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Cunningham History

Briggs Swift Cunnigham

Briggs Swift Cunnigham is one of the most famous and successful sports car driver of all times. Ironically, he did not start his racing career until his early forties although he had been active in the automotive racing scene prior. At the end of World War I, Cunningham's uncle street raced a Dodge Touring car that was powered by a Hispano-Suiza airplane engine. Briggs would accompany him on many of these races, thus fueling his interests for automotive racing.

Cunningham was a wealthy man. His father, who passed away when Briggs was only five, was the founder and president of the Citizens' National Bank and a director of the Pennsylvania Railroad. There were stipulations in the will that dictated that the fortune could not be touched until their (Briggs and his siblings) 40th birthdays.

In 1930 Briggs married Lucie Bedford, the granddaughter of a co-founder of Standard Oil. During their honeymoon in Europe, the newly-weds witnessed the Monaco Grand Prix. This race was another inspiration and a motivator for Briggs to enter the racing scene.

Cunningham had friends from his days at Yale University. They included Miles, Barron and the Collier brothers. In 1933 the Collier brothers formed the Automobile Racing Club of America. Briggs, more of a sailor than a race car enthusiast, joined the club. He participated in some of the U.S. and European racing endeavors. This experience helped begin the dream at racing and winning the 24-hour of Le Mans race.

During the early part of the 1950's he entered a few vehicles into the 24-hours of Le Mans. His best finish was 3rd. This marked the first entry of an American competitor using American built vehicles in this grueling and prestigious race.

Briggs was a very competitive person that went beyond the race track. In 1958 he skippered the American 12-meter yacht, Columbia and won the America's Cup.

The Briggs Cunningham Automotive Museum was located in Costa Mesa, California. This was a museum built by Briggs during his retirement years beginning in 1963. It housed all of the racing cars that he collected during the span of his life. This included Jaguars, Ferraris, Corvettes, Listers, Abarths, and OSCAs. A 40,000 square-foot concrete building was erected on five acres. Offices and a store were position in front of the building with maintenance and restoration shops located near the rear. The display area covered around 30,000 square feet. The museum was officially opened on the 5th of February in 1966. After two decades the museum changed ownership and was moved to Florida. The new owner, Miles Collier, was a close and personal friend of Briggs and had been interested in the collection.

In 1993 Briggs was inducted into the America's Cup Hall of Fame and in 2003 the Motor Sports Hall of Fame.

Briggs died in July of 2003 at the age of 96.


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