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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According to Grossman, the Cunningham endeavor had cost an estimated $1 million dollars, as well as the hard work of 50 devoted team members. Had it been worth it? Cunningham had to be disappointed and ecstatic, all in one. An overall win had alluded him, as had the top GT position, but he had succeeding in scoring a class win. More importantly, in that tense final hour of the race, the struggling Corvette had been cheered on by thousands, establishing its international reputation.

The present owner of the #2 Cunningham Corvette, Bruce Meyer, was 18 years old in 1960. He was growing up in Los Angeles’ lively automobile culture, but was not yet into his first sports car (that ended up being a Porsche). Meyer was aware of what transpired that year at Le Mans, but never dreamed he’d own one of the Cunningham entries some 40 years later. “I had known of the car for quite some time,” says Meyer. “I wanted a particular Corvette that had the look—and this one did. I’m a proud American who just loves the idea of an American effort like this one was, along with the other two Cunningham team Corvettes at Le Mans half a century ago.”

The car’s post-Cunningham ownership history is far from complete. What is known is that Corvette enthusiast Michael Pillsbury bought it from an Orange County wrecking yard in 1984. Not yet aware of the Corvette’s provenance, Pillsbury intended to scavenge parts off it. But once he grasped the car’s unique combination of big competition brakes, huge gas tank and Halibrand wheels, he felt compelled to buy the car and establish its identity. “Pillsbury soon discovered it was originally white with blue stripes,” says Meyer. “That’s when he went right to Briggs Cunningham to see if maybe this was one of the Le Mans cars, and it was.”

Pillsbury suddenly had a restoration project on his hands. “Fortunately for Mike and the car, and for mankind,” says Meyer, “Frank Burrell was alive and well in Michigan, and still had the original seats, original dash and a bolt of fabric used to upholster the car. It was fabulous, because Frank, Briggs and Zora were all still alive then, and Pillsbury really did his homework on the car. He did an exquisite restoration job on it.”

Pillsbury, it appears, never really drove the car after the restoration was complete, but he did show it a few times before it went on loan to the National Corvette Museum in Bowling Green, Kentucky. That’s when Meyer took genuine notice of the Corvette. He bought it in 2000. “It was in such good shape that all I’ve done is freshen it up,” he says. “Once it was in my hands, Jeff Reed, a Corvette restorer of note here in Southern California, got it mechanically sorted out. The next year we took it to Goodwood for the Festival of Speed and ran it up the hill, and people just loved seeing it, and hearing it! I’ve driven it to several shows and on a couple of all-day rallies. The car is great on the street. If I’m showing it within 50 miles of my home, I drive it!”

When I did the photography on Meyer’s Corvette, it had sat on display awhile in the Petersen Automotive Museum. The battery needed a booster to get it cranked over, and there was a tang of raw gasoline for a bit before the engine cleared. I listened and drew in the essence of what this Corvette was and what it had done so many years ago at Le Mans in the grip of Doctor Dick and Freddy Windridge, even though it whacked a berm and blew its engine. The thing just made me want to jump up and cheer.

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