By: Leigh Dorrington
Briggs Cunningham first competed at Le Mans in 1950 with a pair of Cunningham-Cadillac entries. Both cars were powered by Cadillac’s new high-compression ohv V-8, prepared for the race by Bill Frick and Phil Walters. The same Cadillac engine powered the first Cunningham Sports Car built in early 1951. But when Cadillac showed little interest in the sports car project, another engine supplier was found.
Cunningham production sports cars—and all but Cunningham’s C-6R racing car—were powered by Chrysler’s 331 cu. in. ‘Hemi’ Fire Power V-8. Briggs Cunningham had a connection with Chrysler chairman, K. T. Keller, whose son had been at school together with Cunningham. Records also show that Phil Walters, who became General Manager of the B. S. Cunningham Co. in West Palm Beach, was a non-stop industry ‘networker’ and may share credit for the connection.
Factory correspondence confirms that Cunningham was given the ‘Ok’ to purchase the new engines through Chrysler’s Marine and Industrial Division for development of the new Cunningham Sports Car, before the second quarter of 1951. Work began by dyno-testing the Chrysler engine before a program of improvements, including a log manifold designed and produced by B. S. Cunningham Co.