Briggs Cunningham’s Le Mans-winning Corvette race car found in Florida

By: on 7/31/2012

One of three 1960 Chevrolet Corvettes campaigned by Briggs Cunningham at the 24 Hours of Le Mans–a car whose whereabouts have been unknown for more than 30 years–has been found.

The car, which wore the No. 1 for the Le Mans race with drivers Cunningham and William Kimberley, will be shown publicly at the Corvettes at Carlisle show in Carlisle, Pa., in late August.

Cunningham fielded three Corvettes for the 1960 Le Mans race, the first time Chevrolet’s sports car participated in the race. Cars No. 1 and No. 2 did not finish the race. The No. 3 car famously finished first in its class and in eighth place overall after spending the last hours of the race pitting after every lap to stuff the engine compartment full of ice to keep the engine from overheating. Le Mans rules prohibited the team from adding more liquid to the cooling system.

The owner and buyer of the No. 1 Corvette are not making their names public until the Carlisle event, says Larry Berman of Newton, Mass. Berman is a Cunningham motorsports historian who runs the Briggs Cunningham Web site.

But the new owner is well known in the Corvette restoration community and plans to have the car restored to its racing configuration, Berman says. The new owner had been searching for the car for nearly 20 years, he adds.

Berman says he worked with Lance Miller, who owns the No. 3 Cunningham Corvette and whose family produces Corvettes at Carlisle, to match the buyer and seller for the No. 1 car. This helps explain the planned introduction for the car at the Carlisle event.

Cunningham Corvette No. 2 is owned by noted California car collector Bruce Meyer.

Berman says car No. 1, which has vehicle identification number 00867S103535, was found sitting in the middle of one of two warehouses in Florida that were filled with cars, parts and furniture. Decades earlier, the car had been rescued from a Florida scrap yard by the warehouse owner’s father.

When discovered, the Corvette was covered in dust–a real “barn find.” The new owner plans to display the car in this condition at the Carlisle event, Berman says, before launching the restoration.

Four Corvettes raced in the 1960 24 Hours of Le Mans. None were sponsored by General Motors, which pulled out of racing in 1957 in response to a ban by the American Manufacturers Association. Cunningham fielded three cars, and the fourth was run by the Camoradi USA team. The Camoradi Corvette finished 21st.

Chevrolet, and in particular Corvette chief engineer Zora-Arkus Duntov, defied the racing ban as much as possible. A GM promotional film of the 1960 Le Mans race, narrated by noted Corvette driver Dr. Dick Thompson, shows Duntov working with Cunningham and team drivers and mechanics.

The Le Mans Corvettes were pulled off the assembly line in St. Louis. Each was equipped with a fuel-injected 283-cubic-inch V8 making 290 hp, mated to a four-speed manual transmission.

After buying the cars, Cunningham had them modified for racing. Changes included the addition of a 24-gallon fuel tank, a quick-release fuel filler, ducting for the brakes, competition shocks and an additional front sway bar. The exhaust was modified to exit in front of the rear wheels. Each car was painted white with blue stripes–the international paint scheme for American race cars.

At 3,000 pounds, the Corvettes were the heaviest cars entered in the race–leading some observers to give them slim chances of being competitive.

It began to rain as the race entered its second hour. With Kimberley behind the wheel, the No. 1 Corvette skidded off the race course and rolled. Kimberley was not hurt but gasoline spilled and caught fire in the engine compartment, burning the ignition wiring. Because the car could not drive back to the pits, it was out of the race.

After their racing careers, the Cunningham Corvettes were returned to their street configuration and sold.

Leave a Reply