Video: When Cadillac built a Monster for Le Mans

01st September 2023
Simon Ostler

The Le Mans 24 Hours is a race known for its history of beautiful sportscars from the likes of Ferrari, Jaguar and Aston Martin. Sculpted works of art that live on today as legendary racing cars for fans of motorsport to wonder over. But when the first American team returned to the legendary endurance race following World War II, it did so with this, a quite remarkable and unique take on car design.

A man named Briggs Cunningham brought two Cadillac Series 61 DeVilles to Le Mans in 1950, five years after the American army had liberated the town of Le Mans at the end of the War. The first was pretty much the standard car, with just a handful of tweaks made to better suit it to racing on the incredibly challenging course. The other was quite different.

While the chassis and engine were kept from the original Cadillac, the bodywork was entirely removed and replaced with a new design developed together with Grumman Aircraft Engineering Corporation. The result, to be kind, was monstrous.

‘Le Monstre’ as it became known, was designed according to some pretty sound logic. The Circuit de la Sarthe in those days featured the terrifyingly fast and uninterrupted 3.7-mile Mulsanne Straight, so developing a streamlined car that could cover that distance quicker than anything else was considered a decent strategy for success.

Indeed, the low-drag nature of this unique creation meant Cunningham and his team-mate Phil Walters travelled some 13mph faster than many of their competitors for a majority of the lap. Top speed was somewhere in the region of 130mph.

Aside from the alarming looks, Le Monstre was also unique for its engine modifcations. The standard V8 of the Cadillac remained unchanged according to the regulations of the time, but the intake manifold could be adjusted, and Cunningham incorporated five carburettors into the setup.

Both of these wonderous cars struck a chord with the locals at Le Mans, and the Le Monstre in particular become a legendary icon of the 24 Hours race. It’s difficult to imagine what it must have looked like all the way back in 1950, when the likes of this had never been seen before. To be honest, we’ve not seen anything like it since either.

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  • Le Monstre

  • Cadillac

  • Le Mans 24 Hours

  • FOS

  • Festival of Speed


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