Tag Archives: Briggs Cunningham

Friday Flashback #220

John Kantor is my source for all sailing-related news.

The other day, the Longshore Sailing School founder — a native Westporter who grew up by and on the water — sent a link to the Sailing News’ “Scuttlebutt” website.

The site featured the back story to this month’s photo in the Ultimate Sailing calendar. It showed sailors bundled against the cold off the coast of Italy, on a 12 Metre called Nyala.

The November 2020 Ultimate Sailing calendar photo, by Carlo Borlenghi.

A South African reader wondered why “an active yacht in Italy was named after an antelope found in the game reserves of his region.”

Scuttlebutt explained:

Nyala was built for Frederick T. Bedford of Westport, Connecticut. His father, Edward T. Bedford, was a director of the original Standard Oil who established a large family farm in then-rural Westport in 1910.

Frederick, who was also an industrialist, named the farm “Nyala” for the antelope he had seen while on safari in Africa. Later, the name would be used for the Olin Stephens-designed 1938 12 Metre. Like the wooden twelve, the 52-acre farm remains a going concern where the last family member resided until 2014.

Nyala Farm (Robert Vickrey painting, courtesy of Paul Ehrismann)

I’m not sure that’s true. Nyala ceased to be a working dairy farm long ago. The property just off I-95 Exit 18 became Westport’s first office park in the 1970s, when Stauffer Chemical Company moved in (and, thanks to progressive land-use policies, kept much of it as rolling hills and meadows).

Nyala Farm (Photo/Patricia McMahon)

The main tenant today is Bridgewater Associates. None of the Bedford descendants lived there. They had their own large estates on nearby Beachside Avenue.

The Nyala Farms office complex. Much of it is hidden from view, on nearby I-95, Greens Farms Road and the Sherwood Island Connector.

Scuttlebutt continues:

Built of the finest hardwoods at the famous Henry Nevins yard (City Island, NY), Nyala carried the unique identifier 12-US-12 (ie. the 12th 12 meter in the USA).

Several sources note that she was a wedding present by F.T. Bedford to his daughter, Lynn (Lucie) Bedford (aka LuLu) and new son-in-law, Briggs Cunningham (yes, that Cunningham – winning 1958 America’s Cup skipper on Columbia).

It’s also reported that FT and Briggs had previously owned an 8 Metre together (late 1920s), and Briggs is said to have credited his wife-to-be with teaching him to sail (Stars) at Pequot Yacht Club, so maybe a 12 Metre for them to campaign together is not as surprising a wedding gift as we might, at first, be tempted to surmise!

As an aside, there are at least a couple of 6 Metres still sailing that are named for Mrs. Cunningham (Lucie and LuLu) which Briggs had raced to good effect.

John Kantor did not know the back story to the Nyala name. But he knows the farm. And, he says, “I knew Briggs Cunningham. I knew the boat. But I had no idea how all the names interconnected.”

Briggs Cunningham II was also a race car driver. That’s how he appeared on the cover of Time magazine.

(Click here for the full Sailing News Scuttlebutt story.)

 

The Briggs Cunningham Watch

More than once, “06880” has honored Briggs Cunningham.

The polymathic Westporter skippered Columbia to the America’s Cup title in 1958. He invented “the Cunningham,” a device to increase the speed of racing sailboats. He competed in the 24 hour auto race at LeMans, developed and built the Chrysler C-4R racing car, owned the 1st Ferrari in America, and made the cover of Time magazine.

Briggs Cunningham II, on the cover of Time.

Briggs Cunningham, on the cover of Time.

He also married Lucy Bedford, daughter of Standard Oil heir F.T. Bedford — not a bad career move. (Cunningham’s father, Briggs Sr., was an early investor in the company that became Procter and Gamble. So the son did not exactly pull  himself out of poverty.)

But “06880” has never mentioned Cunningham’s watches.

According to a long story in Hodinkee — a website devoted to all you’d ever want to know about luxury watches — the Westporter was an American hero.

“His name means little to those outside the highest echelons of motorsport and aquatic racing,” Benjamin Clymer writes.

“But to those in the know, Briggs Cunningham and his collection of bespoke wristwatches are downright legendary.”

Cunningham’s place in horology (the art of making clocks and watches — yeah, I looked it up) is secured by his ownership of 3 Patek Philippe watches.

Briggs Cunningham's least expensive watch.

Briggs Cunningham’s least expensive watch.

All are stainless steel. (He chose that design over gold because he was a “highly active, top-tier athlete.”)

Two are unique commissions designed especially for him.

The other — created in 1949 — is still in mint condition. It sold last year for about $100,000.

The 1463 chronograph.

The 1463 chronograph.

That’s chump change compared to Cunningham’s 1463 chronograph. Made unique by its black dial with luminous markers and hands, it has achieved “mythical status since first appearing on the market,” Clymer writes.

Cunningham wore it in a photo with driver Phil Hill. They’re examining the Westporter’s Mercedes-Benz 300SL Gullwing — the 1st one ever delivered commercially.

That combination of watch and automobile “has long made him an icon to me,” says Clymer.

That watch is on the market now. It can be yours for $1.5 million.

Briggs Cunningham, his watch, race car driver Phil Hill, and the 1st Mercedes-Benz 300SL Gullwing ever.

Briggs Cunningham, his watch, race car driver Phil Hill, and the 1st Mercedes-Benz 300SL Gullwing ever.

But even that is a drugstore Timex compared to Cunningham’s 1526 perpetual calendar watch.

“It is just one of just two perpetual calendars to be made in steel, and the Arabic markers are covered in black lacquer. How incredible is that?” Clymer asks.

The 1526 perpetual calendar watch.

The 1526 perpetual calendar watch.

Apparently, quite incredible. One of the most beautiful watches ever made by Patek Philippe, it sold for $3,956,159 in 2008.

The buyer: Patek Philippe itself.

I can’t imagine I’ll ever write another “06880” post about watches.

But something tells me I’ll keep discovering interesting tidbits about Briggs Cunningham, for years to come.

(Hat tip: Peter Tulupman)


Click here for “06880+”: The easy way to publicize upcoming events, sell items, find or advertise your service, ask questions, etc. It’s the “06880” community bulletin board!

Concours d’Caffeine Cruises Into Saugatuck Sunday

Two weeks ago, the train station was filled with electric vehicles. A road rally highlighted what proponents hope is the automotive wave of the future.

This Sunday (May 17, 8-11 a.m.), the station’s parking lots will again be filled with cars and their admirers. This time though, the focus is on the past.

The Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce is sponsoring a “Concours d’Caffeine.” It’s a morning to admire cars, in a relaxed, non-traffic-filled setting.

A Toquet touring car from 1905.

A Toquet touring car from 1905.

But the press release announcing the event buried the lead. Near the end, it said that Railroad Place will feature an exhibit of “Connecticut’s significant role” in US automotive history — “as well as the role Saugatuck played” in it.

In 1905, Saugatuck-based Toquet Motor Car and Construction Company built 5-seater touring cars. Who knew Westport once coulda been Detroit?

A dozen classic vehicles designed or manufactured in Connecticut will be on display. They include “the classic Pope Hartford, the exciting Bridgeport Locomobiles, classic Trumbulls (and) the more recent Fitch Phoenix and Sprint.”

Plus — here’s another buried gem — “the Cunningham C3, designed by Briggs Cunningham, a race car driver and sportsman from Westport.”

Briggs Cunningham's 1953 C-3 Cabriolet.

Briggs Cunningham’s 1953 C-3 Cabriolet. (Photo/Dan Savinelli)

Briggs Cunningham was, of course, much more than that. He skippered the victorious yacht Columbia in the 1958 America’s Cup race; he invented an eponymous device (the Cunningham) to increase the speed of racing sailboats — and he competed in the 24-hour race at Le Mans. To read more about him, click here.

But wait! There’s another buried lead! Also on display is a 720-horse Trans Am Camaro driven by Westport’s famous race car driver/actor/salad dressing purveyor, Paul Newman.

Paul Newman's race car will be displayed on Railroad Place.

Paul Newman’s race car will be displayed on Railroad Place.

Next to it will be a Volvo wagon (with a 405-horse Corvette engine). Newman built it himself, so he could grab groceries unnoticed (but with plenty of power).

The Concours d’Caffeine is the brainchild of Bill Scheffler, John Shuck, Tim Walsh and Frank Taylor. They organized its predecessor, the Concours d’Elegance, held at the Fairfield County Hunt Club.

CdC-logo-rgbEveryone is invited to bring their own cars. When the event is over, many participants will set out on a rally around Fairfield County, ending in Redding.

Gentlemen, start your (non-electric) engines!

(To learn more about the Concours d’Caffeine, click here.)