Off to Le Mans with “Le Monstre” for First Time in 62 Years

Two very significant Cadillac motorcars from Revs Institute for Automotive Research at the Collier Collection are crated up and on their way to France this week, to be featured at the Le Mans Classic, July 6 – 8th, as part of this year’s salute to “Americans in Le Mans”. The famous 1950 Cadillac Series 61 Le Mans, dubbed “Le Monstre”, with its custom alloy envelope body heavily influenced by aircraft technology, and its unaltered stock counterpart, the Cadillac 1950 Series 61Coupe dubbed “Petit Pataud” are heading back to Le Mans together for the first time since 1950.

Credited for “returning the Stars and Stripes to Le Mans” and marking the first American automobiles entered in the world-wide competition since 1935, these two American Cadillacs are prominent features in both this year’s “Americans in Le Mans” classic and the “Le Mans Heritage Club 2012: A World of Exception” event, with “Le Monstre” marking one of only 24 handpicked ex-Le Mans chassis’ selected to be part of the Heritage display.

“We are honored to bring this unique pair of 1950 Cadillacs back to Le Mans after 62 years. Celebrating the popularity of these American entries at Le Mans, and the American drivers who were toasted in the European press for their skill, sportsmanship and dauntless good humor, were a great source of pride for the United States in 1950. We hope these special cars will have a similar impact today.”Scott George of Revs Institute

Race goers and the international press were surprised by the two American entries in 1950: the Cadillac 1950 Series 61 Coupe, “Petit Pataud”, with co-drivers Miles and Sam Collier, and the specially built aerodynamic experimental “Le Monstre” driven by team owner Briggs Cunningham and co-driver Phil Walters. Walters, also known as Ted Tappet in US racing circles, helped to prepare the two cars with his partner Bill Frick, at Frick Tappet Motors. The Cunningham team chose Cadillac as it had America’s most advanced V-8 engine, and offered superior reliability at high speeds – a key component to success in the world-famous 24-hour endurance race. To improve performance to a maximum competition standard, yet keeping within the organizers’ requirements for a stock chassis, the Cunningham team engaged Grumman aviation personnel to construct a special design for “Le Monstre” which would reduce both weight and wind resistance. The result was a body so extraordinary that Le Mans officials spent hours in examination to assure themselves that the underlying chassis was indeed standard Cadillac! The V-8 engine remained standard too, except for a special five carburetor induction system and some fine tuning.

After a run-in with a sand bank which stranded “Le Monstre” early in the race, precious time was eaten up digging out by hand as the rules demanded. Later in the race, “Le Monstre” lost second gear and had to struggle through the remainder of the contest in top gear alone. By contrast, “Petit Pataud”, the stock- bodied Cadillac, had a trouble free race, finishing an astounding tenth overall. “Le Monstre” received a standing ovation from the crowd as it finished just behind the coupe in 11th place. “Le Monstre” and “Petit Pataud” became important precursors to Briggs Cunningham’s pioneering efforts to achieve an American victory at the French classic. Ultimately, after other American attempts, Ford was to conquer the great French 24 hour challenge in 1966.