Contemporary photos by Pawel Litwinski, courtesy Bonhams.
A rare E-type Lightweight, one of the three cars to carry the Cunningham colors in the team’s final appearance at Le Mans in 1963, will be one of the featured lots at Bonhams Quail Lodge Auction in Carmel, California, on August 18.
For Jaguar, it was a public relations coup worthy of a press release when Briggs Cunningham decided to race a D-type in the 1955 24 Hours of Le Mans. It would join a C-6R, the last Cunningham-built car to compete at Le Mans. The race, of course, would be the scene of motorsports’ worst disaster, when Pierre Levegh’s Mercedes 300 SL struck another car and flew into the crowd, killing 82 spectators; the Cunningham D-type would last just until the sixth hour of the race, done in by engine failure after 43 laps.
This inauspicious beginning foreshadowed greater cooperation between the American sportsman and William Lyons’ company. When Cunningham returned to Le Mans in 1960 after a four-year absence, the team brought along Jaguar’s E2A prototype, the forerunner of the E-type, as well as three Corvettes, making their debut at Le Sarthe. The Jaguar was competitive, in spite of a problematic engine, but was retired during the ninth hour when a piston was holed.
Cunningham raced Maseratis at Le Mans in 1961, but added a specially prepared Jaguar E-type with closed coupe bodywork for 1962; this car finished a strong fourth, finishing behind only three record pace-setting Ferraris.
For 1963, to counter the dominance of the Ferrari 250 GTO and Maserati Tipo 151/1 in endurance racing, Jaguar unveiled a new and deadly weapon: the Lightweight E-type. These cars featured an aluminum alloy body with an aluminum hardtop to provide added rigidity, and their aluminum-block, 3.8-liter, DOHC, straight-six engines were upgraded with Lucas fuel injection and dry-sump lubrication. Though a run of 18 had been planned, just 12 were built; because this number was too small to homologate the car, the Lightweight was passed off as part of the regular E-type production run, with which it shared very little.
Number 14 at Le Mans, 1963. Period photos copyright GP Images, courtesy Bonhams.
At Le Mans in 1963, Cunningham would represent the Jaguar works with three E-type Lightweight cars: #16, driven by Roy Salvadori and Paul Richards; #15, with Briggs Cunningham and Bob Grossman; and the car shown here, #14, chassis S850664, driven by Walt Hansgen and Augie Pabst. Cunningham and Grossman finished in ninth place overall, and second in its class, after a heroic recovery from a crash into hay bales at the end of the Mulsanne straight; Hansgen and Pabst were done in by a balky gearbox, while Salvadori skidded on an oil slick in the Mulsanne, crashed and burned. This would be the Cunningham team’s last appearance at Le Mans.
In the pits at Le Mans, 1963.
Three months later, Hansgen and Richards teamed up to drive S850664 in the USRRC Road America 500, finishing third in the GT class, and 11th overall. One week later, the car was entered in the FIA International 500 km race at Bridgehampton, where, with Richards aboard, it finished fourth overall.
On display at The Revs Institute.
After its retirement, Cunningham displayed the Lightweight at the Briggs Cunningham Automotive Museum in California. When the museum was closed and the collection sold, the Jaguar passed into the hands of a succession of owners that has included Lord Bamford, Paul Vestey and Campbell McLaren. At some point in the recent past, it has been displayed at the Blackhawk Automotive Museum.
Cunningham team cars at The Revs Institute.
The Lightweight has no shortage of admirers, and book chapters have been devoted to this very example. In January of this year, a Lightweight that won the 1963 Australian GT Championship sold for $7.37 million, including premium, at Bonhams’ annual sale of collector cars in Scottsdale, Arizona, becoming the most valuable post-1960 Jaguar ever sold at auction. The auction house isn’t releasing a pre-auction estimate on the former Cunningham team car, but Bonhams US Head of Motoring, Jakob Greisen, believes the car could achieve a figure over $10,000,000 when it crosses the auction stage in California this summer.
The Bonhams Quail Lodge Auction takes place on Friday, August 18th at Quail Lodge in Carmel, California. For additional details, visit Bonhams.com.