Saturday, 6 November 2010

The conspicuous underdog - 'Petit Pataud' Replica 1/2

It's a great honour to feature on 'Gettin' a lil' psycho on tyres' a 'Petit Pataud' replica belonging to John Aibel. This will be another two part blog starting today with the history of the real 'Petit Pataud' finishing tomorrow with some of the fascinating details about this faithful replica.

The 'Petit Pataud' legend starts with an invitation from 1949 Le Mans winner Luigi Chinnetti to facilitate an entry in the 1950 Le Mans entry for Briggs Cunningham.

Seeking advice from a well respected mechanic Bill Frick, Cunningham made a false start building a hot rod like device by dropping a Cadillac V8 into a Ford body and dubbed a Fordillac. If any one knows of any pics of this 'device' please leave a message below.

The Le Mans organisers deemed the Fordillac ineligible so Briggs bought two showroom 1950 Series 61 Cadillac Coupes one was given an open aluminium body devised by employees of the Grumman aircraft manufacturer and dubbed 'Le Monstre' by the French press, the other was more modestly prepared for endurance racing by Frick - Tappett Motors and dubbed with typical French irony 'Petit Pataud' 'little clumsy' a name I believe usually referring to new born pups.

The Cunningham team were surprised to find 'Petit Pataud' the more or less stock underdog of the stable driven by Miles and Sam Collier proved quicker than the heavily modified 'Le Monstre' straight out of the box. Though this was rectified during the course of practice for the race.

The 24 hours of Le Mans had an unusual start procedure, drivers stood on the opposite side of the track from the car and at the drop of the flag sprinted across the track and jumped in to their cars fired them up and drove off, in a piece of comedy reminiscent of a 'Herbie' film 'Petit Pataud's' doors were found to be locked after it's driver sprinted across the track at the start, fortunately the window was open so he reached inside to unlock the door from the inside !

Miles Collier who raced in the 1939 Le Mans race advised Briggs to equip his cars with fold away shovels in case either car found itself buried in the famously unforgiving artificial sand banks installed to prevent the more wayward vehicles from venturing too far from the notoriously fast and dangerous circuit.

Briggs rejected the advice and paid the price on lap 2 of the race when he found himself trapped in the sand bank at the end of the 4 mile long Mulsanne straight, Briggs probably wasted several minuets borrowing a shovel from a spectator and wasting half an hour successfully digging his car out and resuming the race.

'Petit Pataud' meanwhile as to be expected from a land yacht was sailing along at a nice and steady pace reaching 120 mph on the Mulsanne and running 1,956 miles to average 81.5 mph for 24 hours and finish in a commendable 10th place overall, 2nd in class behind a Cadillac powered Allard.

Briggs and Phil Walters brought 'Le Monstre' in one lap down, about the time it would have taken to borrow a shovel, on 'Petit Pataud', a small victory for the clumsy team underdog perhaps but just the stuff of legends that makes Le Mans such a fascinating race.

Tomorrow I'll continue with details about Johns fabulous replica and some surprising differences with the restored original which make Johns car today arguably closer to the original Le Mans spec as raced in 1950.

Thanks to Chief 187 who set up my connection with John Aibel, and thanks to John, unfortunately I was not able to visit Florida to take these magnificent pics which he kindly sent to me.

Thanks for stopping by wishing everyone a wonderful weekend, don't forget to come back now !

10/11/10 Erratum, I got the model types a bit mixed up and have removed all 'de Ville' references from the text above, the Series 61 shown here is the shorter model known as Type 61 Coupe, not Coupe de Ville which was the Type 62. Apologies for any confusion.


  1. This is fantastic! I know the story first hand from my Dad and you told it brilliantly! I'm a huge fan of the two-parters, especially, selfishly, this one!

  2. Thanks for your help in bringing it together Chief :-)

  3. I eagerly await Chapter 2 of "Petit Pataud."
    The replica appears to be meticulously fine. Is that single rear lamp only to light the number 3?

  4. It looks like it Steve would you expect anything less from such a gargantuan vehicle ?