrived for preparations at LeMans and assigned numbers they would wear for the 24 Hour race. Chassis number 3535 wore #1, chassis number 4117 wore #2, and chassis number 2538 wore #3. The Camoradi Racing Team's Corvette, chassis number 2272, wore racing #4.
Chassis number 3535 Le Man's registration papers were dated May 25 and listed Duntov as a co-driver for the race with Cunningham. When Ed Cole discovered this, he entered a private agreement with Cunningham which conditioned GM's continued unofficial support for the Le Man's effort, along with Duntov's trip to France, if Duntov would not be allowed to drive the Corvette during the race. Duntov was far too valuable to General Motors, and Mr. Cole was not willing to potentially lose Duntov in the dangerous 24-hour race. Duntov had raced at Le Mans four times, between 1952 and 1955, supposedly with financial support from General Motors.
Duntov is documented as driving a Corvette during several testing sessions, Cunningham remained true to the agreement and did not allow Duntov to drive during the race. This decision supposedly cost Cunningham his friendship with Duntov for over a dozen years.
During the race, Car #1 was driven by Cunningham and Bill Kimberly. Car #1 and the other two Cunningham Corvettes were competitive during the race's opening hours. By around 6PM, however, heavy rain forced many teams to pit and make adjustments. Cunningham took the opportunity to make the first driver change, top the fuel, and added new tires. With Kimberly behind the wheel, car #1 left the pits and quickly reached racing speed, reaching its limit down the Mulsanne Straight and carefully navigating through the Mulsanne Corner, Indianapolis, and Arnage. Near the end of the first lap, after just passing over the top of the hill after Arnage, the car was greeted by a wall of rain. Kimberly lifted off the power but he lost control in the process, and car #1 spun, flipped twice, and caught fire. The car landed right side up and Kimberly was able to leave the car unscathed. The car did not fare as well with the fire melting the car's engine ignition wire and forcing its retirement after just 32 laps.
Car #2, driven by Thompson, was soon met with a similar fate as car #1. It went off the track at the same corner, damaging the front and rear bodywork. Car #2 was able to be driven back to the pits where it was repaired, but suffered engine failure during lap 207, resulting in another early retirement.
Car #3 was driven by Bob Grossman and John Fitch. It was able to complete the race, winning the GT-5.0 class and finishing 8th overall.
After LeMans, the three Cunningham Corvettes returned to the United States, Momo returned the engines to Frank Burrell at General Motors, and the chassis was passed to Bill Frick of Rockville Centre, New York, who proceeded to sell the cars in Florida. Chassis 3535 was sold by Frick to SCCA racer Marshall 'Perry' Boswell Jr. of Delray Beach, Florida. The car was in 'as-raced' condition and devoid of the hardtop and engine. The car was transformed into an extravagant, streamlined roadster, with the front end replaced with single-headlight fenders and a unique grille. The hood was given a small, central scoop. Minor updates were made to the back, with the side strakes fill in. The exterior was finished in black paint and rode on chrome turbine wheels with whitewall tires.
Around 1966, Boswell sold the ex-Le Mans racer, and it would pass through several local owners, with one of them painted the car green, and then yellow. In 1971, it entered the care of Jerry Moore, who kept it until 1974, selling it to Dan Mathis. From there, the car disappeared and was not seen by the public eye for the next 37 years.
Prior to 1993, when chassis 3535 resurfaced, Corvette restorer Kevin Mackay of Valley Stream, New York obtained chassis numbers for all three Cunningham Corvettes that raced at the 1960 24 Hours of LeMans. This information later proved useful in confirming the identities of the Cunningham Corvettes.
In early 2011, a Tampa classified appeared online by Rick Carr who was clearing out the estate of his recently deceased father, the Hon. Richard W. Carr, Sr. The car was discovered as a 'pre-production, Zagato-bodied, Pontiac prototype,' and was offered at a low asking price. The Cunningham Le Man's history remained unknown until he began researching the chassis number, and the trail eventually led to Larry Berman, who was able to confirm the #1 Cunningham Le Man's entry.
Numerous evidence was revealed confirming its early existence. It retained its bespoke intake ducting, original race-sped drum brakes, and additional wiring harness that powered the driver's side roundel light at LeMans. Behind the cabin resided the oversized fuel tank, and there was evidence of mounting points for additional components such as oil coolers, and safety straps and cutouts for the side-exit race exhaust. The windshield had a mounting hole for the central windshield wiper used at LeMans, and a patch on the rear decklid could have been where the quick-fill fuel assembly may have resided.
A 350 cubic-inch Chevrolet V-8, installed in 1970, resides under the hood.
The other two Cunningham Corvettes, #2 and #3, have been restored to their 1960 Le Mans. This example, chassis 3535, remains in unrestored condition. It was brought to auction in 2021 and sold at RM Sotheby's Amelia Island auction where it was estimated at $900,000 to $1,300,000. It will be interesting to see if the new owners keep its originality or give it a restoration.By Daniel Vaughan | Jun 2021