Briggs Cunningham, his middle name was unbelievably ‘Swift’, didn’t really get into motor racing until he was 40. He was the heir to the Proctor & Gamble fortune and, up until then, he had spent most of his time in the ultra-competitive world of sailing. But on his fortieth birthday, he inherited all the fortune and decided motor racing was what he really wanted to do. Briggs Cunningham Snr had made the first part of his fortune in banking in Cincinnati before investing in, firstly, railways and then Proctor & Gamble, both of which made him extremely, fabulously wealthy.
Phillip Bingham’s new book “The All-American Hero and Jaguar’s Racing E Types” may not win any awards for the snappiest of titles but, nevertheless, this large-format book covers all aspects of Cunningham’s motorsport life, and much more.
If I am to make a criticism to make (and it is churlish to do so) it would be that the subject matter of the man and his cars is so broad.
Cunningham’s life is enthralling enough to fill a book such as this on its own, this charming, clever, good-looking and incredibly rich man had it all. Indeed when motor racing lost its sparkle for him, principally because he was competing against factory teams which made racing too costly even for his deep pockets, he went back to sailing, had a new yacht built and captained it to win the America’s Cup!
The history of the E Type in international motorsport is covered in depth too. From that first race at Oulton Park in 1961 when Graham Hill won in Tommy Sopwith’s car, registered ECD 400, scarcely a month after the car’s sensational launch at the Geneva Motor Show, right through to the production of the lightweight E Types with which Briggs Cunningham was so closely involved.
But no story about Briggs Cunningham in motor racing would be complete without the build-up to those heady Jaguar years. In 1950 he had entered two Cadillacs; one was a modified Series 61 Coupe. The second was basically the same car mechanically but with a less-than-beautiful streamlined body designed by the Grumman aircraft company for maximum speed down the Mulsanne Straight. Author Bingham notes that both cars stole the hearts of the French public, the softly-sprung ‘Coop’ becoming known as the ‘Clumsy Puppy, whilst the name given to the streamliner has stuck forever, Le Monstre.
The team went on to build their own cars and our intrepid hero became one of a select band of men to have driven a car bearing his own name at Les Vingt-Quatre Heures. Cunningham had entered many different cars over the years, including Ferraris, Maseratis and even Coopers before cosying up to Jaguar, first of all with the long-nose D Type, in his traditional American colours of white with twin blue stripes.
Once this time was over, he was drawn further into the Jaguar fold by the E2A, effectively the prototype E Type. The Coventry marque were keen to prove their still-secret car in competition but did not want to risk very public failure, hence they persuaded Cunningham to take on the car and race it under his banner. This he did both at la Sarthe and back home in the US, with mixed success but by no means was the car a failure.
The step to the E Type and then, of course, the glorious lightweights and the book covers this part of the story in fine detail. There is inevitably the wind-down part of the book where the Cat becomes outpaced by more modern machinery. The final parts of the book deal with more modern times, highlighting the ‘Cunningham Collection’ within the Revs Institute in Naples, Florida as well as a fabulous present-day photographic record of cover star 9023 DU, a car which left Browns Lane, Coventry as a standard left-hand-drive E Type roadster and became one of the most iconic of all racing Jaguars.
You will probably think that this book is something that will take a while to read, however that’s not the case. I found the primary subject matter intriguing and the little byways about the personalities involved fascinating. Whilst you could never read this 287-page book in a single sitting, let alone enjoy the fabulous photographs, but you will find this one hard to walk away from.
Phillip Bingham’s new book “The All-American Hero and Jaguar’s Racing E Types” costs £60 and is available from PorterPress.co.uk. ISBN: 978-1-907085-81-9
I have been a fan of the writings of Pete Lyons for many years, in fact from the 70s when he wrote what for me is still the definitive set of Grand Prix reports for Autosport magazine. His new book; “Shadow, the magnificent machines of a man of mystery” keeps up the standard. Lyons, who unbelievably turned 80 this year, is not afraid to put his personal slant on things and to express an opinion or two.
Don Nichols, the man who created the platform for the Shadow racing cars seems to have been, shall we say, not universally popular, with many in motorsport, a somewhat cavalier attitude to paying suppliers and staff being a regularly repeated gripe. He seems, according to Lyons, to have revelled in the ‘man of mystery’ soubriquet and indeed to have cultivated it. Indeed, the very name of the cars seems to have emerged from an American TV series which, as its central character, featured a mysterious man in a big hat and a cape, sound familiar? That Nichols was an all-action hero is without a doubt.
Anyone who parachuted into Normandy on D Day gets my vote there, but June 6th 1944 wasn’t to be the glorious adventure he expected. He was a ‘pathfinder’, part of an elite force who were parachuted into the drop zone, a couple of hours in advance, to set out radio beacons to mark out the landing grounds for the 101st Airborne Division. Nichols team drew the attention of considerable artillery fire and he was injured by a piece of shrapnel which slammed into his forehead. Wounded he was taken to a medical tent which then, in turn, came under fire and he was wounded again, this time in the leg.
A recovered Nichols was then part of Operation Market Garden, the Arnhem offensive, where again he was wounded ‘several times’, before being part of the Battle of the Bulge in Belgium, ironically very near the Spa Francorchamps circuit.
After this, the story gets a little hazy. He ended up in Japan, now demilitarised as part of post-war reparations but still a hotbed of international intrigue. Pete Lyons has obviously done his best to gain some information but Don Nichols, shortly before his death, was still guarded about what he did. ”I can’t talk about that”, being his only real comment. Is this the story itself or is this simply embellishing the ‘man of mystery’ persona. We will never know the full story (which is exactly what he would have wanted0 because he took that information with him when he died in August 2017.
Don Nichols wasn’t an engineer, and all the Shadow cars were designed by people hired to do the job, whether they always got paid is another matter. He was however a visionary and had clear views about just how the cars should look and behave. The first Shadow, designed by Trevor Harris, was what became known by the nickname of the Tiny Tires Car. This Can-Am creation was designed originally around 10” front wheels with tyres created specially for the product by Firestone, which was in itself a feat for such a minute, new team. Pictures show this car to resemble a very large Chevrolet engine strapped to a go-kart, with all the associated degrees of safety….. or not!
For 1970 the first Shadow appeared as a race-ready car, yet to gain UOP sponsorship, the paintwork was red, partially in deference to Firestone’s huge commitment to the project. It was George Follmer who tamed the beast first of all, with Vic Elford adding his not inconsiderable talents to the programme once Follmer had moved on.
It was not until 1971 that Universal Oil Products came on board and introduced their stark white UOP brand to the Shadow’s now-black flanks, creating one of the most dramatic liveries ever seen in motorsport. Shadow Cars abandoned their Tiny Tires concept in 1972 and created a much more conventional Can-Am leviathan, the Mark 3, the DN nomenclature was yet to feature.
Don Nichols was a very ambitious man and by 1973 he had decided to double up on the team’s activities (and workload) by moving straight into Formula One. There was no gentle build up via the lower formulae. Oh no, this was Don Nichols BAM! Straight in. A satellite team was set up in Northamptonshire with Tony Southgate designing the cars and Jackie Oliver doing the driving (and much more besides) whilst reporting back to the US. Just to add to the burden, Don also did a deal with Graham Hill, whose driving days were coming to an end, to supply a car to be run independently by the two-times world champion in the colours of Embassy cigarettes.
Formula One and Can-Am challenges ran side by side but, although Nichols had made a fortune whilst working in Japan, the costs were getting astronomical. As the sports car series fell into decline, instead of concentrating on Grand Prix racing, he used Tony Southgate’s DN5 F1 car as the basis for a stateside F5000 campaign, continuing to stretch resources and manpower.
Pete Lyons deals sympathetically with the later years of Shadow, post UOP. The huge talent that was Tom Pryce, lost in a senseless accident in South Africa at the wheel of DN8B in 1977, is not dwelt upon but acknowledged with sensitivity and compassion.
Shadow was a force to be reckoned with in the re-launched Can-Am in 1977/8. These cars were all effectively re-bodied F5000 cars, where Shadow had been very successful in previous seasons, and that success continued. However, by 1978 the writing was on the wall. Indeed Lyons entitles Chapter 18 simply as ‘Decline’. There was a palace revolt, which saw most of the key F1 players go off to form Arrows F1. They built a car which was so similar to the car Tony Southgate had designed for Shadow as the DN9 that Southgate and his cohorts were prohibited, by the result of a court case, from running their FA1 in competition.
The Shadow story deserves to be told and Pete Lyons has done a superb job of getting behind the scenes of a man who revelled in being enigmatic. The fact that Lyons had the opportunity to sit down with Nichols over a considerable time, close to the end of his life, gives you the feeling that Nichols wanted to tell the tales from his point of view.
Shadow, the Magnificent Machines of a Man of Mystery by Pete Lyons is available from Evro Publishing price £75.00. evropublishing.com
By way of contrast, I decided to rummage around in the DSC archives for a book I knew was there…. somewhere! Eventually, I found what I was looking for; The Story of March, Four Guys and a Telephone by Mike Lawrence. This book tells a tale which is in many ways the opposite of the story of Shadow.
Printed in 1979 it details how Max Moseley, Alan Rees, Graham Coaker and Robin Herd used a clever play on their initials to set up March Engineering.
They built a very basic F3 car towards the end of 1969, which largely went unnoticed before a serious launch in 1970. They announced they would, in their first full season, build cars for F1, F2, F3, FFord and Can-Am. That first season saw the Grand Prix cars driven by Jo Siffert, Chris Amon (both in works cars), Jackie Stewart (Tyrrell), Mario Andretti (STP) and Ronnie Peterson (Antique Automobiles); quite a lineup but huge testament to Max Moseley’s negotiating skills because Siffert’s drive was paid for by Porsche to stop him going to Ferrari for F1 and sports cars, which would have meant they lost their ‘ace’ 917 pilot.
In addition, Ken Tyrrell needed a season’s breathing space because Matra were insisting that if they were to supply Jackie Stewart with a new car for 1970 it must have a Matra V12 in the back, not the DFV that he had won the championship with the previous year. Uncle Ken was building Jackie the Tyrrell 001 in strictest secrecy in Ockham and needed a stopgap, which March were happy to fill.
The book follows the fortunes of March through those heady days, often showing just how perilously close to the financial precipice they were on almost a weekly basis. Lawrence talks about their extremely successful years in F2 and F3, their gorgeous 2-litre sports cars and the short run of Can-Am leviathans, concentrating on this potentially lucrative area drove the company to the brink more than once.
Mike Lawrence covers the successful times in the USA, with Indycar successes being vitally important in the company’s growth whilst concurrently they continued to run in Grands Prix with the Leyton House sponsored 881.
Ultimately March was to fail, but the fact that they survived for so long, and that their star shone so brightly is testament to the four guys with a telephone.
The Story of March, Four Guys and a Telephone by Mike Lawrence and was published by Aston Publications ISBN 0 946627 24 X. The book is now out of print but is available through secondhand sources from approximately £20 to £110.