One Of The Strangest Cars To Ever Race At Le Mans Just Roared Back To Life
Cadillac made their return to prototype racing last season in IMSA. The Thunderous beasts dominated the season on their way to both the Driver's and Constructor's Championships. The 6.2 liter V8 proved to be too much for the competition but despite its beauty, power and domination there was one place the Cadillac's didn't race in 2017, Le Mans. They may look every bit the part but thanks to the ACO/FIA they were deemed ineligible. God bless the French.
However Cadillac does have a history at Le Mans. Their last outing with the Northstar LMP didn't exactly go to plan as they were never a threat for overall glory. Same could be said for their earlier efforts, even if they did get a bit extreme with their design. You have to go back to 1950 and a creation affectionately called "Le Monstre". It was a 1950 take on aerodynamics and it looked out of this world compared to the normal vehicles of the day.
Briggs Cunningham built Le Monstre along with a fairly stock Series 61 Cadillac for the 1950 race. The ruling bodies allowed Cunningham to build a streamlined body over a standard chassis with a production Cadillac engine. It was capable of 130 miles per hour a full 13 mph faster than its standard teammate.
Unfortunately Le Monstre hit trouble during the race finding a gravel trap and losing significant time as Briggs Cunningham himself had to dig the car out by hand. A laborious task that could have been avoided had he listened to one of his team members. Miles Collier had suggested to Cunningham prior to the race that he carry a shovel in the car should he find himself in a gravel trap. Cunningham rejected the idea only to later rue that decision as the time wasted in the gravel combined with the loss of high gear doomed their race, finishing 11th overall. The "Stock" Series 61 finished one place better in 10th.
Fast forward 61 years and Le Monstre was on hand at the recent IMSA test at Daytona. The car was displayed next to Cadillac's Championsihp winning DPI V.R and a special edition ATS-V to commemorate the team's Championship last season. Fortunately for us fans this was not a static display as Jordan Taylor, who along side his brother claimed the Driver's Championship last season, got behind the wheel of Le Monstre for some demonstration laps.
"I was very nervous to begin with because it’s all original from the 1950s,” Taylor said. “It’s one of a kind, everything is the same from back then except the seat belt was updated, but the same style. Taylor said. “They were walking me through it and I tried to ask as many questions as possible so that if anything went wrong I’d know what to do. Temperatures, oil pressures, what I need to watch, you shift on the column which I’ve never done before. "
Strange to hear a top flight driver talk about being nervous about driving any car. But this was Le Monstre, she was a different animal, capable of striking fear into even the best drivers.
“It was three-speed on the column and I’ve never done that before, and I didn’t want to blow up the gearbox. It’s drum brakes and carburetor so it’s all different. 3,700 pounds, so it’s a monster.," Taylor described the experience. “When I left the pits, I cruised out of pit lane slowly and we were doing the photo shoot with the ATS-V and the race car, and I went out of the pits to turn and I turned like 90 degrees and it didn’t do a thing. It didn’t turn! I almost drove straight into the ATS-V and I almost had a heart attack."
Eventually Taylor got a feel for the rare beast, “I went to the brakes, and the brakes don’t do anything. So I slowed down and I got behind everyone to get a feel for it, weaving around, touching the brakes, and I found out that you need 100 degrees of steering for it to do anything. You had to be super smooth on the throttle, and obviously it doesn’t stop very well with drum brakes and 3,700 pounds, but once we got going it was cool to feel it and get an idea of what those guys had to go through back then."
So how did the beast handle Daytona's legendary banking? "Back then you only have one lap belt and the side of the car is by my elbow. When you get up on the banking you look to the left and it looks like you’re going to fall out of the thing. It was definitely cool and an amazing experience.”
The Le Monstre may have been an experiment, a car built to try and fix the inherent disadvantages of a standard car. It had no regulations to worry about other than build a custom body on a stock chassis. Other than that the designers over at Briggs Cunningham could do whatever they want. This wasn't just a Cadillac thing, designers everywhere were playing with new and exciting designs. You don't see that these days. Strict rules prevent teams from getting really creative. This is done in the name of safety and while necessary it does mean today's race cars lack the charm of their grand fathers.