In-Depth: The Incredible Watches (And Cars) Of Briggs Cunningham

One of the innumerable reasons why any given individual may have an interest in watches is that these little machines, bound to the wrists of their proprietors, may indeed be observer to significance. In the always developing rundown of legends and their watches, the present subject isn’t close to the top for his commitments to exploration – like, say, a Neil Armstrong may be with his Omega Speedmaster – nor for his significance in the large scale level gathering world, similar to Paul Newman may be with his Daytona. No, Briggs Cunningham is an American legend of an alternate sort. His name implies little to those external the most noteworthy echelons of motorsport and sea-going dashing, or exemplary watch and vehicle gathering. Be that as it may, to those aware of everything, Briggs Cunningham and his assortment of bespoke wristwatches and sports vehicles are absolutely amazing. Today, I’ll separate them for you.

Who Is Briggs Cunningham, And Why Do We Care?

Cunningham was naturally introduced to an incredible Cincinnati modern family that had assembled a fortune in rail lines, utilities, and land – the kind of fortune that must be amassed in the United States in the late nineteenth century. Cunningham’s dad, Briggs Sr., would utilize this fortune to put resources into the most punctual phases of a little “skimming cleanser” company began by two men who asserted their item would reform the demonstration of washing – their names were William Procter and James Gamble. So indeed, Cunningham was brought into the world affluent, yet that doesn’t mean he was conceived lazy.

In certainty, I would say that Cunningham committed his life to the quest for movement – something that neither he, nor his similarly favored lady of the hour (she was the girl of a Standard Oil executive) had any need to be related with. Yet, they were both eager competitors, and however, by certain records, the couple, when hitched, was probably the richest couple ever, they dreaded not forever or inheritance in anything they did, and that is the reason we are discussing them today.

Briggs Cunningham on the front of Time Magazine, April 26, 1954.

Cunningham skippered the 1958 America’s Cup group, and won. He concocted an arrangement of apparatus for boats, actually utilized today, and still named after him . He constructed his own yachts and force boats. He was the proprietor of the primary Ferrari in America, and the principal Mercedes-Benz 300SL Gullwing, ever. He constructed his own Le Mans qualifying vehicles, which I’ll go through beneath. Also, he had been an intense watch purchaser, commissioning two of the most delightful and practical watches to come out of the 1950s. We should get into it.

The Stainless Steel Patek Philippes Of Briggs Cunningham

One could contend that while Cunningham knew exactly how he was doing cruising and cars, his unbelievable status in horology was absolutely chance. Indeed, even today, the name Cunningham implies little to watch gatherers – dissimilar to the names Graves or Packard, two of his counterparts. Truth be told, even lifelong enthusiasts of the vintage watch game today might be new to the watch tradition of Cunningham, just on the grounds that his two most extraordinary watches have not showed up freely in very nearly 10 years. The most un-significant, yet undoubtedly the wristwatch originally worn by Cunningham, we’ve seen more recently.

Reference 565 Breguet – 100,000 CHF At Phillips Geneva, Ca. 2015

Cunningham is known for possessing three Patek Philippe watches – every one of them in hardened steel. Two of them are one of a kind commissions planned explicitly for the athlete, while one of them is essentially a standard creation model. Notwithstanding, this standard creation model is a 565 “Calatrava” in treated steel with Breguet numerals – a watch that to a considerable lot of us is definitely not norm. The watch was constructed and sold in 1949, preceding both of his other two watches.

Thie 565 is engraved with Cunningham’s name on the back.

What is so intriguing about this piece is that while steel watches were the fury during the war-time years, this watch came later, is as yet in mint condition. Further, steel watches were not wanted, as they are today, and a well endowed individual surely had no motivation to pick a steel watch over a gold one – except if, obviously, you were Briggs Cunningham and an exceptionally dynamic, top-level competitor. At that point, obviously, steel would bode well over gold. This watch has stayed in exceptional condition since its introduction to the world in 1949, and the watch sold in Phillips’ first Geneva closeout l ast may for 100,000 CHF . 

While this watch is absolutely elite in wording or extraordinariness, quality, and without a doubt provenance, its significance additionally particularly lies in the way that it would make way for Cunningham’s next two buys from Patek Philippe.

Reference 1463 Chronograph With Black Luminous Dial – Currently On Offer For $1.5 Million

The next watch in Cunningham’s steel Patek assortment was positively an immediate commission – a reference 1463 chronograph, made one of a kind by its dark dial with radiant markers and hands. The watch, again in treated steel, has accomplished legendary status since first showing up available, and stays one of only two dark dial 1463s at any point to be discovered. 

Cunningham with group driver Phil Hill and his 300SL –  notice the dark dial 1463 on his wrist.

What makes this watch so fascinating, other than its conspicuous extraordinariness, is that it seems, by all accounts, to be the watch that Cunningham wore the most. This bodes well; it is exceptionally decipherable with its radium dial and hands, strong in its steel waterproof case, and practical for his way of life, with a chronograph instrument. In the event that you take a gander at photographs of Cunningham through the 1950s, you’ll frequently see a dark dial chronograph on his wrist, as you do in the picture of him with driver Phil Hill above, ca. 1955. That 300 SL is really the principal Gullwing at any point conveyed commercially – and the watch, an exceptional steel dark dial 1463. To say Cunningham was doing it right would be a slight odd take on the cold, hard truth, and it’s this sort of combination that has since a long time ago made him a symbol to me.

The Cunningham 1463 last time it showed up at closeout – 1996.

Cunningham again seen wearing his extraordinary steel Patek chronograph.

The last time the Cunningham 1463 sold freely, it did so through Christie’s in June of 1996, in New York. The watch went to an exceptionally critical authority, who loaned the watch to John Goldberger for distributing in his Stainless Steel Patek book (from which the above representations are taken; accessible here ) – you can see it on pages 298-299. As of late, the proprietor dispatched the watch to vintage uber vendor Davide Parmegiani, who has it on proposal for $1.5 million .

Reference 1526 Perpetual Calendar – $3,956,159 At Christie's Geneva, Ca. 2008

It would take a ton to best a steel 1463 with dark military dial, wouldn’t it? Cunningham did it, however, with a watch he took conveyance of in 1951. This is a reference 1526, also called Patek’s first sequentially delivered unending ( recall? ), yet it’s steel! Furthermore, what’s more is that this 1526 is not the same as other 1526’s, with a bigger, thicker case, and more extensive hauls. It is only one of only two never-ending schedules to be made in steel, and the Arabic markers are canvassed in dark veneer. How inconceivable is that?

This 1526 is surely perhaps the most wonderful watches made by Patek Philippe (IMHO) and when it came available to be purchased through Christie’s in 2008, kid did it fly. It sold for 4,137,000 CHF, which was comparable to an amazing $3,956,159 at that point . The purchaser? Nobody shy of Patek Philippe itself – and you would now be able to see this watch in plain view in the Patek Philippe Museum (at times).

The Many, Many Cars Of Briggs Cunningham

Now think about this, if a man possessed the three Patek Philippe watches referenced above, with almost no actual interest in watches or the gathering of them, envision what he’d do in a classification to which he committed the greatest long stretches of his life – automobiles. 

1948 Ferrari Tipo 166 Spyder Corsa – The First Ferrari In America

Image by means of The Revs Institute.

This 1948 Ferrari Tipo 166 Spyder Corsa came into Mr. Cunningham’s ownership once more, not by decision, but rather by need. The mogul was determined to dashing at Bridgehampton in 1949, and he expected to do as such in a Jaguar XK120. As the race drew nearer, he was told by Jaguar his vehicle would not be prepared so as to run and he searched for a substitution – any substitution. Fortunately Ferrari merchant Luigi Chinetti was there to help and he sold Cunningham this as of now race-winning Ferrari, what numerous individuals accept to be the absolute first Ferrari imported to the U.S. The vehicle would proceed to end the existence of one of Cunningham’s companions, Sam Collier, who was executed in 1950 at the Watkins Glen Grand Prix, and the vehicle was resigned from competition. The vehicle presently lives in the Collier assortment, and you can see it here .

The 1950 Cadillac Le Monstre – The First American Car At Le Mans

Cunningham had a widely acclaimed interest with the 24 hours race at Le Mans, and in 1950, he competed there as the principal American section with American-made vehicle. He did it in the vehicle tenderly known as “Le Monstre” – a wedge-formed, Cadillac-fueled beast of a vehicle. He completed eleventh over all, behind his companion Collier, in the wake of hitting a shoal, yet the huge, noisy, reckless vehicle was a fan top pick. The vehicle ran at Le Mans exemplary in 2012 , and again sits in the Collier collection.

The Cunningham C-1 And C-2(R)

Cunningham’s first invasion at Le Mans was respectably fruitful, yet he needed to drive things further. He needed to develop a vehicle starting from the earliest stage, his own name, and race, and win. The C-1 and C-2(R) were Cunningham’s first plan to-drive projects and these are genuine legends of American motorsports. The model vehicles were controlled by Cadillac motors, however they were immediately supplanted by Chrysler Hemis putting out 180 strength. When Watkins Glen came around in 1951, the motors had been changed up to an incredible 250 hp, in 1951! Five of these vehicles made the excursion to Le Mans, where one checked in at a record sorting 152 mph on the Mulsanne out, and came to as high as second at a certain point. Eventually, Cunningham completed in fifteenth after an interfacing bar fizzled, yet the program was viewed as a triumph. Beneath, I’ll educate you concerning my own experience with a C-2.

The Cunningham C-3 – The Peak Of Luxury And Performance In 1953

Image through RMSothebys.

While Cunningham had his sights set on triumph at Le Mans, he additionally longed for the day when an American-made shopper sports vehicle would match Ferrari and Maserati. The C-3 was his concept of such an idea, and however it depended on the frame of the race vehicles that were C-1 and C-2, C-3 included body work by mentor manufacturer Vignale, and an inside that “overflowed luxury.” The solitary disadvantage was the $15,000 sticker price, a really huge expense in those days, and a piece of that was because of the way that the suspension was sent from the Palm Beach plant of Cunningham Motors, to Turin for the body work, at that point back to Palm Beach for conclusive wrapping up. Just 30 vehicles were made, and it was this low creation volume that made the IRS renounce Cunningham’s “producer” status, which thus harmed subsidizing. The vehicles remain prizes collectibles and are never seen for sale.

The Cunningham C-4, C-5, & C-6 – Regular Le Mans Contenders

Cunningham C-5R, which set third at Le Mans in 1953 (photograph through Revs Institute).

The C-4, C-5, and C-6 Cunninghams proceeded with Briggs’ quest for triumph at Le Mans for an American maker. In 1953, driving the C-5R, Cunningham was among the pre-race top choices. All things considered, he had set fourth in 1952 behind just the 300 SL Mercedes and a solitary Nash-Healey. Cunningham had created a vehicle that he was certain could compete, and he was correct. What he was unable to envision, notwithstanding, was what Jaguar’s utilization of plate brakes would mean for the race. He, and the remainder of the field, couldn’t compete with the C-Types by excellence of halting force alone, however a C-4R came in third and forestalled a decisive victory by Jaguar. 

1954 Mercedes-Benz 300SL – The First Gullwing, Ever

The Mercedes-Benz 300SL as far as we might be concerned today is a symbol of plan and designing – additionally of gathering. Possessing a Gullwing places you into the more elite classes of car connoisseurship, yet that was not generally the situation. Truth be told, when early shipper Max Hoffman persuaded the Germans to make the vehicle, he had guaranteed that the absolute first example would go to a VIP of sorts. That big name turned out to be a multi-tycoon, America’s Cup-winning proficient driver by the name of Briggs Cunningham. What makes the way that frame number 003 (001 and 002 in reality left the production line after 003) went to Cunningham so fascinating is that first, he was currently fabricating his own road and race vehicles at that point (see above) and we realize that Cunningham was knowledgeable in the force and equilibrium of the W194 Benz (on which the 300SL is constructed), having lost to them at Le Mans in 1952.

This first 300SL is really an altogether different vehicle than most, highlighting a genuinely hand-framed body, numerous parts made out of magnesium rather than aluminum, a marginally more limited body, a more limited vertical shifter, and a fixed (rather than shifting) guiding wheel. A portion of these characteristics were mentioned by Cunningham in quest for the best vehicle to drive on the track, while others were basic Mercedes-Benz pre-run creation traits. 

While the tremendous significance of the primary 300SL is evident today – heck, it’s on the National Historic Vehicle Register – it wasn’t so clear in those days. Cunningham was more keen on hustling his own vehicles, and a periodic Jag instead of this huge Mercedes. One of his group drivers, Phil Hill, drove the 300SL competitively, however absent a lot of achievement. By 1956, the vehicle had just been offered to a companion of Cunningham’s, who did very well with it. The vehicle exchanged hands a couple of more occasions prior to coming to Mr. Dennis Nicotra, who actually claims the vehicle today. He set it available to be purchased in 2014, yet offering neglected to arrive at the $3.5 million save , which, by unpleasant evaluations, is about twofold the estimation of your normal 300SL at sell off. Once more, while the vehicle didn’t live with Cunningham for over two years, it is astounding to see the foreknowledge he had in requesting a particularly significant vehicle – much the same as the 166 Ferrari. 

The 1960 Le Mans Corvettes

Nineteen 55 was the latest year Cunningham would race Le Mans utilizing one of his own vehicles. It was likewise the year that a disastrous accident – murdering 80 individuals – nearly stopped all of European hustling – however Cunningham asserted they were not related. Subsequent to going through the second 50% of the decade hustling effectively in the U.S. utilizing Jaguars, OSCAs, and Porsches, a standard change at Le Mans would consider a bigger motor and that’s only the tip of the iceberg “GT” style vehicles –, for example, what had since become the incomparable American games vehicle – the Corvette. In 1960, Cunningham furnished a group of Corvettes for Le Mans, and was reasonably effective, completing in eighth spot generally. The Corvettes in Cunningham’s attire have become symbols in their own right, and however Chevrolet was not formally included, they charged a brief smaller than expected narrative on the run (perceptible here ). The vehicles, as of late, are maybe generally acclaimed for a very long time long claim over the responsibility for tragically missing example.

Cunningham And His Legacy

Cunningham got back to Le Mans in 1961 driving a Maserati, and he put fourth. In 1962, he drove a lightweight Jaguar and set fourth behind three Ferraris (two of them being 250 GTOs). In 1963, Cunningham would try to win Le Mans, again in a Jaguar. He put 10th, and that would be the finish of his long European dashing profession. After completing the 1963 race, Cunningham was conceded privileged citizenship of Le Mans for his long periods of savage competition and noble disposition. He would proceed to set up a gallery of motorsports in California, before in the long run consolidating it with his companion Sam Collier’s assortment, presently at the Revs Institute . Cunningham kicked the bucket at 96 years old in 2003.

What I have consistently found so engaging about the Briggs Cunningham story is two-overlay. The first is that he’s an American athlete, who set out to do things his as own would prefer. In the realm of very good quality collectible watches and vehicles, we are so frequently enchanted by the excellence of extraordinary Italian originators and Swiss business visionaries – myself no short of what anybody – so it’s astounding to see this sort of exertion set forth by somebody from an incredible American family. What he had the option to accomplish during the early long stretches of hustling was out and out noteworthy, and his impact over motorsports in this nation is stupendous – regardless of whether we simply take a gander at the main Ferrari and 300SL in the country, two vehicles that were basically immaterial to Cunningham himself. At that point you have his commitments with the Cunningham dashing group, seemingly the main exertion set forth by any American in the twentieth century. Without Cunningham, you don’t have Shelby, or the GT40. You don’t have Corvette at Le Mans.

Finally, concerning Cunningham’s watches – plainly he was a man of riches and taste, yet once more, the most intriguing thing is that these watches – all steel Pateks, two of them special and in the seven-figure range – were just watches to him. So regularly, when we come into contact with the first proprietors of what we consider to be super watches, they are astonished by how much respect we have for them – as though we’re insane for appreciating a watch. What’s more, we are, absolutely, for Cunningham clearly didn’t buy any of his Pateks figuring they would be some fortune sitting in a Swiss exhibition hall sometime in the not so distant future; he got them since they fit his way of life, and on the grounds that he loved them. What’s more, that you need to respect.

Traveling 1,000 Miles In A Cunningham C-2R

Briggs Cunningham has for quite some time been somebody I’d needed to expound on, yet never did I think I’d get the opportunity to experience one of his vehicles, in actuality. And afterward, as you most likely are aware, I went to the stunning Copperstate 1000 . One of the partaking vehicles? Indeed, a Le Mans-running Cunningham C-2R!

The vehicle ran as high as second spot in the 1951 Le Mans, and this specific vehicle even won its class at the Pebble Beach Concourse d’Elegance. Additionally, the proprietor – Mr. T.G. Mittler – couldn’t have been all the more amicable and sharing of his insight into this vehicle. It was bought by his dad during the 1980s, and has been with the family since.

Did I notice the C-2R ran the full 1,000 miles and brought about the ideal result? That is the most astounding thing about it – this vehicle carries on with a twofold life, winning the world’s most significant vehicle show one end of the week, at that point hammering through the desert the next. 

Here is the 1951 Cunningham C-2R at speed in the desert of Arizona. I need to say, of the relative multitude of vehicles in the Copperstate 1000, this was effectively the most intriguing to me. I’m certain you can comprehend why.

Did You Know There Was ANOTHER American Car And Watch Builder?

While Cunningham’s vehicles and watches are viably unmatched for the time frame, he was in good company in his quest for motorsport and horological paradise in those days in post-War America. Another honorable man, by the name of S.H. Arnolt, who was a wholesaler for unfamiliar vehicles in Chicago, additionally assembled his own race-spec vehicles for the American market. 

Not just did he assemble and sell vehicles, yet he additionally built his own curiously large chronographs to go with them. Did I notice they were 52 mm in distance across and highlighted a 14-ligne Valjoux development? The watches are exceedingly uncommon, and the last one to come available to be purchased was in 2011 at Antiquorum , and that one had been changed over into a pocket watch!

Obviously, these chronographs were intended to be worn outwardly of the coat, and I simply love the “Warsaw, Indiana” signature on the dial. The vehicles were stopped by 1960 after a lethal mishap, and Arnolt never had the wide-held praise of Cunningham. In any case, it’s quite cool to realize that there was another insane American out there during the 1950s making vehicles and watches.


This story and the data inside would not have been conceivable without the assistance of the Briggs Cunningham Foundation, Lawrence Berman of , the Revs Institute, and above all, Mr. John Goldberger.

Don’t have the HODINKEE App yet? Get long periods of astounding watch content in addition to new stories, breaking news, and admittance to incredible new highlights like HODINKEE Live, free on iOS .