First French Foray

Also from Issue 59

  • LMR-tuned ZR1 and C6
  • C6 show car
  • State of the collector-car market
  • Interview: Jim Campbell
  • 1972 LT1 coupe
  • Pratt & Miller LS7/LS9 engine
  • Racing: Laguna Seca ALMS
  • How To: C2/3 frame repair
  • 1965 small-block coupe
  • 1972 LT1 coupe
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Duntov had urged that his specially engineered aluminum cylinder heads be used rather than heavier, standard cast-iron units. Momo disagreed, and the Bridgehampton test proved him right: The alloy heads did not last the distance. It seemed that the less exotic the engine, the longer it would last, so stock iron was deemed the way to go. Still, it’s estimated that the race-prepped motors were putting out 350 horsepower—60 more than stock.

In April, two months before the race, one of the Corvettes was flown across the Atlantic for a test session at Le Mans. Of the cars that took part in the 10-hour test, a Ferrari 250 TRI driven by Phil Hill was the fastest, setting a time of 4:01.4. Cunningham drove the Corvette himself, posting a 4:28.3 lap—good for sixth on the day. His Jaguar E2A was much faster, with Walt Hansgen posting a 4:09.1—third quickest. Cunningham wasn’t one to put all his eggs in one basket; the Jaguar had a better chance at an overall win, especially since Dan Gurney would be Hansgen’s co-driver in the race. With the Corvettes, he was aiming for a class victory.

Cunningham’s proclivity for being prepared included the selection of his team drivers. The six-man Corvette squad was drawn from the best talent in American road racing. John Fitch—ex-Mercedes-Benz pilot and consistent winner—was paired with Bob Grossman in the #3 car. SCCA championship winning dentist Richard Thompson shared the #2 car with Corvette and Lister racer Fred Windridge. The #1 Corvette would be driven by Cunningham himself and Bill Kimberly. In addition, there was a fourth Corvette, entered by Loyd Casner’s Camoradi USA team and driven by Lou Lilley and Fred Gamble.

Facing these Corvette men and machines from the States would be the best of England and Europe. Jim Clark and Roy Salvadori were assigned an Aston Martin DBR1. Ferrari, habitually the marque to beat at Le Mans, was well represented in 1960: The three factory-entered 250 Testa Rossas were manned by Willy Mairesse and Richie Ginther, Phil Hill and Wolfgang von Trips, Paul Frère and Olivier Gendebien, with no fewer than seven privateer Ferraris in the 3.0-liter GT class. Maserati Birdcage pilots included Chuck Daigh and Masten Gregory, and Giorgio Scarlatti with Gino Munaron.

On June 8, the Cunningham Corvettes sailed out of New York harbor aboard the RMS Queen Elizabeth bound for France. Records show that the #2 car was intriguingly termed “baggage of Mr. John Fitch” in a May 23rd letter from Cunningham to the Cunard Steamship Company of 45 Broadway, New York City. That one item of “baggage” weighed 3,000 pounds.

Once the ship was docked in Le Havre, France, the Corvettes were unloaded and driven—not hauled by a transporter—the 150 miles to Le Mans. It’s amazing to think of these white Corvettes slicing through the verdant French countryside, the blat of their loud V8s ricocheting off the walls of old-world villages. Once they arrived, the Corvettes joined other race entries for inspection—55 in all.

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