<b>1963 Jaguar E-Type Lightweight</b><br />Chassis no. S850664<br />Engine no. RA 1349-9S
Bonhams Motoring Magazine
Summer edition


Bonhams Motoring Magazine Summer edition

Page 5

A heavyweight Lightweight

The All-American hero, Briggs Cunningham, inherited a fortune and spent it on motor cars. Richard Holt explains how Cunningham's burning
ambition created the unsurpassed beauty of the Lightweight E-Type

There are rare, interesting cars, and there are cars that belonged to rare, interesting people. The Briggs Cunningham Lightweight E-Type scores so heavily on both counts that it is difficult to decide whether it is the machine or the owner that is more of a star. You could make a good argument either way: the ultra-rare racing thoroughbred versus the all-American hero and entrepreneur. But the truth is taht thinking about one without the other makes no sense, because the Lightweight E-Type would probably never have existed if it hadn't been for Briggs Swift Cunningham II.

Cunningham was born in 1907 into considerable wealth, the son of a Cincinnati industrialist who made a fortune in railways and real estate, and then multiplied that fortune by putting money into a little soap company founded by a couple of local men called William Procter and James Gamble.

Cunningham did not take advantage of this privilege and lie idle. A brief run through the things he achieved in his life makes you wonder how on earth one man managed to fit so much in. He built and raced cars and yachts and power boats. He invented a sailboat rigging that is still used today. He won many hearts at Le Mans, and in 1958 he skippered the America's Cup team to victory.

When Cunningham died, aged 96, he did leave one ambition unfulfilled, but in pursuing it he had won great admiration and carved out his own chapter in motor- racing history. His aim was to field an American car that would win the Le Mans 24 Hours race in the hands of an American driver. In 1950, Cunningham's bid to field a Ford with a Cadillac engine was rejected by the Le Mans committee, who deemed it more hot rod than racing car. Instead, he fielded two Cadillacs – one with a standard body, another with a swiftly designed slab of a body
that was aerodynamic but incredibly ugly. This car was affectionately dubbed 'Le Monstre' by the French press and, with a decent showing by both noisy, brash Cadillacs, Cunningham's team became a Le Mans favourite.

The team was back at Le Mans the following year with the first proper Cunningham car, the CR-5, which was competitive in its first year, and over the next two years managed two podium nishes. In 1955 Cunningham fielded a prototype C-6R, which did not finish the race. That was to be the last Cunningham model fielded at Le Mans. Indeed, that was a fateful year, the year that a Mercedes driven by the Frenchman Pierre Bouillin was catapulted into the crowd, leaving Bouillin and 83 spectators dead. Cunningham stepped back from racing, concentrating instead on yachting, but also increasing his business interests by becoming the US importer for Jaguar road cars.

This was a great time to be dealing Jaguars, as 1961 saw the arrival of the E-Type, a car that redefined motoring, a sophisticated 150mph machine that had the gorgeous looks to go with its towering performance. Punters were lining up to buy them, just as competitors were quietly weeping – with no less a figure than Enzo Ferrari describing the E-Type as "the most beautiful car ever made".

Importing Jaguars proved a good business move for Cunningham, but it also lit a path for him back to Le Mans. The E-Type had never been intended as a racer, but Cunningham had driven a prototype and persuaded Jaguar to run the E-Type competitively. Cunningham debuted the E-Type at Le Mans in 1962, sharing the driving with Roy Salvadori. They came fourth, ahead of another E-Type driven by Peter Sargent and Peter Lumsden. Although the E-Types did well, the podium was all Ferrari, and it was clear that the Jaguars needed more of an edge.

It was the pursuit of this racing edge that led Jaguar, encouraged by the influential Cunningham, to the production of the small run of Lightweight E-Types. Weight was saved with the use of an aluminium monocoque body and lightweight alloy engine with fuel- injection, along with stiffened suspension and larger brakes. The improvement to the E-Type's performance was huge, and Lightweights went on to score a class win at Sebring and victory in the International Trophy at Snetterton.

Cunningham entered three Lightweights at Le Mans in 1963. Two of them failed to finish, due to an accident and engine trouble, but the car driven by Cunningham and Bob Grossman managed ninth place – not a
bad result considering that it was the car's debut competitive season.
So while the Lightweight did not bring Cunningham the Le Mans victory he craved, it had kept the Ferraris on their toes. That very year, the appearance of the Ferrari 250LM heralded a new age of mid-engined sports-racers that would displace road-going GTs like the E-Type.
The regular E-Type is now rightly considered a solid- gold classic car, with values rising accordingly. Only 12 Lightweights were made, an ultra-rare competitive model whose raison d'être was taking on the very best cars in the world.

To have one – offered by Bonhams at the Quail Lodge auction on 18 August – that belonged to Team Briggs Cunningham, a true icon of motor-racing history, is about as good as provenance gets. Is the car or the owner more of a star? On this occasion, they both deserve top billing.

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