In 1960, Briggs Cunningham is already a legendary racer. Since 1950 when he had entered two Cadillacs for the 24 Hours of Le Mans, he had been racing numerous cars, both his own manufactured cars until 1955 and then other marque cars (including Ferraris, Maseratis, Jaguars, Porsches and others), all in the iconic white livery with the two Briggs’ characteristic blue stripes. Briggs had always considered Le Mans the ultimate in motor racing, and for the 1960 Le Mans edition he decided to enter a team of three race-modified Chevrolet Corvette C1 in addition to a E-type Jaguar driven by Dan Gurney and Walt Hansgen. They were standard grand-touring production coupés, adapted for the track by Briggs’ team. They were attributed racing numbers one through three, with drivers as follows :
#1 Briggs Cunningham / Bill Kimberly
#2 Dick thompson / Fred Windridge
#3 John Fitch / Bob Grossmann
A fourth Corvette was entered by the Camoradi USA team (#4).
These Corvettes C1 were heavier and more voluminous than the European sportscars, a potential disadvantage, but owing to their 290hp V8 4.6 liter fuel-injection engines, powerful and reliable, the cars proved to be quite performant (the 4th fastest speed was achieved by the Corvette), better than anyone expected. For the start, the cars were lined up in front of the pits with the biggest engines at the front, which explains why the four Corvettes were occupying the four first positions of the line and could start at the front of the pack.
Unfortunately, car #1 skidded off the track at White House due to the rain which came at around 6:00 pm and car #2, which was assigned the role of rabbit, after having much delayed by a crash into the sandbags along the track, had to retire at only four hours from the end with engine failure. John Fitch and Bob Grossmann on the remaining #3 were running quite well at full throttle in 7th position, until the car began to overheat and loose coolant, with about two hours remaining in the race. With the drastic Le Mans rules prohibiting the refilling of the radiator within a 25 lap period, Alfred Momo, the Cunnigham’s team manager, had the ingenuous idea to up the frequency of its pit stops and pack dry ice from the team’ catering tent behind the pits into the engine compartment. Brilliant ! It worked and the #3 Corvette, at somewhat reduced speed, could finish the race and take the chequered flag, achieving the “big-stroke” (under 5.0 liters) GT class win and a respectable although not glorious 8th place overall, behind six Ferraris and an Aston Martin, at a 155 km/h average speed.
But this Corvette épopée was a big deception for Briggs Cunningham, as his true objective was to win the GT category. The Corvette #3 has indeed won the “big-stroke” (under 5.0 liters) GT class, but the Corvettes were the only cars in this category... The other GT cars were in the under 3.0 liter class and the reality was that no less than four 3.0 liter Ferrari 250GT SWB had finished the race ahead of the Corvette, at the 4th, 5th, 6th and 7th places. Considering it as an incontestable defeat, Briggs would never race other Chevrolet cars.
After the race the cars were shipped back to the US, returned to “civil” street versions and sold. They have been lost of sight during many years but are now all located, well restored.