July/Aug 2019 edition
Issue #6 AutoMobilia Resource Magazine
Collecting an American racing legend
In a way, I guess you could say that the notion of collecting trophies entered my consciousness in 1991 when, as head of Guernsey’s Auction House, we sold the complete Calumet Farm Thoroughbred Racing Trophy Collection, consisting of 550 trophies with eight awarded to Kentucky Derby-winning horses. That great Collection can now be seen at The Kentucky Horse Park Museum.
Putting together our automotive auctions in the early 1980s was indeed thrilling as I came into contact with many important, extraordinary vehicles. One of them was a 1952 Cunningham C4-R. Not only was this legendary car consigned to us, but I had the privilege of demonstrating it on the track at Lime Rock.
I guess it was that C4-R that first got me interested in the life of the fabled, much accomplished American sportsman, Briggs Cunningham.
For those unfamiliar, Cunningham became a racing legend competing in automobile races from Sebring to Le Mans. Starting out in the 1940s, Cunningham made a determined effort to hoist the American flag in the winner’s circle at Le Mans. He competed in Cadillacs, Corvettes, Jaguars and the line of cars that were to bear his name, Cunninghams.
Although thoroughly immersed in the world of cars (Briggs imported the first racing Ferrari into the U.S.), he was a man of many talents. These included being at the helm of the twelve-meter yacht, Columbia, while winning the most coveted of all sailing competitions, the America’s Cup. From any perspective, it seems clear that Briggs S. Cunningham “lived the life.
In 1992, I found myself at Laguna Seca raceway, competing in the Monterey Historic Automobile Races with my 1953 Maserati A6GCS, (the story of how I got to own that significant car could fill a book). To be sure, I was certainly there to compete… Nevertheless, thoughts of my then recent involvement with the Calumet Trophies and Briggs Cunningham’s car were still fresh in my memory.
Following an intense day of racing, I went to an automotive auction being conducted at nearby Pebble Beach. Although Guernsey’s has produced many compelling auctions, I’ve long regretted not vigorously continuing on with our early sports car auctions. I therefore felt a little funny attending another firm’s car auction. In any case, when I arrived, the auction was all but over. The many featured cars had already passed across the block and what remained was automobilia, relegated to the end of the event. Disappointed to have missed the auctioning of the “big ticket” cars, I was about to exit the tent when I heard the auctioneer announce the first of the lots containing Briggs Cunningham’s trophies.
Briggs Cunningham trophies! The word “trophies” quickly conjured up my recent event with Calumet Farm; and Briggs Cunningham - it was only months earlier that I was driving his C4-R! Indeed, in my mind, this competitive gentleman had entered the ranks of other men whose careers I greatly admired including Fangio, Tazio Nuvolari and the late Paul Newman.
Although I hadn’t registered as a bidder, and could barely see the lots from where I was standing at the rear of the tent, I started bidding. And contrary to advice about bidding “cautiously” that I often provide prospective participants in our own auctions, I blindly went “for the gold.” Now twenty-seven years later, I don’t recall what I paid for the first of the trophies offered. But successful I was… and somewhat delirious! I had won the first bidding competition, and now I was intent on getting them all; which is what I did.
To be clear, I’m not of unlimited wealth. But passion got the best of me that day. And I must confess I’ve never regretted it. In a room filled with vintage automotive books, racing posters and a sprinkling of awards for my own limited racing accomplishments, there stands Briggs Cunningham’s trophies.
With eighteen treasured items in all, it is easy to imagine Briggs being handed the winner’s trophy for the 1954 12 Hour Grand Prix of Endurance at Sebring, or the Heart Trophy won at Suffolk County Airport (Long Island) on which Cunningham’s team member and legendary Ferrari race mechanic Alfred Momo’s name is also etched.
Among the others in the Collection is the International Challenge Trophy for winning the Unlimited Class in 1955 at Daytona Beach. Awards that certainly Briggs would have considered meaningful were ones he received in 1959 and 1963 for his “Eminent Contributions to the Sport of Auto Racing.”
As it has a way of doing, time is moving on. My children are grown and gone, and I’ll soon be placing my large Connecticut home up for sale. The Briggs Cunningham Trophies will be sold too. It’s time for me to pare down. But I’m certain the new custodian of this historic assemblage will revel in it as I have. Interested? Give me a call.
Here’s to Briggs!
To read more great columns like this one from trophy expert Arlan Ettinger...