1950 Cadillac Series 61 DeVille LeMans Hardtop Coupe: The manufacturer won’t tell you!

Tran Hanh
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June 05, 2024

The 24 Hours of LeMans holds the reputation as one of the world’s most prestigious road races. It is also an extreme endurance run that tests the mettle of both men and machines. In 1950, Cadillac, the GM division recognized as The Standard of the World for luxury motoring, sent two of its 1950 cars to France for competition.

The team was led by well-known race car builder and driver, Briggs Cunningham. Two Cadillacs were prepped for the race. One remained basically stock receiving simple modifications such as the addition of a two-carburetor intake system, welded-on air ducts for the drum brakes, an extra 35-gallon gas tank in the trunk, and simple race equipment such as hood straps and safety restraints.

The other car was stripped to its bare chassis and re-bodied by Bill Frick of Fordillac fame at his Long Island, NY shop. He received assistance from aerodynamicists and metal workers from Grumman Aircraft in developing a streamlined roadster envelope. When unveiled at LeMans, this striking body was nicknamed, ‘LeMonstre’ by the French motoring press.

Surprisingly, the stock Series 61, driven by brothers Sam and Miles Collier finished in 10th place. LeMonstre, manned by Cunningham and Phil Walters was one spot back in 11th. The order would likely have been reversed had Cunningham not placed his car in a sand pit and lost 30 minutes digging it out by hand. Ironically, Cunningham had decided against the recommendation to carry shovels in the cars and had to borrow one from a spectator. This was the first time since the 1920s an American production vehicle had raced at LeMans and the Cadillac had beaten ‘proven’ race cars from manufacturers such as Jaguar, Bentley, Talbot Lago, Panhard, Ferrari, and Delage.

This 1950 Cadillac is on loan to the AACA Museum from the General Motors Heritage Collection. It was restored to resemble the ‘stock’ car entered by team Cadillac in the 1950 24 Hours of LeMans.

Source – AACA Museum

Racegoers at LeMans were surprised by two American entries in 1950. One was this Cadillac. The other was its teammate, Le Monstre. American cars had always been rather an oddity on the Sarthe circuit – the last entry was a lone Duesenberg in 1935. These two cars were also odd because of what they were not. LeMans, of course, is a sports car race.

Co-drivers for this Cadillac – which the French dubbed ‘Petit Pataud’ – were Miles and Sam Collier, whose father was the founder of Collier County. The team’s sponsor, co-driving the second car with Phil Walters, was Briggs Cunningham.

Briggs had initially hoped to race a coupe with a Cadillac V-8 engine in a modified Ford chassis. But such a hybrid – called a ‘Fordillac’ and built by Frick-Tappett Motors, a Long Island, New York, specialty garage – was illegal for Le Mans. To get the hot Cadillac engine, Briggs had to run the Cadillac car as well. This was fine; Le Mans 1950 was just a trial run anyway to determine if an American car had a chance. Hopes were also modest because of the team’s slender experience. Of the entire Cunningham entourage, only Miles Collier had previously raced at Le Mans (in 1939 with an M.G.).

Sixty cars faced the starter’s flag at 4:00 p.m. that June 24th. A day later, the Ferraris of former LeMans winners Luigi Chinetti and Raymond Sommer, as well as the Simca-Gordini of Fangio and Gonzalez, had fallen by the wayside. Victory went to a French Talbot, a thinly disguised Grand Prix car.

Averaging 81.5 mph for the 24 hours (only 8 mph less than the winner), this Cadillac Coupe placed 10th – a finish that, to the French crowd, was the car’s entry in the race. In 11th, 5 miles behind the Colliers, were Briggs Cunningham and Phil Walters in the other Cadillac.

General Motors

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