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Briggs Cunningham’s DOHC Frontenac Equipped Ford “T” Sprint Car

Briggs Swift Cunningham II spent his summers on the water and had learned to sail by the time he was six years old. At the age of 17, he began a run of thirty seasons of sailboat racing on Long Island Sound. He attended Yale for two years and left in 1929 to marry Lucy Bedford. At this time, he made sports his way of life.

Early on he became interested in auto racing and either bought this DOHC Frontenac powered Ford “T” sprint car or had someone build it for him. We do not know any of the other details about the car, but we seem to remember hearing that he may have had someone else drive this car for him in racing events at the time. We would be interested in knowing who built this car, in what time period was it raced and the driver of the car when it was campaigned. It appears that this may have been his first racing car that lead him onto a long and successful career in motorsports.

  •           The 1929 dohc Fronty cylinder head as seen in the 1929 catalog.

You can view an interesting original Frontenac Ford catalog here on The Old Motor. You can also learn much more about the D.O. Fronty cylinder head along with other Fronty heads and crankshafts via the N.W.V.S. The Cunningham photos are courtesy of Jerry Lettieri. Learn more about the recent gathering of post war Cunningham cars at the Historic Festival at Lime Rock Park at The Revs Institute.

12 responses to “Briggs Cunningham’s DOHC Frontenac Equipped Ford “T” Sprint Car

  1. GREAT Photos! I’ve seen the sideview photo before but never the front view. I believe that is an Overland front axle not a Model T Ford item. They were a bit stronger. Wheels are lock ring Daytons, I’d date the photos at around 1930. I’ll go through my paperwork and see if I can find any info on the car. First class build, sure would be nice to find the history on it. Bob

  2. By Leigh Dorrington:

    “While an engineering student at Yale, he met and became friends with 1915 Indianapolis 500 winner Ralph DePalma. He was lifelong friends with brothers Barron, Miles and Sam Collier, who founded the prewar Automobile Racing Club of America that later gave birth to the Sports Car Club of America.

    Cunningham’s first race car was a Frontenac-powered sprint car, set up with the help of DePalma and driven by local hot shoes. But the first race car built to his own design combined the chassis and engine of a 1939 Buick Century, the fastest American prewar production car, with a Mercedes SSK body, long before Carroll Shelby combined an American V8 with a lightweight European body”.

  3. I’ve heard so many times that the Buick Century was the fastest “production car” from the pre-war period, it must be true! I guess itall depends on your definition of production car. A 1908 supercharged Chadwick would do a hundred. Supposedly, a ’37 Buick Century was clocked at 101. I wonder under what circumstances. I highly doubt that one could arrive at your Buick Dealer and purchase a 4 dr. sedan that would even come close to a hundred.

    A Marmon V16 would do it, plus some. A J Duesenberg would do it, plus a bunch. A 810/812 could do 100.
    Smiling Ralph Mulford took a “stock” 6 cylinder Paige roadster, pulled the fenders off and proceeded to turn 102 mph. The Paige Co. produced the Daytona Speedster in 1922. We all know about the Mormon contractor, who took a stock V12 Pierce-Arrow (minus some fenders, etc.)and drove it for 24 hours, at speeds up to 125 mph. The car arrived at the salt flats and went home under its own power. If the average Century could “only” do in the 90’s (a car that weighed 3820, had 3.90 to 1 gears,and 130 ft. lbs.(Standard Catalog of Buick 1903-1990, pg. 179) of torque),there’s plenty of other Pre-Wars that would make similar numbers. Hell, a 1908 Stearns 45-90 could perform in the 90’s. My intention is not to
    demean a great car, but to give credit where credit is due.

  4. My Grandfather Ronald Wm Taylor lived in Jackson Michigan all of his adult life. He once worked at the Home Made Dairy Company, then later at Miller Tool and Die Company. He would tell me stories of a car that he built and raced at the old Jackson Speedway, (A Horse Track then Auto Track). He said it was a 1923 Ford Roadster that had “Wire Racing Wheels, Bosch High Tension Magneito, Frontinac Head, and A Windfield Downdraft Carburator”. He said that the Windshield would fold down over the hood, and it had a butterfly valve that he could yank open at anytime to make the exhaust a open Header. He claimed he drove the car across Vandercook lake with an inch of ice on it, leaving water coming up through his tracks. He claims that he always won races with the car at Jackson. My Grandmother made him sell the car and get out of racing due to money. I would be interested in knowing any information anyone would possibly have or any possible lead on finding the car if it exists. Slim chanci I know but is there anyone out there? Thanks

  5. While looking on the web I came across a reference to a “turn-key race car” it was in an article titled A FOURSOME OF FRONTENACS on a website Simanaitissays dot com (I am following the note to not link to other web sites, I’m sure you can figure out how to get there) the article was written by Dennis Simanaitis. It has a photo, maybe this will help.

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